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Womb with a View

Once the costume drama of the wedding is over, the marriage kicks in and one of its ordeals-by-fire for a young bride is the Great Indian Festival, writes Renuka Narayanan.

india Updated: Aug 15, 2008 23:05 IST

I’ve had it up to here with tales of Indra and Shachi and Humayun and Karnavati!” says Meera, 26, an MBA beginning a jittery walk up the corporate ladder of an MNC (names changed by request). “Rakhi to me means a dose of nostalgia for our shared childhood in Jamshedpur mixed with a big glass of red wine at a nice little bar with my brother…it’s the one day my Bhabhi has to take her claws out of him.”

Rohini, 35, an ambitious young teacher and the mother of two pre-teen sons, sighs gustily. “I’m a South Delhi girl who got married fifteen years ago into a very traditional family,” she says. “I was a princess in my father’s house, the only girl in a large family full of boys. But since I married, do you know what Rakhi means to me? I have to cook for fifty people that day. All my husband’s sisters land up with their husbands and children and first I put out snacks, namkeen, sweets and tea. Then I make three kinds of subzi, one paneer dish, two gravy dishes and have to knead atta for at least ten puris per person. Nobody has a maid to help on Rakhi, because maids have brothers, too. So I fry puris for one hour all by myself.” Can’t she get it catered? “Oh no, that would be seen as failing in my duty!” says Rohini crisply.

Rohini and others like her caught in a transitional generation say that the great traditions of Indian culture basically rest on women. On the clothes they wear, the food they cook and the deferential body language they display in dealing with their elders and therefore, automatically, their “betters.” Chitra, a young techie in her early 20s, married to a banker, corroborates, “My mother-in-law gives me grief if I just lean back in her presence, whereas her darling son can stretch his legs right out at her. I come from a long day at work and I just want to chill a bit. But she’s already fussing about dinner and the servants’ misbehaviour. Give me a break…now she wants to teach me how to make Indian sweets for Rakhi, Janmashtami and the rest, like I have the time! I hate festivals now and they used to be such fun before I got married.”

Post-nuptial blues? Once the costume drama of the wedding is over, the marriage kicks in and one of its ordeals-by-fire for a young bride is the Great Indian Festival. “I bet it’s just as tough for a Muslim, Christian or Sikh bride,” says Kshama, 24, thoughtfully. A television journalist, she says, “My father was really cool, he brought me up to be eco-aware, non-religious and non-superstitious. I don’t wear roli-moli or keep vrat or make mannat. My idea of Rakhi is to renew my friendship with my brother. We lost our mother when we were both under ten and my Dad brought us up somehow. My brother got married recently and we all live separately, but Rakhi is one day when the calendar tells me in an extra-special way, “Listen, this is your official date with your brother. You don’t get to meet so much because you’re both busy. So I’m telling you, take time out today and catch up with him because there’s nobody like him in the whole world.”

Some brothers seem to see it with equal emotion and not just as a duty shell-out occassion. “My kid sister lives in New York,” mourns Rakesh, 36. “Cruel America, taking my sister away from me. I can’t deny her her life. But who’s going to tie my rakhi? E-cards and “Happy Rakhi, Bhaiyya!” on the phone are not the same thing. I used to feel proud, you know, and somehow manly, with a rakhi. Like, I have a sister to protect, I’ve got women to protect. I keep looking at other guys’ wrists on Rakhi and I miss Reena and all the fights we had as kids and in our teenage.”

Does he expect his wife to make traditional sweets on Rakhi, as protection money? “Hell, no! I’d rather take her out to Nanking for dinner, partying on a festival is official, right? She gets the Rakhi treat, too.”Win-win, everybody.