Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Great Adjustment Story

My grandmother lived to be ninety five and the family was relieved when she finally passed on. That is a sad fate for anyone. Her death gave me reason to pause and reconsider my own relationship with her which truth be told, was non-existent. With her gone, I was able to discern her good qualities better and make an effort to understand her not so good ones. It made me want to understand how did she become the person we all knew and so heartily disliked. 
She was my grandfather's second wife. His first love and wife died at childbirth leaving him a heart-broken widower with a five year old daughter and a new born son. That son died a year later leaving him even more desolate. To shore up his dying spirits and get him some help raising his daughter, the family decided to get him re-married. The first wife was wraith-like, beautiful, well-educated and had a lot of artistic talent. She came from an aristocratic family and had been raised with care. She had been a true companion to my grandfather who was something of a Renaissance Man himself. 
This time around, the family decided that the most important quality for the would be bride was robust health. The man did not need another wife to die on him.So they found my grandmother, a woman as strong as an ox with an unlimited capacity for hard-work, second grade education with nothing beyond youth to redeem her utter plainness.It became evident to her right after the marriage that her husband's heart belonged to his beloved first wife and all she could expect from the relationship was to be provided four meals a day, a roof over her head giving birth to a child each year. They had ten children together, lost a few along to way and lived in genteel poverty. She cooked, clean, scrubbed and did her conjugal duties but never received anything a wife might expect from her husband. This was the life she adjusted to. 
Coming from a poor family where there were five other sisters that needed to be married off, she had no choice or recourse. Adjustment was her mantra. She adjusted to being unloved, being treated like she did not deserve any better than she got, having motherhood thrust upon her time after time, losing her youth before its time, living in hopelessness about the future, worrying about the prospects of her daughters in the marriage market and much more. 
She adjusted to being a powerless, non-entity in her own household. The children gravitated towards her husband because he was a great father who helped them with their education, encouraged their non-academic interests and engaged them in meaningful conversation. Yet he never taught them to love and respect their mother. She adjusted to the narrative that her husband was a great man who had to commended for his patience and fortitude tolerating one such as herself. 
She was sixteen when they got married and yet it was never an expectation from the Renaissance Man to shape and form her into the companion of his dreams. She adjusted to being told she was ugly and stupid and was exceptionally lucky to have found such a great man as her husband. She adjusted to being told that she had no part in the success of her children because she brought nothing of value to the table - except the good health they all enjoy. If ever a woman was treated like cattle, my grandmother was and she adjusted to it. 
Until her death, she paid attention to herself. She wore crisp white cotton saris, combed her gray hair until it shone like silver. She wore some simple gold jewelry made from money she had saved over many years. She taught herself to read and tried to read everything that came her way. She adjusted to being viewed as a shrew by her daughters-in-law and grandchildren until she died. She adjusted to being avoided to the point, where she lived alone in her room, emotionally cut off from the family. No one had the patience to put up with her drama. 
We all missed our grandfather - a refined man of many talents and the sweetest temperament. A man who was like a giant umbrella over the family - ready to counsel and shepherd anyone who was in trouble. Everyone bent over backwards to attend to his needs but my grandmother was always tossed aside like a rag doll past it's prime. She adjusted to being last and the least all her life. Indeed, there was very little that the woman could not adjust to. Of all the stories of adjustment in marriage that I know of, hers is the greatest.


Anonymous said...

Oh god I am feeling so bad after reading this. Just for being caught in a situation the poor woman was never respected all her life. Kudos to you for being strong enough to write this down.

The Wizard said...

Did anyone ask her if she was happy or content?
Life for women was like this just a generation back. This was the story in almost all households.
Good or bad?...No idea.
If they were not content, they did not say or let the outsiders know.
My mom and Grandma lived that way too and I feel they were extremely content. Its the question of what roles are defined and how well the partners cope with not only their own identity but also with each other.
Lifestyles are changing- only time will say who is more happy/content. Women in her era or our times ( or in the future )

ggop said...

This is a great entry HC. It must have been a hard life emotionally. She didn't have an analyst or therapist to vent to - the above commenter is right. I really wonder if she was happy or content. Perhaps she adjusted her expectations.

Orientalblues said...

I loved this story! Beautifully written and profoundly real , touching a chord somewhere. Bravo... Looking forward to more such master pieces.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to you for having the courage to share this story... very touching... and needless to say, a very well deserved winner :-)

Heartcrossings said...

shilpadesh - Thank you :) I feel I've done right by my grandmother by writing this.

The Wizard - You are right - the quality of a person's life depends on their expectations. Women like my grandmother possibly had very few. There was a lot of hurt and bitterness in her that manifested itself in her world view and impacted her relationships with everyone. A happy person would not behave that way.

ggop - She chose to vent at any family member that crossed her path. For the most part no one had any patience for her.

Orientalblues and writerzbliock - Thanks for stopping by and your kind words.

shail said...

A deserving post. Congrats,

No one ever asked her where her happiness lay. Would she have known the answer of she were asked?? She just adjusted to all those around her. What a tragedy.