Pampering the son-in-law is a tradition Indians have kept well intact, preventing it from erosion despite years of discourse around equality surrounding the institution of marriage. The damaad, a precious acquisition to a family presided over by men like him, is showered with expensive gifts, lavish treatment and obeisant service in his wife’s household.
An incident from Andhra Pradesh is the latest case in point.
As per reports, a family in Narsapuram recently prepared a grand spread of 365 dishes for their future son-in-law on the occasion of Makar Sankranti. The extravagance on display in the photo, which is now viral, is a sight to behold. One would think the man in whose honour it was all put together is of royal blood. After all, that’s precisely how desi families see their sons-in-law.
Two years ago, a similar story, also from Andhra Pradesh, had sparked a storm and conversations around this particularly patriarchal tradition in India. A woman reportedly prepared a 67-course meal for her son-in-law who was visiting.
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It doesn’t just stop at food. An Indian damaad, especially when he is visiting his in-laws, is tended to like a high-maintenance celebrity. He is given the best bed to sleep on, the best compliments are heaped on him, the environment is keenly monitored to avert circumstances that could even mildly upset him.
Basically, the son-in-law is in a place we all wish we were in. At the top of the world.
What kind of undue pressure does this create on the woman’s family that is bending over backwards to attend to her husband’s every unsaid whim? What about those families bound by convention but short on resources for the appeasement of this demigod figure? Are all sons-in-law keen on getting this treatment today?
This tradition comes as a part and parcel of patriarchal hierarchies that run in our families. It stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the kind of prestige our society attaches to sons. What is a damaad but a surrogate son? He is the point of extension for a family that relies on men for prosperity, safety, social standing and support of any kind.
Where have we heard of women being accorded such grand reception when they visit in-laws? Sure, there are ceremonies organised to welcome her into the family as a bahu when she enters as a newly wedded bride. But that status soon wanes as months progress.
A daughter-in-law is expected to run the house, stay on top of every domestic chore, serve her in-laws, serve her husband, serve every guest who visits and dutifully prepare any infinite-course meals asked of her because the honour of the family rests on her now. The son-in-law, on the other hand, is under no such pressure. All that is expected of him is to allow to be served and feel like a king.
While warm welcomes are always appreciated, is the extravagance lavished on a son-in-law in India conveying the value it seeks to convey? Does it honour the tradition of receiving people into our homes wholeheartedly or is it just a patriarchal appendage that stimulates yet another instance of male supremacy in our society?
Views expressed are the author’s own.