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A lactose-intolerant daughter-in-law has no hope of finding favour with a doodh-loving saas.
Indian men have a very special relationship with their mothers. These women yell, scream and beat their male offspring. They repeatedly tell their sons how useless and stupid they are. They hold their heads in their hands and beg their God of choice to explain what it is they did in a past life to deserve such a disrespectful child. But no sooner have these diamonds in the rough been 'married off' then suddenly the Indian mother can't find enough time in the day to sing her son's praises. And sing them she will - loud and clear without fatigue. The lyrics are different but the message is always the same: You are not good enough for my baby.
My own mother-in-law (MIL) is the same. She is a tough broad who raised 4 unruly cretins. She has four daughters-in-law (DIL) and like all the other MILs out there deep down she believes that all four boys could have done just a little better for themselves in the wife department. But she puts up with us for the same reason all Indian MILs tolerate their DILs. After having raised her boys like special-needs children, she knows that for their sake she has to suffer the caregiver who has taken over.
She hails from the great state of Haryana. Which is like being from Texas - everyone from there is extremely proud of it and everyone who isn't can't understand why. Like all Haryanvi mothers, feeding her children is her raison d'?tre. She ferrets out people travelling to New York and forces them to carry things for us. And she always calls me before the courier leaves to make sure she has sent all that we need.
Hello Radhika - Arjun is leaving next week and he has nothing to carry so I am sending ten kilos rice, five kilos ghee, two kilos cashew nuts, two kilos almonds, two kilos pistas, two kilos raisins, five kilos assorted sweets and two one-litre bottles of Maggie hot and sweet tomato sauce. Is that enough?
Are you sure?
No Mom - maybe we should get some more rice.
That's what I thought. I'll send 15 kilos.
She hovers over you as you eat, dumping food on your plate and sometimes stuffing it directly in to your mouth if it happens to be ajar. I would eat pretty much anything that was put in front of me because I wanted her to like me, and I could tell that eating continuously would be a major means to this end. Things were going swimmingly. Then we hit a roadblock. My MIL believes that food is what keeps all illnesses at bay and she is partial to milk as a cureall. Milk is practically the staple food of the people of Haryana - children are breast-fed until they can recite their mathematical tables and gallons of it are consumed daily in every home. My back hurts.
Drink some milk - your bones are weak.
My throat feels itchy.
Hot milk, honey and turmeric at once.
I just threw up.
You must be hungry. Have a glass of milk.
And herein lay the problem - I am lactose intolerant. The first time I explained this to my MIL she nodded her head like she understood but I could see in her eyes that she thought I was full of bakwaas. To her, lactose intolerance is a made-up disease that we weak minded, wimpy, 'modern-day' girls use to avoid dealing with life - like post-partum depression, anxiety attacks, and dyslexia. It all exists in our minds.
Until she met me she had never heard of such a thing. How the hell could anyone be allergic to milk! While I prattled on about the problems we lactose intolerant people have to deal with she just sat there thinking 'Oh God, if this was my child I would have clubbed her one - why won't she just shut up and eat the damn paneer tikka instead of inconveniencing everyone?'
As I explained in unnecessary detail the effects various milk products had on my digestive system she smiled painfully as her eyes searched for answers: What is wrong with this imbecile? Where did my stupid son even find her? Who in God's name can't drink one single solitary cup of milk? If he were this desperate why he didn't just come to me and ask me to find him a nice girl? I would have found him a nice girl with big breasts who could drink milk without whining about it.
And I know she is now trying to get rid of me because every time I visit the first thing she sweetly asks is if I want a mango shake. My MIL's mango shake is designed to kill a lactose-intolerant person immediately. It is big chunks of mango, milk and cream all whipped up in to one big glass of pain. Every year I am asked if I would like some. Every year I say, no thanks. And every year I see disappointment in her eyes.
Then to make this all much worse, my own mother came to stay with my MIL for three days. The very first thing my mother did was to decline a cup of warm, milky tea because like me, she too is lactose intolerant. My MIL couldn't even react. While everyone discussed how this was most likely hereditary she was thinking to herself: 'OMG - no wonder this girl is a bewakoof. Her mother is the same and she has passed on this self-centred, paranoid behaviour to her one and only off-spring. Why do these people have only one child? They should have many so that they can dilute the foolishness instead of concentrating it all up into one big, lactarded baby. I wonder when they are all leaving. ' So no matter how far I think I may have got in the fight to prove that there is no way her son could have done any better than I, when it comes to a showdown between her, me, and a glass of milk, I will retreat, whinging like a little twit.
Vaz is a New York-based comedian and the writer and performer of the one-woman show 'Unladylike: The Pitfalls of Propriety'. She is also a freelance writer, weightlifter, and nagging wife. www. radvaz. com
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