As a society, we have mastered the art of internalising patriarchy when it comes to a saas-bahu relationship. Most Indian women take it upon themselves to keep their mother-in-laws as happy as possible. They often tend to sacrifice their little joys while living up to the society’s definition of the perfect bahu. Moreover, daughter-in-laws are expected to meekly obey their mother-in-laws and hardly ever have any say in any matter. This relationship has been dramatised by the Indian soap operas to such an extent that most brides are warned to ‘stay in their limits’ while living with their in-laws. Is it impossible to smash the pre-assumed negativity around the saas bahu relationship? Why do we find it difficult to break this toxic stereotype?
SheThePeople got in touch with actor Sameera Reddy and her mother-in-law Manjri Varde. This saas bahu duo have indeed triumphed over the patriarchal stereotypes, and are breaking barriers with their fun-filled relationship.
Let us know more about this saas-bahu duo, and how they managed to attain the light-hearted equilibrium between them.
Q. How do people react to the easy-breezy relationship between the two of you?
Sameera: We have taken a while to get to this point. It has taken a lot of communication, understanding, and a bit of back and forth to get to where we are. I remember, in the beginning, a lot of my friends would love to bitch about ‘the mother-in-law’, and I never had anything to say as our relationship is a really fun one. It was then that I realised that a lot of negativity still exists around this relationship, and it’s time we break it.
Q. Most women are warned about how they will have to conduct themselves in front of their in-laws. Women are also made to feel conscious about what their mother-in-laws might think of them. How was it for you when Sameera became a part of your family? How did your relationship become ‘perfectly imperfect’ or ‘imperfectly perfect’?
Manjri: I feel that these notions also depend on how one is brought up and how they go through their own life. I remember wearing halter-tops, and going out for parties, and my mother-in-law never said anything. My parents brought me up as an independent and outgoing person and never stopped me from doing anything. In most Indian households, there is always this power game between a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law. However, there is nothing of that sort in our house as I have been single and independent for many years now. I think this made a lot of difference.
Q. So, does this happen with drawing boundaries by saying “this is my compartment” and vice-versa? Or is it organic? We all know that our to-be mother-in-laws are very different from the actual ones.
Sameera: We have the ability to understand each other’s intentions and patterns. She (Manjri Varde) is able to understand where exactly the conversation is supposed to be a little vocal, and understands when I don’t want to talk about a problem. The biggest issue in most saas-bahu relationships is that most bahus complain to others about her mother-in-law. Instead, she should try talking to her, and solve an issue instead of worsening it. The one thing that has worked for us is her openness to understand what I want to convey, solve and create boundaries that will solve the issue instead of creating a worse one.
Q. How are you okay with the visible display of respect towards mother-in-laws that doesn’t come from the heart? Why were you okay with them?
Manjri: Well, at the core, this is funny, but she always has her way of showing that everyone is being taken care of. Now she never did this when she was working as an actress, or when she herself was being taken care of. However, after being a mother, she seems to have become more aware of whether everyone is feeling comfortable or not. Now practically, this is very important. For example, you don’t have to touch my feet, but if you have made sure to put food on the table irrespective of whether you like it or not, that does make a huge difference. That is respect.
Q. Sameera, what do you call your mother-in-law?
Saneera: So my sister-in-law’s husband calls her Manjri, but I just couldn’t do it. I started calling her ‘Aunty’, but that sounded bizarre to me. But since the lockdown, our saas bahu relationship has become more relaxed, and I discovered a mind-blowing side of her. Now that we are working together, and creating funny, witty content, I think calling her ‘Manjri’ is kind of finding its way.
Q. How do manage to not encroach into each other’s spaces?
Sameera: We work around each other and this tendency has flourished after a lot of hardwork. Food is one of the things we have different tastes in, and I don’t take it badly if she doesn’t like my food. So, I would like to say this to all the saasus and bahus out there that you need to keep working on this everyday and find a way to understand each other’s intentions.
Q. How did you deal with this notion of ‘meri bahu mera beta le gayi’ ?
Manjri: I never believed in the fact that my children have to stay with me. Both my children are free to go wherever they want to. When my son Akshay moved to Bandra, I would meet him very often especially when my grandson was born. So the thought of ‘my daughter-in-law taking my son away’ never occured. Also, there is this beautiful poem by Kahlil Gibran which says ‘Your children are not yours, they are just given to you for a little while,’ and that really stuck with me.
Q. Are we women not independent enough tk get on with our lives rather then watching these soap operas which only perpetuate these saas-bahu stereotypes? Do you think that the ‘khaali dimaag’ is the crux of all these negative issues in our society?
Sameera: I think it is all about how you have been brought up and what we have seen while growing up. So, there are women out there who have all the time in the world, but have better relationships because they might have been brought up with better values that have become ingrained in them. This whole control thing in the Indian society comes from money or the gold showered upon a daughter-in-law, and this has been a longstanding thing which needs to change. This is not just about the saas-bahu relationship.