Payal stood up, “Chotti munh badi baat Dadiji par one can ‘justify’ just about anything, even murder,” she spoke in an even tone, yet her eyes flashed fire – a smouldering repressed fire which nonetheless scorched Nani with their intensity; she held out her arms, “What’s wrong with these clothes? And what’s wrong with my following the norms of this house? Isnt it drilled into us from a very early age that our in-laws house is our house? Isnt it expected from every female that she should adjust to whatever is the lifestyle and norms of her sasural, yehi kehte hain na – wahan ja kar unhi ki rang main dhal jaana?” Payal lashed out in her soft tone, “Aur humne wohi kiya,” she held out her arms again, “This is not me, this is not who I was brought up to be, but this is what my husband and mother-in-law expect of me and this is what keeps them happy, so what’s wrong with that? For taking the dictate of the ‘dutiful bahu’ too literally?” offended sensibilities and injured pride shook her slender frame.
Nani looked at her aghast, “Na…nahi, a good bahu’s job is to gently steer her family in the right direction, guide them and bring them on the path of righteousness and the kind of lifestyle that is part of our sanskaar,” Nani’s voice firmed as she found her footing again.
Payal looked straight at Nani, “Again meaning no disrespect Dadiji, could you manage Sasuma? Could you inspire your son to control and guide her to your path?”
Nani blanched and paled, she looked away.
Payal nodded, “Don’t get me wrong Dadiji, hume koi shikayat nahi hai, but I do wish you wouldn’t weigh me on your out-dated moral balance and find me wanting,” she sighed and sat down, “Aisa nahi hai that I didn’t try,” she said earnestly, “I tried, I really did, I was the good old traditional stay-at-home bahu ever in the background, on top of everything, their comfort, their food, his appointments etc etc and I couldn’t bring myself to stay away from my children, change my attire, be comfortable dancing with unknown men at parties,” she paused, “but then all too soon it became clear that either I would have move with the times or be prepared to move out,” she got up and stood with her back to Nani, “Either Aakash would find another woman for himself or Sasuma would do it for him,” she turned back to face Nani, “I only did what was necessary to save my marriage and is that so wrong? Yehi toh har bahu ka dharm aur kartavya hai na? Your sasural above all else?”
There was another long silence.
“Aapne kaha na that it is the duty of the Bahu to guide and gently steer her family to the right path?” A dam seemed to have been breached and Payal was on a roll, “And that is exactly what I have been doing,” she laughed mirthlessly, “you don’t believe me hai na? But that is the truth, and since you have pointed fingers at me I feel compelled and obliged to defend myself,” Payal spoke proudly and passionately, “Some time ago, I stopped fighting and objecting to Sasuma and embraced her in totality, complete with her idiosyncratic peculiarities, she is not really bad at heart, but she is dazzled by glamor and materialistic pleasures, there is no real harm in her except when she feels threatened and humiliated because of her own shortcomings and attempts to gain social standing. She suffers from a deep inferiority complex, fighting and resisting had no impact and instead created huge chasms between me and my husband, worse my sons were exposed to constant bickerings and petty kitchen politics, but I soon realized it couldn’t go on like this, so after some deep introspection – I realized that I couldn’t change the others so perhaps I should change myself.”
Payal paced the floor, “Of course I couldn’t have done it without the support of Babuji, he has been my strength in all this,” she smiled affectionately, “He slowly withdrew himself from his work and ultimately gave up his job and dedicated himself to the boys, their life became his life and I was free to focus on Sasuma and my husband.”
Payal paused as if to marshal her thoughts, “Aakash sort of changed once he came here and came into his own out of the shadows of his big brother, he too was dazzled and enamored with glamor,” she smiled sadly, “probably more like Sasuma than any of us suspected, he was no longer content with the sweet shy demure girl that he had actively courted.” Payal seemed to be speaking more to herself than Nani, in fact it appeared as if she had forgotten her very existence. “He wanted somebody who could match up to the ‘hot’ girls who frequented the parties Sasuma was so fond of attending, whom he could flaunt and show off, but he was also ashamed of his mother and cringed every time Sasuma made a social faux pax, aur uska gussa hum par nikalte,” she swallowed, “The final blow came when in a fit of drunken stupor he confided, ‘if I had had any inkling that I would be staying in Mumbai partying with the Page 3 people, I would have never married a ganwar like you – I don’t know of whom I am more ashamed of – you or my own mother’.
Her voice shook as it fell to a husky whisper, she cleared her throat and her voice firmed, “I had two choices before me, walk out there and then, leave my children to go back to a life of disgrace to my parents and spend the rest of my life crying my eyes out at the injustice of life or shape up,” she turned to Nani and drew herself up proudly, “As you can see I shaped up and I am not ashamed of it, none of it,” she said fiercely, “And let me tell you it wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen with the click of a button, it was a slow painstaking process often a case of one step forward and two step backwards, with the most difficult being to gain Sasuma’s trust, who viewed me and my motives with the deepest of mistrust.”
Payal shrugged, “But now that I had my priorities clear, the conflict gone I persevered on the chosen path and stuck to my guns, I managed to convince Sasuma that I had no objections to partying just that I was shy and not versed with societal norms or English, I requested that I be allowed to join some classes to improve my social skills and perhaps she could hold my hand as I felt too inhibited in such places without her guiding hand and support,” Payal smiled her gentle smile, “Sasuma generously agreed to be my chaperone and even agreed to enroll in these classes as a mark of her support, which was exactly my goal all along!” Payal gave a triumphant laugh, “bas once that battle was won things became easier, I insisted upon hiring the expertise of a dress designer who could guide me on the kind of clothes that suited me best, color combos etc and slowly manipulated Sasuma to also enlist her aid in such matters,” Payal said without a trace of any embarrassment, “I could have advised her on these matters but she wouldn’t have trusted me, so it was better this way and ultimately Sasuma became the very socialite that she has always dreamed and aspired to be, and today she is welcomed and praised at all such social dos, so am I,” Payal said modestly, “She is happy and Aakash is no longer ashamed of us, in fact he is rather proud of us, what more could I ask for?”
Nani just stared at her sort of reeling from the shock of having her righteous indignation and outrage over Payal’s apparent moral turpitude overturned.
“Dadiji aap hi bataiye if I had belonged to a rich modern family and married into an ordinary middle-class family and I had exchanged my western wear for traditional clothes, put a pallu over my head everybody would have praised me to the skies but here just because I have re-fashioned and re-invented myself in the opposite direction but one that is in keeping with the norms of my sasural,” she spread her hands, “like learning to wear heels, be comfortable in skirts and jeans, call my in-laws Mom and Dad, even take a drink or two and for that I am vilified? Is that fair?” she turned to look at Nani who was listening to her with a shell-shocked expression, “Ab bhi aap ko lagta hai humne kuch galat kiya hai?”
Click here for Chapter 442