Father-in-law make me his wife (Sasur Ki Patni Bani)
Sonam, the young bride who had just recently become a mother, was staying at her mother’s place when she received a phone call.
Puran, her husband, had called her with the bitter-sweet news. He had been deputed on assignment to Denver for a medium term project that could potentially last for about six months, may be less may be more. Momentarily, Sonam was happy at the possibility of travel to the States. She had always dreamed about visiting that country. Yet, she was soon crestfallen. Given the short term of the project, her husband’s family had decided that Puran would be travelling alone. He had concurred and reconciled to that decision.
“I’ll stay while you leave?” Sonam had responded in surprise on hearing the news. But then she murmured sullenly, “Good! In that case I can stay here, at my mother’s place during this period.”
There was silence at the other end.
Puran was already torn at leaving her alone. “But…but …”
“What…” She asked exasperated at his hesitation, although she was in no mood to hear anything else.
“You will have to come and stay at your sasural, Sonam. Babuji (daddy) would insist on it.”
“No way, no …how …how can you ask me to!” She was almost in tears. Why of all the places did she have to stay in her sasural while her husband was away for such a long time? In a huff, she placed the phone back on the cradle. Being very sensitive, she was hurt at her husband’s inconsideration.
Sonam’s mother noticed her daughter in tears. Before she could find out the reason, the phone rang again. She waited for Sonam to answer, but her daughter had anguish written all over her face with tears rolling down her cheeks. The young Sonam made no attempt to respond, leaving the ringing to die into silence.
The phone rang again. This time her mother picked up and spoke to Puran. The news turned out to be more devastating for Sonam as she was required to travel to her sasural the next day. Her mother’s consolation was of little help, and her sorrow didn’t lessen in the least. She cried all night.
As she tossed and turned in bed, she felt anger and hurt. Her husband, despite professing so much love for her, didn’t seem to be too caring, almost throwing her into a miserable plight and leaving her alone in wilderness. Newly born Varun, now barely 40 days old, needed lot of attention and care, as any infant of that age would. Timely breast feeding, changing of diapers frequently, visiting the pediatrician, attending to her own chores and so forth would take away so much of Sonam’s time. She needed her husband’s love and attention at this time, more than ever. And most certainly, she looked forward to being cuddled and cared for by the man to whom she was wedded and now this seemed like a virtual desertion.
Frankly, Sonam had spent very little time at her In-laws place and knew little of her father-in-law, Balwant Singh. They talked little among themselves, Sonam mostly remaining quiet in such exchanges out of shyness, when the newly wedded couple had stayed at the family ‘haveli’ soon after their wedding. She came to know that the patriarch was a wealthy landowner, and a local businessman, with large farm lands too. He was well regarded in the area and was always treated with respect. The conversation between the daughter-in-law and the patriarch usually revolved around her health and well being and whether she needed anything. But such discussions were always grave and serious and at times, the young bride felt rather intimidated. The middle-aged man usually wore local outfits, like colorful kurtas and dhoti that clung to his well built body. He held a thick head of hair, with some silver streaks at the edges, on this tall frame. And he sported a handlebar mustache that made him look more imposing.
Notwithstanding the father-in-law, she had quickly built a camaraderie with others in the family. Anurudh (44), Balwant ‘s younger brother, lived in the other wing of the haveli with his wife Anjali and two growing kids. Anjali was a beautiful woman and provided sisterly company to Sonam. They enjoyed good conversation and sharing of interests. Matasari (33), a care-taker in her thirties, took care of Balwant ‘s wing. Not only did she take care of all the young bride’s needs, but she was also a kind person and turned out to be a reliable confidant, as the events would prove in the latter part of this narration.
There were other friends and relatives of the family – who were often around – and cared for Sonam. She and Puran had visited and hung around with people in their age group.
The fact that the place had some tourism brought a modicum of city culture, and the younger generation had obviously adopted much of these trends. It was just that they lived at some distance from the city where the people were more traditional and, to an extent, conservative.
The place where the haveli was situated was sparsely populated. Their largeness was surrounded by lush greenery and even fertile cultivable land nearby. There were other houses in the neighborhood, although not as big as theirs. The spacing among them provided a lot of privacy.
At this moment, however, she could have hated two persons – her husband for not taking her with him when he went abroad and two, her father-in-law. It was this man, the imposing patriarch, who must have stood in the way and blocked this opportunity for her to go abroad.
Yet, she had no choice. The air tickets arrived the next day. She tearfully bade good bye to her family and boarded the plane. The journey was uneventful, except for the embarrassment of feeding Varun in the clustered seats.
On the second leg of the journey, she had a momentary shuteye. An announcement from the flight attendant woke her up and soon, they were preparing to land.
It is in this situation that this narration begins, a narration of memories in a taboo relationship between two individuals, far apart in age, in their own eyes.
It was impossible for the twenty four year old Sonam to bear the two alarming news that her husband Puran told her over the phone. One, that even though her husband had bagged a nice post in USA for six months and possible extension thereafter, she would not be accompanying him in that journey abroad. The second news, which was equally devastating, was that she would have to go back to her ‘sasural’ (father-in-law’s house) immediately the next day, when she completed the requisite forty days after childbirth at her mother’s. She cried a lot, telling her mother to do something but alas! Her mother, helplessly, consoled her, told her that ‘sasural’ was really the heaven in a woman’s world and it would be odd for Sonam to stay back at her ‘maike’ (own father & mother’s house) and earn the ill reputation among relatives and neighbors of being a bad ‘bahu’ (house wife).
Sonam was a pretty girl and it was her beauty that sealed her marriage to Puran. Her marriage had been an arranged one, a process whereby the selection of a bride is undertaken by the groom’s family, sometimes much to the chagrin of the girl and her family. Luckily, Sonam’s father-in-law selected her the moment she had been led into the room by her mother. The man, her would be father-in-law, didn’t even haggle on dowry, a notorious system which is still practiced slyly in certain places. He waived the dowry without a thought, insisting on an early marriage. And so, the ravishing, long haired, fair, demure, curvaceous twenty three year old girl with pouted lips, was wedded to this patriarch’s obedient son, who too was rather young at twenty five.
Sonam’s parents were from western India and, like most of them who were usually identified as a business community migrating to various parts of the country, her earlier generations too had settled down in Patna in the past. Her husband’s family, however, had not migrated. They were Rajputs, which expressed in their rather handsome yet rugged features and good health and physique. But, as said earlier, the selection of a bride into this Rajput family really came about because of Sonam’s ravishing beauty, a thing which traditional families stressed upon.
Sonam’s marriage had taken place a year earlier, but her stay at her ‘sasural’ had been short. Her husband worked and stayed in Bangalore, to where the newlywed couple had left almost immediately after marriage. But, more reasons were there. For one, she was shy and far too young to adjust in a new family. Also, she was somewhat averse to facing her father-in-law too often. The man was very authoritative, angry, arrogant, much too traditional, had total control over his only son Puran, and Sonam almost shrunk in his presence. He expected total obedience, from both his son and his ‘bahu’. Sonam felt that the man was too dominant and would be a terror if she had to live in the sprawling haveli. She thought she was lucky that her husband worked elsewhere, far away from her ‘in-laws’ house which meant she could move about freely. Of course, despite her fear, she respected her elders and particularly her father-in-law because she was taught and brought up from childhood to think likewise. So, it was both fear and respect which guided the young girl in her relationship towards her father-in-law. It couldn’t be denied that this man was tall, muscular, tanned and, to some extent, dark complexioned. There could be no doubt that in his younger days he was really a strikingly handsome man and many women would have, undoubtedly, secretly fallen in love with him.
Balwant Singh, the father-in-law, never called Sonam by name, but always addressed her as ‘Bahu’. Sometimes he hissed the word, particularly when he found her alone, much to Sonam’s uneasiness. On occasions, he would ring her at Puran’s flat in the city where he worked. Even then, he would deliberately repeat calling her Bahu and in that weird and almost hypnotizing tone. Sonam always addressed her as ‘Babuji’ which is the traditional way a father or father-in-law is addressed.
The initial days of Sonam’s marriage went off rather smoothly. It was true, however, that Puran did not possess the rugged manliness of his father nor even his uncle. He was far shorter in height, just a couple of inches taller than Sonam, couldn’t boast of a manly physique or sexual virility. Sonam experienced her husband’s inept conjugal abilities, very often ejaculating much before his wife could reach even half of her expectations. However, luckily, he was not impotent for, very soon after their marriage, the young bride became pregnant. Varun, their son, was born out of their wedlock. Now, forty days after his birth, Sonam had to leave her ‘maike’ and go back to her ‘sasural’.
At Patna Airport, there were scenes that usually go in parting. Sonam cried as her mother consoled and then she herself couldn’t hide a few tears now that she had to part from both her daughter and grandson. Inside the aircraft, luckily, Sonam got a convenient seat that enabled her to breastfeed her baby in some privacy. Her breasts were too full of milk and heavy, a few drops oozed out of the nipples on to her bra and Sonam felt embarrassed. She had wrapped her breasts with the palloo (end of sari used as a stole to cover breasts or head), till she was conveniently settled down in her seat. She hugged and loved and suckled the child, not able to hide her tears at leaving her mother and father behind at Patna.
During the second leg of the flight from Delhi, Sonam gathered herself knowing that grief and grievance would be of little value in her present situation. She fell asleep for a while, helping her more to overcome her sadness. The plane landed about an hour later where Sonam’s husband Puran was eagerly waiting for her. They hadn’t seen one another for almost forty days, Puran having come away from Patna immediately after the baby’s birth. His eyes already showed how much he longed for his beautiful wife, after waiting for this long.
Gleaming with happiness as he saw Sonam and Varun arrive from the gates to the baggage claim area, he was restless to be near them. As they trudged out, he looked at his beautiful wife, who stood out in the crowd. He walked fast now, dashing towards them and to take them in his arms. He was longing to meet his wife and his newborn son. It had been weeks since he had left them at Patna and the baby already seemed bigger and chubbier. Sonam looked splendid, her bosoms were full and even her lips looked fuller. He wished to plant his lips on hers but, in keeping with tradition, he did not kiss his wife in public.
The drive to the haveli (mansion) took more than an hour and, during this time, Puran quickly updated Sonam about what had been going on in the household. He offered reasons for his sudden departure to USA, also trying to explain, in the best way possible, why she had to stay back in India with her infant son while her husband left. Sonam nodded as if to say she understood, because she knew any argument would be futile.
“Sonam darling,” Puran said, “I have got to tell you something. Babuji has changed his bedroom. You know our bedroom is at one end of the first floor while Uncle Anurud is at the other end and earlier, Babuji used to sleep in a room which was in the middle? But he has shifted his bedroom to the one next to our bedroom, saying that in my absence he’ll have to keep a watch to see that Bahu and the baby did not fall into trouble. Even to ensure that the requirements of the mother and child were easily met, if he happened to hear about it.” Puran kept watching his wife, trying to sound as convincing as possible.”
“I know you might feel that this may affect your privacy but please bear with it. Babuji is only being very protective and not purposefully spying on you.” He went on saying.
Sonam didn’t say anything but kept quiet. But, it was obvious, she was uneasy and was trying to fathom the extent to which she would be kept under observation.
In a while, Puran placed his hand on hers as he drove the car. He loved his wife a lot even though there was a lot of deficiency in him. Sonam kept looking at the road before she asked a question.
“Whatever Babuji says or does, we have to accept. So, there’s no use feeling bad about it or grumbling. When are you supposed to leave for USA?” She was apprehensive, as she recollected Babuji’s insistent phone calls, but she didn’t want to tell anything about it to anyone, not even her husband.
Puran just patted her hand and said, “I leave day after tomorrow from Delhi, and we have two nights to ourselves. Sonam, two nights … just imagine.” It was obvious that he was already very excited.
When they reached the haveli Sonam had already customarily covered her head with her palloo, like a shy bahu.
Alighting from the car, she walked up to where the entire family had assembled to welcome the bride of the house. Anjali, Anurudh, the patriarch himself, Anjali’s two kids and the servants. Anjali was the first to welcome Sonam, as she hugged the young housewife. She took the infant Varun in her arms and uttering sweet nothings to the baby with unbridled affection. She then bent down and touched the feet of Anurudh, who gave her a polite hug. Balwant stood a little behind, waiting possibly to get the due respects and attention from the young bahu and mother of his grandson. She walked up to her father-in-law very demurely and then bent down to touch his feet reverentially.
“How are you Babuji?” she asked, her eyes riveted to the floor like a young shy wife.
The patriarch bent down and, holding her at the shoulders, asked her to get up, which she did. He looked deeply at his young and very pretty daughter-in-law, as his mustache twitched over his lips.
“Bless you, bahu! May you live long and remain wedded for many, many years.” And then looking at Varun, he asked, “How is my grandson doing?” He took Varun in his arms, his face glowing in pride on holding his grandson to his broad chest. A male heir in India even nowadays enhances the joy and pride in families.
Sonam looked at his father-in-law with curious eyes. She was unable to fathom this man. He was so aloof and arrogant at times and at other times so accessible and caring. And now, he was all smiles and glowing with his grandson.
The warmth of the family eased her distress and helped Sonam to overcome the earlier sadness that she had felt while leaving her parents. She went to her room and refreshed herself while her baby remained in the company of the other ladies of the house.
Later, the day was spent with Anjali and others from the extended family, chatting about Sonam’s time away from them and whether she was looking forward to spending her time at the haveli. They all joked as they sympathized with her being away from Puran for an uncertain period. Anjali even offered to keep Varun for the night so that she could have uninterrupted time with Puran. She smiled and declined, as Varun had to be fed at regular intervals. As she spoke her swelling breasts caused some pressure and degree of discomfort and she wanted relief. She quietly took Varun to her room but, as she did, she noticed the probing eyes of her father-in-law following her when she left the living room.
She went past the door adjacent to her own room, wondering if it was the room that the patriarch had been occupying after relocating from the previous one. This was just next to theirs and, therefore, shared a common wall. She wondered if the wall was thick enough to prevent any sound to filter into the adjacent room. There were times when the young couple threw caution to the winds during sex and were noisy, unrestrained in their grunts and moans. She speculated if that night would be similar. She hurried. It had been a long time since the last feed and she was bursting.
As soon as she reached her room, she unbuttoned her blouse and quickly tried to unhook her bra. In her hurry the bra’s hook, stubbornly, remained unmoved to her efforts. Having done that all her life, she was surprised at herself. In desperation she pushed down the cup of the bra and exposed the nipple partially while bringing Varun up on to her nipple. A jet of milk rushed out even before Varun’s lips could be on it and, in the process, smearing her top and partially her bra. Varun hungrily kept feeding as Sonam sighed in relief. It had been a while since the last feed and she enjoyed the special moment, caring for her child suckling on her young breasts.
She had to clean herself, change her bra and top, and arrived back in the living room. She felt that all eyes were on her – observed by most but, most certainly, under the pointed scrutiny of the patriarch. Was it womanly instincts or her just being paranoid?They talked for some more time and finally, being tired and exhausted, she excused herself to retire for the night. Back in her bedroom, she recollected that this had been their room immediately after her marriage with the large nuptial bed facing the East. She loved the feeling of belonging to the room, their room … her room! The bed was truly spacious and had witnessed nights of her lovemaking with Puran. Eagerly, she thought about the exciting moments that would follow soon behind the closed doors. It had been a long time since they had sex, perhaps months prior to and after delivery. Having completely healed after her childbirth, Sonam was beginning to feel amorous, as goosebumps flew through her supple body.
As Sonam kept feeding her baby, lost in her thoughts, she had to admire her father-in-law. Even before she had arrived at the sprawling haveli with her forty day old son, this elderly man had arranged for a crib in their room. It wasn’t something that her husband had thought over and purchased as a husband, which should have been the case. Rather, it was the patriarch’s careful foresight to provide one in their bedroom that inwardly Sonam appreciated. This fact was honestly admitted by her husband too.
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