I have recently had the amazing opportunity of spending time with an elderly relative and thus learning a few life lessons. The main outcome of this experience is I have decided to make one of the major aims of my life to avoid becoming like her. The other is to avoid women like her whose lives are spent in recrimination, rebuke, emotional blackmail and petty dispute.
The aunt in question has many many complaints about the family. According to her, she is the victim of rudeness and neglect. The bulk of her conversation centres around such affronts as “he never says salam to me, she never comes to meet me, she doesn’t say salam to me, he was rude to me” … and on and on and on.
After one such session of her complaining about all sorts of nephews and nieces and random others, I was foolish enough to suggest that perhaps she was not actually the victim of a global campaign of aunt-snubbing, but perhaps there were other factors to be considered. Perhaps her deafness did not register the salams that people had greeted her with, or perhaps now people, in general, were more careless and less mindful of social mores, or perhaps her memory was playing tricks with her.
This piece of thinking and suggestion of alternative causes did not register with her. She simply carried on with her litany of complaints beginning of course with “I never reproach anybody but….”
Her bitterness and the intellectual paralysis that her complaints reveal have a terrible effect on all around her: especially those people who are stupid enough to be nice to her or try to help her with anything. After much observation, I have concluded that this type of person is just a manipulator and a bully: a person whose emotional blackmail and verbal battering will leave those around them feeling battered and bruised, apologetic and guilty.
Of course this aunt is not unique. Personalities like this can be found in many desi households. Martyrs who keep the house, run the kitchen, bully their husbands and create discord with their petty politics.
So is this a way of life and a method of survival or is this the destructive degenerate face of the desi wife? Is this the result of suppressing women and keeping them housebound or is this a revered cultural tradition?
I’m not sure if the ‘suppressing women’ argument works here because I see around me plenty of well-off, well-educated, professionally trained women who choose to dedicate their lives merely to being begums and who contribute very little of positive value to society. Their primary focus is themselves, the decoration of their homes and the adornment of themselves. Manipulating their husbands is also an ongoing activity.
I’m sure a proper anthropological or sociological analysis will reveal that such behaviour is linked to economic and other factors. But what I see around me is women who have willingly immersed themselves in the petty — whether in the sphere of the kitchen, the family or the social circle. These are women whose destructive and manipulative behaviours will affect adversely the future of this society.
As my aunt drones on and on about the social snubs inflicted on her by the generations and the ingratitude of the many relatives she has in the past cooked for or had dawats for, I am made acutely aware that even if women don’t work they must develop a commitment to learning and teaching in some form. One can learn not just from books but from life and from relationships — and one can teach whatever little one knows of literacy to those who might not have had the same opportunities.
The petty politics and domestic drama of family matters are like an addictive and destructive drug — best avoided no matter how tempting they appear.
My aunt, alas, knows little else: as Drama Queen par excellence she is an example to us all of the dangers of the petty mind.