Wedding diary: How I met his parents
Divya Nair remembers how nervous she was when she met her future in-laws for the first time. That initial meeting helped her decide whether she would live with them after her wedding or not.
As the wedding date inches closer, my Amma keeps reminding me to mend my ways and habits.
Every weekend, I wake up to sentences like: "You cannot afford to sleep so late. Remember to shut that drawer properly after you have taken what you wanted. When will you find the time to clean that overflowing wardrobe of yours?"
Before you begin to think I am irresponsible, I must admit I behave more responsibly when my Amma is away from home -- I wake up at 4 am, make chai for Papa and wait for him to leave for work, sleep for an extra half hour, pack my lunchbox, clean the house, wash the clothes and dishes and all that.
Still, there's this endless list of things I do when Amma is around that irritates and worries her.
In the last few months, since the wedding date has been fixed, I have always sensed that underlying fear of how, in a matter of days, life is going to change for me, for the better or for the worse.
I understand that she wants me to put my best foot forward and be a good daughter-in-law. She worries that my casual self might upset my in-laws.
Since ours is a love marriage, I know the source of her fears but it could also be because, I'd never told her about the first time I met my parents-in-law.
The first time I met my parents-in-law was three years ago, January 2011, approximately 12 hours after my partner first told his father about our relationship and exactly three hours before we had to go drop my partner to the airport.
The nervousness, I must say, was twice what it would have been had I been meeting them in an arranged marriage set-up.
After a 30-minute pep talk by a common friend, standing at the gate of his building, I mustered the courage to knock on the door of his house. My father-in-law answered.
I remember forgetting how to smile and don't recollect the exact greetings both of us exchanged. But I do remember him welcoming us in.
Feeling awkward, I had held my friend's hand tight for support. She winked at me and told me to relax.
I soon realised that my partner, who had invited us home, and whom I was banking on staying back to help us break the ice, had to meet someone urgently. Before I could roll my eyes, or express dissent, he was gone.
The living room, we were sitting in, felt like an oxygen-deprived interview room.
Beads of invisible perspiration trickled inside my head and I was beginning to feel uncomfortable in my seat.
When his father animatedly spoke to someone on the phone, in a language I did not seem to understand, I wished I could disappear at the snap of a finger.
I told my friend, he must be upset about us.
But before I could work out more about the situation, as if on cue, my mother-in-law came out of the kitchen and served us fresh watermelon juice, perhaps the only thing that could have soothed my parched throat on a winter afternoon.
I had so far only seen her in photographs and heard her voice over the phone.
Today, she was wearing a sari and looked every bit like my mother, just a wee bit taller.
When she spoke to me in Hindi, I realised she had a South Indian accent just like my mother.
As she sat beside me and started asking me where I lived and what I did. I was beginning to lose focus. Either she was extremely nice and warm to me or maybe I was hallucinating.
I was curious to know if she'd react in the same way if she knew of her son’s decision of the last evening.
Question mark-shaped thoughts bounced in my head, as I increasingly grew restless.
Would I meet her expectations? Would she be as nice as my mother? Would she rebuke me and ask her son to reconsider his decision if she knew I could not speak or understand their language?
The next two hours I spent at his place was like an acid test. Some of our common friends, who had joined by that time, were already teasing me and adding to my discomfort.
I wasn't sure if I was trying too hard to impress. At the same time I did not want to fake. Or pretend to be someone else just to prove a point.
Then came the real test. Since her son was leaving for the US that day, Aunty had cooked a non-vegetarian meal.
Aunty insisted we have lunch. I told her that I did not eat meat. She asked me if it was a particular day, and I told her I stopped eating meat six years ago.
Some of my friends made faces as if I had said something wrong.
I was feeling hopelessly awkward and tried to make things better by telling Aunty that I was already feeling full.
Just when I thought I'd lost ground, she took me to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and found some dal from last night, asked me if I'd have it with rice, if she heated it for me. She said I could have it with papad and pickle.
Trust me, if she had said one more polite word that day, I might have cried.
As I stood there, with her in the kitchen, for the first time, I felt the doubts making their way out of the window.
That very moment, I realised if I were to get married into his family, I would have another mother, because what she did for that day was exactly what my Amma would have done.
I was so full of emotions that day, that perhaps, if Aunty had asked me a second time, I might have even gone ahead and tasted the chicken she'd made too.
I resisted the urge to hug her, but that incident changed something between us.
Since that day, every time, I go to my in-laws' place, she'd teases me to try her fish or chicken curry first, but eventually serves me dal and rice with papad.
While I would eat, she'd sometimes sit on the couch and talk about her brothers, her childhood and also update me about the happenings in the serials she watches.
During my last visit, Uncle asked me if I'd learn Tulu, so he could take me to his village, and introduce me to his folks, just like my Amma might have asked my partner to learn Malayalam.
In the last three years, my fondness for the two of them has only grown stronger.
I have realised that Aunty likes to talk, just like my Amma. And Uncle, like my Papa, reminds me of a coconut -- tough on the outside and sweet on the inside.
So, three months ago, when my partner's senior relatives asked me if post-marriage, I'd like to stay with my parents-in-law, or live separately, I did not have to think long.
Why would I want to live separately when I could share my life with two people who remind me and take care of me like my own parents?
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Photographs: Illustration by Uttam Ghosh