Calling the Bluff
by Kiran Jhamb
(Nagpur, Maharashtra, India )
The brand new DIL (daughter-in-law) had no idea of the game plan. An educated girl, who entered into a family where the matriarch was ill, was shocked at the neglect. She decided to take the reins into her hands. It was family history that the mother had a hole in her ‘hard (heart)’ and had brought up the family - three sons and two daughters - singlehandedly. She had been a beauty in her time - the husband had still to emerge from the thankful mode of being so lucky as to have landed such a prize. You could say he was in a semi-permanent state of silence and she to her credit, had never fallen into the common way of thinking that she did not have any power. She knew she had power and used it ruthlessly and unscrupulously.
The children were very grateful and were never allowed to forget that how she had toiled, sacrificed to raise them. The new DIL pitied the men of her family. Silly, nincompoops - couldn’t they take her to a metro and get her checkup done? It was long overdue. The MIL (mother-in-law) had been overworked, stretched beyond her limits in arranging the marriage of the youngest son. The astonished brand new DIL watched the rumblings of the storm gather momentum and then the MIL disappeared. The family knew the routine. They immediately rushed to the government hospital. There she reclined like a queen on the hospital bed. She had ordered the doctor, “ Sulyne laga do”(inject saline, start the iv). It was a small town. The doctor knew the family, and also the history that the papers will be duly filled and bills paid by the men of the family in due course of time.
When the husband and sons tried to enter the room, she screeched and warned them if they dared to enter, she will smash the saline bottle, stand, furniture and everything. They stopped in their tracks. She bargained and got her way over what had been denied to her. Once they agreed to her terms and conditions, she graciously consented to come home. The new DIL was impressed by her modus-operandi - how she had turned a disadvantage to an advantage. She wanted to do something for such a smart lady - who knew how to manoeuvre people without having done any course in behavioral psychology.
Back came the DIL to Nagpur and her job. She invited the MIL to her new home. During MIL’s visit the DIL suggested a routine health checkup. The MIL felt gratified and happily entered the hospital. Little did she realize that the DIL was taking her to the best cardiologist in the city. The tests continued for two days. The results made MIL grim and DIL full of grins. The MIL was fine except aging and had never had a hole in the heart. In her innocence the DIL had done a great harm to the MIL. Her ‘ brahmastra’( the deadliest divine weapon) for pressurizing the family to bow to her
wishes had been taken away. Her amour, her armory, her ammunition - emptied by a chit of a girl! She never forgave the DIL but decided to keep away from her.
Old habits die hard. The Queen Bee was again denied something and she declared, “I’m leaving home - I’ll go to Brindavan and never come back.” Ignoring the pleadings and entreaties of the two local DILs, she ordered her second son to help her board the train to Nagpur from where she will catch the link to Brindavan. The youngest son in Nagpur was instructed to make her change her mind.
Forewarned is forearmed. The DIL had often pondered over how the old lady must have concocted the story of a hole in the heart and done such impressive publicity work; she deserved to be the head of the PRO department in some organization. Such IQ, such energy wasted over petty things! The DIL also planned her strategy. At the Railway station the son sweet talked his mother; she basked in his attention, still regal and loud in her refusal. This attracted the other passengers. The MIL had the time of her life, weeping and cursing her fate for getting no reward for the hardships of her life and being saddled with such a wretched family.
The DIL took command. By now her DILship was a few years old. Raising her voice she asked her husband, “Go and get a ticket for Brindavan.” Meanwhile to resolve the crisis, the members of the extended family had also reached the Railway station and the queen held her court with a tragic air. The added spectators fuelled her acting abilities. The son came back with the information that there were three trains for Brindavan that day. “Book tickets in all the three trains. We are sure to get RAC in one of them. I’ll stay here with her and personally request the TT to help her reach Brindavan.” The MIL recalled how earlier the DIL had deprived her of her tested and tried raambaan (Lord Ram’s arrow that is meant to hit the target no matter what) of years. She realized she had miscalculated. This DIL was not going to grovel. The MIL changed tracks, became amenable, pretended to see the light of reason, talked about the virtue of forgiveness, about her own magnanimity and got ready to come home. The DIL with due concern, making a proper show of solicitude helped her to get up from the bench and propelled her homeward.
The son had a sigh of relief. Advance and retreat - both the protagonists had completed the dance. No doubt, for differently empowered women calling the bluff is such a fine art. Both had realized that the question isn’t who is going to let me; it is who is going to stop me. Both had trusted their intuitions and clearly seen the LoC not to be crossed. Both were happy – the MIL for having got her two minutes of attention, and the DIL for having surpassed the MIL’s move. *****