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Title: Spousal handling and domestic bliss
At some point or another we have all had issues dealing with our spouses. As you can see boys, my articles are not swing-your-bras-in-the air-ladies type feminist claptrap, I fully embrace the fact that husbands have as many issues dealing with their wives as we do dealing with you husbands…if only you were to do as you were told you wouldn’t actually have any issues…but that aside.
The key issues, totally unconfined to gender are;
- Who is the dominant partner
- Handling financial issues- who deals with the bank statements? Refer to above…
- When to have children….a complete minefield that may require drugs or illegal methods of persuasion.
- Which set of parents to spend Christmas with (mine!...sorry, I’m not getting involved, simply pointing out the issues)
- Which set of parents are best- not passing any comments on THAT one.
- The type of property they live in- terraced, semi, detatched.
- How to decorate said property- what exactly is wrong with cushions? Are men allergic to soft furnishings? Sorry, but there aren’t many women out there that don’t like cushions.
- How to stop life-partner leaving used underpants strewn around said property- still not talking about any gender in particular, although a certain gender may have stronger tendencies towards the above.
Ok, so it’s clear that there are no real key issues, mostly just a never-ending list of highly important issues that could be completely avoided if I was in charge…sorry, did I say I? What I meant to say was, a dominant partner should be chosen in a fair but highly risky gamble.
On our wedding day a series of games were introduced to me that would apparently pave the way for who would be the dominant of the two of us. The first was; after being tied together-with a decorative piece of material -(as opposed to a rope) walking around the fire (of our passionate love) four times-don’t really think it symbolises that but it’s ever so romantic and to be quite honest I’m not quite sure what the fire means. There are issues with the number of times you walk around the fire which I’ll come back to. The person who manages to sit down first will apparently dominate the entire marriage. There were certain boundaries placed in my way to prevent me getting to the point of victory; young cousins pulling on various limbs, overweight uncles and of course the fire itself but I still won, so clearly it was a test in skill and brute strength. No, I’m not a brute; I am highly skilful though especially considering my betrothed had no such obstacles aside from my weight. Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t be shouting that victory from the rooftops.
Before the wedding took place; red and gold thread was tied around both of our wrists by a member of our respective families. As these ‘games’ were completely alien to my family they would have had no idea as to how to rig the game so I could win. The spouse who could untie the knot in the thread in the shortest amount of time would be the dominant partner. My mother had tied a simple knot in my thread; my husband’s family had tied a maze of knots in his. Against all odds, I won. Again. Acryclic nails…always a winner.
The last game was to find a golden ring that had been hidden in coloured water- the first to extract the ring in the water would be the dominant partner. By this time I was clearly already the dominant partner, but needs must and my husband’s family were desperate for victory. I extracted the ring in less than ten seconds (oh dear) after which there was an incessant chant squawking “besht of three” (best of three). Rigging was not only desired, it was mandatory; I let him win the last two ring extractions before the extended family went into a frenzy of gaming hell. As my husband likes to say, “sometimes you’ve gotta take a hit”. This was definitely a hit worth taking, my eardrums were in dire straits. So after the ultimate ring-extracting victory my in-laws reigned supreme and husband was pronounced “the dominant partner” (cough cough, YEAH RIGHT!!)
Having said that, the whole matter of circulating the fire and the number of times you are supposed to do it; I was brought up believing that “saath phere” meant going around seven times, hence the word “saath” meaning seven. There are so many rites and rituals that we don’t quite understand the meaning of yet we know that for whatever reason, they are important to us, as women, and we want them to be part of our wedding day. The wedding itself with both its large and trivial issues is mostly about the bride and I married a man who had no strong feelings on how many times he was to walk around the fire, like a lot of us, he had no idea what the fire meant, but he really didn’t care. Our priest however expressed such strong opinions on how many times we did ring-a-ring-a-roses around the fire anyone would have thought I was marrying him and not my husband. He made it pretty clear in his “of course this is not a sweeping generalisation based on pure ignorance” manner, that it was four rounds or the whole wedding would make no sense. He was an insurance broker who decided to cash in on the Indian wedding business because it made a pretty packet…and yes, that is EXACTLY what he said. His reply to my father-in-law’s offer of a drink was “not tonight, I’m driving”, I have polite in-laws..he didn’t point out that he was actually only offering the ‘priest’ a cup of tea or if he really wanted a kick (which I would have been more than happy to oblige him with) a can of coke.
There were a lot of “issues” with our colossal wedding. To be fair, I don’t know of a wedding that has no issues but on a personal level my husband and I had to cope with over one thousand guests before which we had to cope with the one-upmanship trivia of our individual families. This did put an unnecessary strain on our relationship especially considering all arguments and heated debates were conducted with a 300 mile distance (him in London- the centre of the universe and me in Newcastle- and yes, there are cinemas there) to contend with not to mention the hordes of family coming and going from his family home on a daily basis. It was decided we would be married in London.
Despite the Indian traditions and customs that dictate that a bride should not leave her family home until her husbands family come to collect her from there after her own family successfully marry her off for a fair price..joke. These are customs that my husband’s family have a particular affinity for when it swings in their favour, this major custom seemed to have been over-looked as it just would not be convenient to cart over 800 members of his nearest and dearest to the north east of England. In all fairness, a descent of 800 indian people with a penchant for speaking to white people, in fact ALL people, in gujerati may have resulted in massive Geordie outcry and it really does raise the question of where we would have put them, but there would have been a logical solution. Cut down the guest list? I don’t think I know 800 people, now I come across people randomly in my daily life that ask, “remember me beta, I came to your wedding?” ummmm…that’ll be a big fat NO then. But Indian people just do not take the hint “come on, what’s my name, tell me, chalo, quickly quickly, what’s my name?”
I was brought up by my mother to always respect your elders, whatever they say to you, you must honour your family name and basically make sure they have no reason to cuss your parents!
So back to the original point, with the wedding taking place 300 miles from my home town, the town I was brought up in; it does raise the question, who at this point was the dominant partner?
I have been brought up with a massively dominant male role model- my father. And as with all dominant parents, whether they are male or female, they do have hugely strong and highly questionable opinions on who should be the dominant partner. From what I have seen in most families, when the father is dominant, the daughter is more submissive (when my husband reads this I will have to hire a CPR machine in case he keels over due to asphyxiation after snorting with derision at that last comment) but take it from me, I am submissive….honest. However a strong male role model produces sons that are able to not only handle moderately unreasonable behaviour, but to cure it. Fortunately for my husband who hasn’t been faced with any manner of unreasonable behaviour, given the challenge I’m more than sure he could cure it.
When the mother is dominant however, it produces daughters that will stamp out any semblance of a backbone their prospective husband might have and sons who didn’t grow a backbone in the first place. I did believe, long ago, during a life where there were “once upon a times..”, that the former scenario is the preferable one.
But in this day and age, is it feasible for one partner to be solely dominant in every aspect of married life?
Nobody really knows what goes on behind closed doors, clichéd as that may be, clichés are there for a reason; they’re true. In small matters of what to make for dinner, or indeed who actually cooks the dinner, a little give and take really causes no harm to anyone and in all reality, in those first blissful days of marriage, sorry did I say days? I did mean years; everyone is trying to make a good impression. I know my brother used to cook for his wife once upon a time- ah! You see? “Once upon a times”..do still exist, they’re just not quite as wistfully romantic as they were when we were 5! But eventually habit and the daily grind kick in and the roles are seamlessly laid out. Nobody writes down who’s responsible for what it just happens.
This actually raises the question, would it be a good idea to draw up a pre-marriage document that would detail each spouse’s individual roles and responsibilities. Financial matters fall into the hands of the lucky ones..I mean, the sensible ones. Culinary matters come down to whose food is more palatable and as for children….that opens up a whole minefield of questions:
- Vegetarian?/ non-vegetarian?- for me, usually that would result in a resounding “definitely non-vegetarian!!” Trying to get food down children (especially Indian ones) poses enough of a dilemma but when that food is suddenly restricted to lentils, curried vegetables and rice, the whole dilemma turns into nothing less than a dining fiasco. However, when you have a girl and a boy and your daughter suddenly looks at the sausage in her plate and says “oh..this looks like Dylan’s…” (in public places-quickly clamp the hand over child’s mouth being careful to leave vent in fingers for breathing purposes) Avoiding that comment? That’s certainly a good reason to stick with the vegetables.
- Discipline- naughty step? Smacking? (ie. What do you do when your child smacks you in the face? Give an indulgent laugh and comment on his/her high spirit- yes, there are parents out there who do that- or give them a “wait until I get you home” glare. I will admit, I am for the latter, not quite sure if I’d be able to wait as long as until we got home though!
- State education or private.
- Stay at home mother or working mother? House-husband? Is there such a thing as an Indian househusband, I’m not quite sure he’d make it past his family’s door in one piece if there is.
- Fair skinned delightful angels (just like Dadima) or dark children of the night whose mothers clearly ate too many aubergines during pregnancy. That’s not exactly choice, that really just comes down to pot-luck and apparently, the amount of dark pigmented food consumed during pregnancy. I was lucky enough to get my kids skin colouring the right way round- fair daughter, darker son and believe me that has not escaped ANYONE’S notice.
There are a whole host of questions when it comes to children’s upbringing especially disciplinary issues confined to the Indian community. And certainly something I will broach in greater detail at some point in the near future; after people get to know and bond with ‘the real me’ then the chances of being reported to child protection agencies will be much reduced.
Back to the whole ‘domestic bliss’ discussion which seems to have escaped me at the moment. Now that’s never a good sign is it?
In my humble opinion, it is never wise for one partner to rule the entire roost. In all seriousness, it can only lead to resentment and a souring of the relationship further down the line. The more difficult question is who’s in charge of what?
I genuinely feel that it should all come down to individual ability and aptitude. I am hopeless in dealing with money, in fact, it bores me. As long as I’m not left at the supermarket counter with three rejected credit cards and no cash, I’m really not interested in what comes in. I just need enough for what goes out. So financial responsibility falls neatly and conveniently into the hands of my husband. But financial responsibility includes a whole array of domestic issues and if he’s in charge of that then where do we draw the line? When finance and domesticity cross over, at what point am I permitted to assert my authority?
For any woman who has worked in her life and then gone on to have children with whom she has to stay at home to look after, the role of the partner bringing in a salary on which the couple depends is suddenly demoted to another dependant. So the husband who thought he was going to have one extra mouth to feed suddenly finds he actually has two. Don’t get me started on multiples. But is the stay-at-home mother not contributing something to the family, even if it’s not financial?
When we bought our new house, I was pregnant with our second child. I worked through the pregnancy whilst my husband raced from tile warehouses to bathroom and kitchen showrooms to have our house decorated in time for the baby to arrive. Questioned by a few people, only female, as to why I wasn’t taking an active role in decorating the house, it was, after all, a house I was also going to live in, I genuinely did not have an answer for them. I just wanted us all to be happy. If that meant my husband got to choose the kitchen sink then so be it…see? Told you I was submissive.
Four years on, the house was completely renovated in a style that reflected both of our personalities but if I were to even think of putting a tiny little magnet on the fridge, I would be accused of making the house look tacky and childlike. I once found an ingenious magnet that read “Do you want to speak to the man in charge or the woman that knows what’s happening?”. I’m thinking the actual message on the magnet was the problem and not the magnet itself. But if I spend a lot of my life in the kitchen, cooking meals for our family, is it too much to ask that I be allowed a magnet on the fridge?
Author: Keeya Mehta is a budding writer and online contributor to GaramChai.com