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April 28, 1997


Dominic Xavier's illustration

Some wives prefer denial

Shobha De

Some wives prefer denial. They like pretending they don't have a mother-in-law even when the old biddy is sitting right across them, stuffing her face with murgh masallam and glaring evilly. Women learn how to blank out unpleasant sights. And odours. Mothers-in-law exude a particular smell that is quite, quite distinctive to their breed. It doesn't matter whether they come from, all of them send out the same scent. I believe it can be successfully bottled under an appropriate brand name, such as 'Hostility' or 'Suspicion'.

Do sons smell what the world smells? Naturally not. They fill their nostrils with the world's headiest fragrance each time Mummyji walks into the room. 'Ecstasy?' 'Bliss?' 'Embrace?' All three. They call their wives 'paranoid' and insist they suffer from a persecution complex even when there is a full-fledged attack on their person in the man's presence. "Calm down," advises the beta. "The way you're carrying on, one would think you were being nuked or something." So you scream back, "It's worse than nuking. At least there are bomb shelters around when wars break out. Where do I go?"

Mummyji is likely to stop her verbal onslaught at this point and give you the mongoose-with-snake treatment. "How about your father's house?" she might suggest maliciously, while the son cowers in the background... or worse, starts whistling tunelessly. At such times men favour the Colonel Bogie March, for some odd reason. Unintentionally perhaps, they're trying to tell their wives something. Like "Start marching. Hup, two, three, four."

Mothers-in-law prefer to take the sweet route out of a crisis. They waddle to the refrigerator, pick up a box of mithai, sit themselves comfortably in front of the video and start watching Madhuri Dixit, clad in a purple saree, bouncing her left hip while the soundtrack blasts, "Mera piya ghar aaya, O Ramji." The piya in question may genuinely be feeling penitent towards the wife by now, but will rarely show it. It's called the 'loyalty factor', and closely resembles the one that Delhi politicians frequently invoke when they're looking for berths in the cabinet.

What is a smart, modern lady supposed to do when war breaks out? Howl and cry? Never. Apologise? Are you mad? Apologies can be held against a woman as irrefutable 'proof' of her guilt. You say 'sorry' and you're dead. Defiance? Depends.

Generally speaking, Gandhiji's satyagraha strategy sucks. What I mean is, times have changed. Moral protests are no good. If you have to make a point, do so dramatically and at full blast. Embarrass the culprits - the shameless whistler and his mithai-gorging mother. Pump up the volume so that your voice can be heard from one end of the street to the other. If you do throw a fit, make it an absolute beaut. Rage, rave, rant, tear your hair out. Fling breakable stuff at the walls. Beat your breasts. Make sure the mascara doesn't run. Threaten to strip and expose your nakedness to the world. Nothing scares a man more than the thought that his wife's sacred body may be up for public viewing. It is the worst insult and deepest fear. After all, that body belongs exclusively to him and is for his eyes only. Never mind that the wife may be the beach bikini type of girl or even a former calendar pin-up. Once she's his, he has sole rights over her flesh -- particularly when it's naked.


Excerpted from Shobha De's Surviving Men -- The Smart Woman's Guide To Staying On Top, Penguin, 1997, Rs 200, with the publisher's permission.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

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