Saas and bahu: the eternal struggle

December 15, 2010

Some old readers of the blog would remember the following post where I wrote about how I played a part in getting my father’s Ph D thesis published. Here is the link:

The good news is that nearly all copies have been sold. The bad news is that there are only some 6-8 copies left. And I am loathe to give them away, whether for love or for money. I wonder whether I should get some more copies published. That should a record of sorts, an old Ph D thesis- on Bhojpuri Kahavatein that too- going into a reprint!

Sometimes, I wonder if an English translation could be a good idea.

In the meanwhile, I have attempted a translation of a section of the book. Take a look. This is my first attempt at translation so pardon any clumsy grammar. Just in case you understand Bhojpuri, I have given the original kahavat too. If there are any spelling errors , blame it on my lack of command over “Google transliteration” facility.

Do let me what you thought of the piece. Remember this was originally written some 50 years ago. So see it in that context.

And let me know if you want to read more of such translations.


The relationship between two women in a family is between a mother and her daughter, sister and sister, sisters-in law (nanad-bhabhi), daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law (saas-bahu). But the relationship between the mother-in-law (saas) and the daughter-in-law (bahu) attains importance for the power-struggle in encapsulates, the power for the upper hand in the affairs of the family. Not surprisingly we find more kahavatein on this relationship. The role of the saas is paramount in the household affairs till the bride (bahu) arrives. Before the marriage, the mother-in-law is the housewife- and the boss. And she genuinely believes that she has the rights to meddle into all the affairs within the family.

The saas feels threatened by the entry of the bahu so she wants to dominate her (the bahu) and underscore her powers.

A smart bahu slowly works her way to a status so that her voice is heard within the family. She exerts her personality and challenges the unbridled powers of the saas.

In the olden days of child-marriage a saas could easily establish her influence on the family; since the age of the bahu has begun getting higher this too has gone. The bahu would no longer meekly subject herself to torture and let her saas control her life. The bahu is ready to raise her voice against her tyrannical saas.

There are many Bhojpuri kahavatein dealing with this changing equation.


Any mother is keen to see her son married. (A bahu is critical to the extension of the family tree). Her anxiety grows when her son becomes older. Many-a-time, the matrimonial proposal may even break down when the enemies of the groom’s family create obstructions. The older the son, the more suspicious is the prospective bride’s family. So, when the son does get married, it is natural for his mother to rejoice as in the following kahavat:

बेटा भईले भाग से,

पतोहि बड़ी भाग से.

Having a son is lucky,

Having a daughter-in-law is fortuitous!

And, when the bahu enters the household, the saas does not relinquish her powers to the new bahu. To the contrary, she gets even more attached to them.


सभ सासू सतजुगी,
सभ पतोहि कलजुगी

All saas’ are pious,

All bahus are sinners.

The saas believes there really is no point in giving any rights to such useless bahus, even in the tiniest affairs of the household:


बहुरिया  के बड़ आदर,
बाकिर हांड़ी-डाली छुवहीं के ना.

Respect your bahu, yes,

But why let her touch the domestic vessels?


The saas shows her miserly attitude to the bahu as mentioned in the kahavat:


सास छोहैली त कहली जे,
लिटिया  में गडाहा कर, तनी माठा दे दीहीं.

In an outpouring of affection says the saas,

Dig a little cavity into your litti, I will fill it up with mattha (butter-milk)

In the days of yore it was rather common in households to serve the best portions of the meal to the men of the family and the dregs to the bahu. No wonder the bahu would feel liberated when her husband and saas were away:


सैयां गईले बाहारा, काहां-काहां जाओं
सासू गैली नइहर, का-का खाओं

He is away, and I am free to go wherever I wish,

And she is off to her mother’s place; and I can eat whatever I want.

But the saas returns and does what she is traditionally expected to do, trouble and torture her bahu:


खुस भैली सासू,
त लुआठी दगली गाल.

My saas feels a surge of affection for me,

And she singes my cheeks with glowing embers.

Saas regularly criticizes even the tiniest of mistakes of the bahu and makes frequent sarcastic remarks. The bahu does not find these funny at all and she starts retaliating.


उस्कावल बाती
खुद्कावल  पतोहि, अधसे नाहीं

A manipulated lamp-wick,

Or a criticized bahu,

Both are counter-productive.


The bahu starts feeding her husband with real and imagined tales her saas’ tortures. And, over a period of time, with such stories she is able to influence her husband enough for him to develop hatred towards his mother. The mother senses this and laments:


आपाना लागि हम बेटा पोसलों,
आइली पतोहि मोर नतवो छोडवाली

I nourished my son, he was my own,

The bahu arrives and cuts me off from my own.

The animosity intensifies and the saas is devastated. Once when her son was unmarried she longed for a bahu and now she can not stand her.


पतोहि आवसु, पतोहि जावसु,
पतोहि देखि के देहि का फट्वास लागेला.

Let a bahu come, let a bahu go; do I care?

My body burns when I see the bahu.

The bahu keeps consolidating her position with her husband who has now clearly turned anti-mother. She now feels emboldened to start treating her saas badly as said in this picturesque kahavat:


जब ले ऐली  कुलवंती नारी
एक चेरुई , दुह मुंह बनाई
एक में दिहली खाटा महेरी,
एक में दिहली अमृत लाई
बुधिया दिहली खाटा महेरी,
आपाना पुरुख के अमृत लाई

My cultured bahu, since she has come,

Serves food from a two-spouted vessel.

From one spout she pours buttermilk

And amrit from the other,

The old lady gets the sour buttermilk

While she serves amrit to her man.


The bahu tries to dominate her saas by all means fair and foul. She even threatens:


गाल देबो बजाई
सासू जइहें पराई

I will scream my lungs off,

Enough for saas to vanish.


Sure enough, the bahu starts dominating the household. She rules the roost even as she takes off on her saas ever so often:


सासु के ओढ़ना
पतोहि के गोड़-पोछना

The bed-clothes of saas

Serves as the foot-wiper of the bahu

The break between the bahu and saas is poignantly captured in the following kahavat.


आज मुअली सासु
काल्हु गिरलि आंसू

Saas dies today,

Cries tomorrow, the bahu.

The bahu was never happy with the treatment meted by her saas, right from the beginning. Though there were some moments (especially when the saas helped out with the chores when the bahu was in the family way) when the bahu felt some emotional attachment to her saas. Hence the bahu weeps a bit, albeit a day late.


The relationship between the two women deteriorates perhaps due to the lack of understanding between the two female protagonists. Perhaps the saas should reconcile to the fact that one day, over time, the bahu will be ruling the roost in the family. Why not reconcile to this situation early on?


बेटा के खाइल, आ पतोहि के चोरावल
कतहूँ ना जाला

Neither a well-fed son, nor a thieving bahu,

Carry the family gains away.

Thesis Cover Final


Mauritius 2: The Indian Diaspora

September 9, 2008

Nearly two-thirds of the population of Mauritius is of Indian origin, all descendants of indentured labourers shipped out by the British colonists to work in the sugarcane fields in the early decades of the 19th century. And a bulk of these labourers came from Bihar and Eastern parts of UP. Through sheer grit they dropped anchor, got rid of their colonial masters and now they rule the country!


Sir Seeoosagur Ramgoolam's Statue at Caudan Waterfront, Port Louis

Sir Seeoosagur Ramgoolam



Mauritius got independence from the British rule in 1968 under the leadership of Sir Seeoosagur Ramgoolam. (His son, Dr Naveen Ramgoolam is now the Prime Minister of the country) But all through the difficult decades they have preserved the language and culture and religion.


Mandir at Belle Mare

Mandir at Belle Mare



The Hindu Indo-Mauritians are deeply religious. Every village has a Shiva temple (called “shivala” in Hindi). Each house has a Hanuman idol installed at the entrance to protect the residents of the house. The tourist car we travelled in had stickers of Shiva, Durga and Hanuman prominently displayed.

Another striking feature was that all married women wore their sindoor very prominently. Many also wore a mangalsutra in addition. Saree and Salwar-Kameez are the most common dresses there. Women there are active in jobs and businesses but their adherence to the dress and sindoor is nearly complete. Much to the embarrassment to my wife whose chosen symbol of denoting her matrimonial status is the mangalsutra with the sindoor being reserved for ceremonial occasions!


While the common language in Mauritius is Creole (derived from French) and the official language is French, they have kept their mother tongue, Bhojpuri alive all these years. Initially it was pretty amusing for us to hear an Indo-Mauritian toggle between Creole/ French and Bhojpuri, but later we got used to it. And their Bhojpuri is pure, untainted by Creole or French.


The food too has been retained from the old days, right till the combination of spices. (Please see an earlier post “Bhajiyas in Mauritius”)


The hobbyist fisherman Sant ji

The hobbyist fisherman Sant ji


We found them to be very warm and cordial to us and they took time to chat with us total strangers. The language used was, of course, Bhojpuri. The grocer at Belle Mare who chatted happily with my wife, calling her beti. He even introduced us to his rather large family. The few rupees extra he charged us for the mineral water bottle still rankles my wife, though! One has to pay a price for staying at a Belle Mare hotel, I kept telling her. The hobbyist fisherman Mr Nityanand Sant at the beach who regretted having met us a little too late to call us home for a meal. He did share with me his recipe for mixing a Mauritian “rhum” (add lots of coke and ice!). And the ever-cheerful and nattily dressed young guide of ours, Vikram. More about Vikram in a later post.


Familiar hoarding, but at Mauritius

Familiar hoarding, but at Mauritius


It is a great feeling to see the 19th century Bhojpuri culture thriving in this beautiful island!

The Tastes of Childhood: Part Two

July 5, 2008


In my previous post, “The Tastes of Childhood: Part One”, I wrote about tastes which appealed to most kids of my era. This post is about “tastes” which are perhaps very personal to me. Maybe some of you will identify with a few of them.


Of thekuas, nimkis et al:

The blue Amul milk powder tin kept on the top shelf in the kitchen always held stuff of great interest to me. These were filled with Bhojpuri region snacks prepared painstakingly by mai and stored for the unannounced guest or for an odd-time snack for the kids. Thekua, made of atta and sugar, the popular all time snack. Chunky and hard with intriguing floral patterns on the face made by pressing a small ball of dough on a wooden mould. One bite of a thekua was enough to make you hasten to consume the rest of it. And then another thekua, and one more. Visits to the blue Amul tin would increase till someone discovered what I was up to or till all the thekuas were consumed!


If the sweetness of the thekuas was overbearing, there were always the nimkis in the neighboring Horlicks jar. Soft in texture, but with a hard bite, nimkis with their ajwain and mangrail and salt were just the perfect change of taste between successive thekuas. Heavy maida dough, rolled into a thick-ish roti, cut into elongated parallelograms and deep-fried in Dalda till they were crisp and slightly puffed up. A fistful of this sinfully delicious stuff would be smuggled into the study room and placed next to the thekua on the book I was supposed to be reading. Never mind the Dalda stains on the book, a hardworking kid had to have nourishment through his studies, right?


The sweet cousin on nimki was the belgarami, called shakarpara in rest of the Hindi speaking world. Crisp and crunchy, with a saliva-inducing sugar crust on the maida substrate. A few licks of the sugar to start with and then teeny-weeny bites to ensure that each belgarami lasted a while!  Once in a while mai would prepare Pewarakia, those thick maida crescent filled with sweetened sooji with a sprinkling of finely chopped dry coconut– gari- and saunf. Sometimes, filled with sweetened khoa. Pewarakia was typically made for a special occasion, a festival maybe; no Holi celebration was complete without this.


When I grew up and left home for my studies, Amul tins were religiously filled by mai with kilos of these snacks. Mai always had nightmares about food served in the hostel mess, and homemade snacks were the perfect antidote to the mess food! In the hostel I would conceal the tins in the street trunk we all had those days. This was kept under lock-and-key lest the stocks were wiped out by hostel mates. The snacks were consumed furtively in the evening after return from the classes and shared only with a very small circle of close friends, only with those who would share their stuff with me. I still remember the many nights spent cramming chemical equations and solving thermodynamics problems for the exams in the engineering college made less unbearable thanks to these delicacies from home.


Sugar: Outside and inside!:

Like most kids, I too was partial to sugar. Sugar consumed in any form, in milk, in sherbet, or just plain, by the spoonfuls. Sugar was also a key ingredient in many of the snacks prepared specially at my request. When I would come back after games in the evening and with dinner still a few hours away, I would turn to the aforementioned Amul tin. And if that was empty then the quickest solution was picking up a roti left behind from a previous meal, applying a generous coat of ghee to it, sprinkling a large spoonful of sugar and rolling the roti up to form a “cheeni-roll”. “Chonga” was what I called it, I do not remember if it is a universal word or a descriptor coined by me. A deep bite of this roll was enough to calm frayed nerves and take care of hunger pangs! And prepare one to mess around with school books till dinner was served.


A variant of this was the paratha which had sugar inside it, cheeni-konch was the name given to this cheeni-paratha. Made much like the aloo-paratha but with a sugar filling inside. The taste of the slightly liquidy sugar as one bit through the crisp paratha, some of it dripping down to the plate only to be efficiently wiped and licked off the fingers.


Milk and malai ka mazaa:

Milk has always been a favourite drink. Milk of various densities and consistencies delivered home by the faithful milkman. Milk with sugar, with Horlicks and with Bournvita. Milk any which way. But it was the malai which has been my all-time favourite. Not that the appalling level of milk dilution left much scope for any appreciable quantity of malai. The shriveled-looking layer of malai was spooned off the surface of the milk which was left to cool after boiling. Malai as-is, malai-in-milk, malai-over-a-roti with a sprinkling of sugar, malai-coated jalebi, the possibilities with malai were endless.


And the malai afficionado that I was, I would grab the empty milk vessel, scrape out the malai stuck to the inner wall with my thumb and savor the taste much after dinner was consumed!


In this era of health paranoia, malai is banned for me by my wife. And my kids, poor souls, do not like the taste of it. So it is collected for conversion to butter. I confess that even now I raid the fridge sometimes at nights when I am up late and help my self to a spoon or two of the delicious stuff.


PS: I may have mentioned about the dilute milk delivered by the milkman who was a permanent fixture for decades. Much after my siblings and I left Jamshedpur to chase our dreams across geographies, the milkman took credit for our reasonable success in academics and careers. Said he, in Bhojpuri, in frequent chats with our parents, “Paatar doodh ke ee kamal dekhein ki bachcha logan ke dimag-o katna paatar ho gayil baa!” Difficult to translate this in English, but let me try. “It is the magic of the thin milk which endowed your children with such keen wits!”



Some Lessons from Baba 3: What I have Learnt

June 29, 2008

What I have learnt:

Sometime in 1980 when I had just joined my engineering college I paid a visit to him over a weekend. I was studying at Varanasi which is just a few hours away from my nanihal. Those days Baba was very seriously into Bhagwan Rajneesh’ books. (Rajneesh was yet to call himself Osho then.) I made a flippant remark, typical of a teenager I then was, on Baba’s declining reading tastes. “You are reading Rajneesh,” I said in an mocking tone! Baba was initially angry, and then he controlled himself and told me that if only the world was wise enough to delink Rajneesh the man and Rajneesh the philosopher, we could all benefit from his writings. He said, “The world thinks that they know what Rajneesh stands for going merely by the scandalous newspapers reports on him. Why do not people read a book or two and see for themselves what Rajneesh actually writes about?” Quite a daring statement to come from someone who was so steeped in Sanskrit scriptures. He read some parts of the book he was reading to prove to me how sensible Rajneesh was.


I then asked him if it was possible to know the future. He was contemptuous of claims of people who claimed to tell the future. He said that while it may be possible to talk about the past, it is impossible to tell the future. Past leaves some vibrations behind and there are some who are sensitive enough to read the vibrations to figure out what happened earlier. But future, he said, no way! And this from a pandit who spent a lifetime casting horoscopes!


In the same visit, I discussed with him some of my basic doubts on Hindu religion. I still remember his answer to my question on what is a Hindu. I was mentally prepared for a lengthy chat on the religion and its intricacies. But his quick and simple answer took me aback. His pithy answer was, “Jo hinsa ko dooshit samajhta hai, woh Hindu hai.” He who considers violence impure (or wrong) is a Hindu. The brevity and the startling simplicity of this definition of a Hindu has stayed with me nearly three decades now. Baba’s distillation of years of reading, introspection and meditation.


I have stayed away from temples and pujas and have been an avid non-vegeterian as well. While me being a non-vegetarian was not an issue with my my mother, it would trouble her no end that I would refuse to accompany her to temples. Baba had come to Jamshedpur to participate in my sister’s wedding, his only trip to Jamshedpur. She complained to him regarding this and asked him to counsel me. I was hovering around and was bracing myself for a harangue from this venerable pandit regarding the virtues of visiting a temple.


Baba turned towards me and asked me, “Do you love and respect your mother?”

“Of course I love and respect my mother.” I murmured. There it comes, the long speech, I wearily thought to myself. 

Baba turned towards mai. “See, Santosh says he loves you and respects you. Do you agree?”

“Yes”, said mai, anticipating Baba’s wise words to now get me to the right path.

What Baba said next surprised both of us. “Ai Kamala (mai‘s name). If your son loves you and respects you, he need not necessarily visit the temple. Is it not enough that your son reveres you? Love and respect is a form of worship and all Gods are served if the mother is worshipped.


That was my last meeting with Baba.


Some Lessons from Baba 2: What I have seen

June 29, 2008

I used to visit Baba along with my family every year in the summer holidays when I was a kid. My memories of him from those days was of a rather serious man, given to lots of reading and specializing in matters spiritual and philosophical. He had a spartan lifestyle, with not too many interests but for reading and ayurveda. Always clad in a dhoti and a sacred thread; a kurta as well when the occassion demanded it. He is the only person I have ever seen in real life wearing “khadaoon“. Now, when I visualize baba, I see him prone on his khatia, clasping a book, and reading away for hours. Vedanta, spiritual literature and sometimes ayurveda were his topics of interest. His wore his trademark brown-framed spectacles with thick bifocal lenses on his nose, sometime held together by a string in case the spectacle-arm broke away. His room which was at the entrance to the house was a simple affair; a khatia, a steel trunk, a shelf full of ayurvedic herbs and medicines and racks and racks of books. Some books wrapped in lengths of red cotton cloth, while the others piled up on the racks in a way where only Baba could recognize the books and where they were kept. Common to all books was the layer of dust which would emanate from the fields nearby.


Baba would not only read the books many times, he would also make his own annotations and commentary on the margins of the pages. His way of differentiating his multiple commentaries on different readings of the books was by using different coloured ball-point pens. So it was pretty common to find margins covered with his steady handwriting in blue, red and green. Sometimes in pencil too. I am pretty sure that if these notes from each book were compiled this could form a great treatise on the book!


Baba, I was told, was a renowned person across the region, a Sanskrit scholar of note. In the evenings his friends would arrive and they would discuss till dusk various spiritual and philosophical matters. I was a kid thise days I could not follow the discussions except that it all sounded very serious and erudite.


Sometimes I would accompany Baba to the wedding ceremonies he used to preside over. I remember that he knew all the shlokas by heart.He rarely needed to dip into the text he would hold in his hands except when he needed to catch his breath in the middle of a long shloka! Pandits have this itch to prove their superiority over others of their ilk by finding some fault in their pronounciation of the shloka (there is a certain rigour to vedic pronounciations) or their adherence to the sequence of rituals. God forbid if someone tried to question Baba. Baba would give the mischief-making pandit a withering look, complete the shloka he was reciting, pause and break into long chastising speech in fluent Sanskrit (which I could not follow a bit) and eventually convince the other what a silly, uneducated pandit he was, thoroughly incapable of doing his job! That would end any further questioning.


There was a custom in the villages in our community during the weddings when the baraat arrived at the bride’s place. The baraatis would sit in a large pandal on mattresses spread on the ground. The bride’s family and guests would sit across the pandal, the two sides facing each other. Then would begin the test of knowledge. Someone from the bride’s side would fire a question and the groom’s side was required to answer the question. A bit like gunshots fired in the air in most parts of North India. In our community the guns would be replaced by words in the Brahaminical tradition. The question could be on any topic, but was always a serious one designed to assess the intellectual level of the baraatis. (My father tells of a baraat he had attended where the question was asked in English by some upstart from the bride’s family and my father was the only one among the groom’s side who understood and spoke English. He carried the day for groom’s side!). I remember a baraat I had accompanied my Baba to. No sooner had the baraatis settled down a person from the other side stood up and asked a long-winded and involved question on Sanatan Dharma. There was a hush of silence among the baraatis till Baba arose and spoke in Sanskrit for maybe half-an-hour on the intricacies of the Sanatan Dharma quoting from memory from various scriptures. No further question followed!


Baba’s colloquial Hindi, though, was a curious mix of Sanskrit and Bhojpuri, leaning more towards the former! I remember an incident when someone had come to consult Baba for some ailments he was suffering. Baba admonished him for neglecting his health by saying, “Prakriti key niyam ke atikraman hoi, ta kasht na hoi?” (If you break the nature’s laws then you will have to suffer). And then he handed his guest the necessary herbs and a strict instruction on dietary and life-style discipline.


So that was Baba for me, a highly knowledgeable scholar, a stern upholder of Brahminical traditions and values, a pandit much respected (and feared) by his peers. Just the right example of a strict upholder of Hindu religion. I would start seeing him in a slightly different light when I grew up a bit more!


To be concluded…