SHAIRA MOHAN | 11 MARCH, 2017
Changing The "In-law" Rhetoric - Let's Be Outlaws Instead!
NEW DELHI: Recently, a close friend’s wedding had us packing our bags and taking a flight to Muscat, Oman.
Delicately wedged between the stunning blue ocean on one side and the mountainous rocks on the other, this grandiose hotel told a tale that was far removed from Muscat city both in distance and design.
The venue, as it turned out was just the icing on the (wedding?) cake. An impeccably organized wedding unfolded with attention to detail taking on new meanings. New friendships were forged that hinted at a lifelong promise while older friends and family were reunited in song and dance. If heaven was a real place, we had certainly arrived at one of its doors.
But what I want to talk about here is what occurred on the last day – the Reception function when the family of the boy formally welcomes the girl into their home and hearts.
It was time for speeches and the father of the groom took the stage. Seconds into his speech he had stunned the entire ballroom into silence and tears. Addressing his daughter-in-law in a poignant, straight-from-the-heart dialogue, he shattered the age-old tight-lipped narrative surrounding relationships among in-laws (more so in the Indian context) in one effortless quiver of words using a refreshingly unprecedented example – that of Robin Hood and his band of merry men.
“Let’s not be in-laws, you and I,” he beseeched his newly acquired daughter-in-law.
“Let’s be outlaws instead. Like Robin Hood and his merry men, let’s be outlaws who have a blast being the thickest of friends and yet look out for one another. If someone messes with you from this day forward, they have me to deal with.”
The effect his monologue had in that ballroom can hardly be emulated by me here on paper. It brimmed with an emotion and promise that could only be felt in the moment. There was barely a dry eye in the room.
It made me think long and hard even as his speech concluded with a deafening standing ovation. Here was someone who had turned the stereotypical narratives of feminism, relationships, gender biases and societal pressure in India on its head in one sweeping verbal delivery.
And he had hit it out of the park.
It threw a great deal of light on the harsh reality of how far removed we still are from this highly evolved and progressive mindset. Today we in India are still very busy being the quintessential “IN-laws” tip-toeing around topics of women equality, working wives and mothers and simply even looking at women from the same lens of capabilities and respect as we look at men. Forget the uneducated, even many educated who have studied and worked all their lives with female counterparts seem to insist on mind-boggling double standards when it comes to women in their own homes.
How does this make us any different from the uneducated?
When I met the father of the groom later in the evening, I hugged him and relayed how his speech had touched a chord and how beautiful it had been. He simply said, “I just spoke from my heart.”
Robin Hood and his men were poor but happy men. They were fiercely loyal to one another and infinitely kind and generous to those in need. They did not need to be wealthy and educated to display these values. An inherent kindness stemming from large-hearted generosity and the incessant need to do good was the anchor that moored them towards incredulous popularity and love. The father of the groom in my story is not poor like Robin Hood but his benevolent spirit tells us that even if he was, he would be richer than any of us by virtue of his large heart.
It made me think how different many of our lives would be if we all focused on living like the “outlaws” in the above context instead of blindly clinging to the ancient “in-law” rhetoric and all the behavioral nuances that come with it, refusing to step forward and away from the antiquated era is was born in.
When we open our arms and hearts to new male family members – whether gained from wedlock or childbirth, why can’t we be “merry men and women” and do the same for our women?