If three words could define the world of the Marwari community — Taboo, Society and Marriage would be them.
So many battles have been won but the Marwari bahu is still fighting for her rights to wear ‘western clothing’. She is still trying to figure out how her wardrobe has undergone a drastic change and the hot pants and crop tops have been replaced with salwar kurtis. Now and then when she is given the “permission” to wear a pair of jeans and a top, the following terms and conditions apply – The top shouldn’t be too short, it should look like a kurta but the salwar can be replaced with jeans. The top shouldn’t be sleeveless. It has to be ‘decent’. She is told that she can wear what she likes on vacation with the husband and that is one of the graces bestowed upon the Marwari bahu.
“I feel depressed when I look at my post-marital wardrobe,” says Nitika Bansal, a young Marwari bahu who has been married for six months.
Marriage (as life itself) is clearly a community affair. The bahu realises that she hasn’t really married the love of her life; she has married his entire family! Whether she likes it or not, she’s supposed to sit and gossip with the mother in-law about how some young woman in the neighborhood is now divorced with two children and how it will be beneficial for her to get married again, or about some other random person’s sister’s husband’s niece who chose to marry a “Christian” or a “Muslim” and hence her life is forever doomed. These are people the bahu knows nothing of and frankly doesn’t care about. Maybe she likes to sit quietly, lost in her dreams; maybe she likes reading a book and doesn’t like small talk; maybe she likes to watch movies without someone interrupting constantly; maybe she is used to sitting in comfortable silence with her mother.
“When mummyji is talking about the neighbours, which is almost 4 times out of 5, I usually zone out and she has no idea I haven’t heard a word!” confesses Anisha Singhania, a bahu who hates small talk and gossip.
If she doesn’t talk much, there could be a million reasons why, like maybe she is naturally a quiet person, maybe she’s comfortable with just a certain set of people, maybe she has just lost her father and life isn’t the same again, but she’s perceived as “depressive” and “crazy”, she is considered a snob, she’s looked down upon as “abnormal”, because of course, you need to talk gibberish to be considered a ‘normal’ woman.
Okay readers grab a chair. You may want to sit down for this. Women who despise jewellery do exist and not every girl wants to have ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and if this bahu is one such girl, she is yet again looked down upon as “crazy”. And the mother in-law is worried about ‘log kya kahenge’, because this ‘mad woman in the attic’ will bring nothing but shame upon the entire family! How can she even think of attending social gatherings without a “few diamonds”? The jewellery is the tribe’s secret code: “I belong to this family. They are treating me well.” Any display of dazzling cleavage, however, is strictly taboo. A good Marwari bahu must not be seen with such prohibited possessions.
Another instance where she’s considered ‘abnormal’ is the fact that she is an atheist. How can the ‘ghar ki bahu’ not do the customary ghar ki puja? The thought itself transports the mother in-law to hell. The bahu tries in vain to explain that if there is a God then he’d/she’d be someone who’d be happy if you treated your household help well and not someone who’d be impressed by the suffocating, asthma-inducing, incense sticks.
“I hate to participate in the religious nonsense that happens every other day but I have no choice. So I just sit there and amuse myself with the ridiculousness of it all,” says Pragya Bhagat, for whom God is a non-existent entity.
If the bahu was lucky enough not to be subjected to ‘ragging’ in college, she’ll have her fill of it now when the mother in-law’s “kitty parties” take place. This is a “get together” where a group of 15-20 middle-aged aunties supposedly have some fun, in the form of stuffing themselves with high-calorie, oil dripping food, and playing ridiculous games, and talking ill of the entire world. And the poor bahu is scared out of her wits! What if she is an introvert and the very thought of meeting 20 new people dressed up like Christmas trees, makes her uneasy? Imagine 20 people trying to make you feel like the “mad” one because your hands are bare (you haven’t worn any bangles), you don’t have the famous “dot” on your forehead, you haven’t worn enough makeup, things of that sort.
These situations sound funny but it isn’t funny to the girl who has to endure all of this on a daily basis. It’s not funny when she realises this isn’t a temporary arrangement and she actually has to spend her entire life in this manner. If the ghar ka beta can roam around in shorts, why can’t the bahu wear shorts too? And if she is lucky to have been bestowed with a certain amount of liberty, she’ll have to be grateful that her stars have lesser ‘faults’, for every minute of every hour of her lifetime because of course being given the right to remain yourself is such a big deal.
Everyone does talk about how the bahu is tortured for dowry and the like, and of course that is a bigger issue than the bahu who wants some quiet time and the liberty to retain her individuality, but it’s high time someone spoke about the problems of the modern bahu who is rebellious to some extent but there is a lot she’d like to change as well. She married the man of her dreams; let’s not make life a nightmare.
The Marwari bahu is more than the saree wearing, diamond loving, demure woman who is brought into the house as a part of some financial transaction. She is someone with a mind of her own, whom you cannot manipulate into changing her surname just because the society approves of it. She is here to banish the antiquated notions about marriage.
(Names have been changed to protect identities)