Claire Underwood's mom is our mom. Except our mom says bhains.
Episode 2, Season 4, House of Cards.
Claire Underwood, the first lady of the USA, is picking a dress best suited for her Congressional ambitions. Her mother calls.
"What are you wearing tonight? Something dark, I hope."
"Well it's between black and ivory. And to tell you the truth, this ivory..."
"For God's sakes, don't wear ivory! Even with your figure, it'll accentuate all the wrong places."
And again before they hang up, "Wear the black!"
And because Claire Underwood is just a longer-legged version of you, me and everyone else, she does precisely the opposite.
Love Handles is a euphemism, don't you know?
At some point during my bi-annual trips home from college, my parents arrived at the airport to find me wearing a t-shirt that read 'FML'.
Now, I was secure in the knowledge that my parents wouldn't know what the acronym meant (For the uninitiated,this.) And yet, my mother looked on disapprovingly. I couldn't fathom why.
Later, she told me. Big letters stamped across my breasts would only draw attention to them. And my breasts did not need the extra attention.
You see, by age 15, I had acquired what my mother called a Matronly body-type. Large breasts, buxom hips. The curves of a woman who had birthed multiple children. And since I had birthed none, it was not a body-type she was willing to accept.
My large breasts were sloppy. My hips were inopportune. My hair was 'junglee'. Oh I also had rickshawala feet. Those feet I got from my paternal grandmother. And my hips - what she called deckers - were inherited from my father's side of the family.
In other words, none of this was her fault.
All of this is to say that my mother would have been no more, nor any less upset by a shirt that said 'Do you like my jugs'? The contents inside my shirt had already taken all of her expressed disapproval.
Cow in English. Bhains in Hindi.
Of course, I wasn't surprised to find that in matters related to unforgiving mothers, I wasn't alone. I broached the topic on a slow evening at the office, and on Whatsapp to my friends. Ladies, did your moms tell you horrific things about your body?
Thus opened a Pandora's box."She called my feet adrak. Because toes come out from everywhere."
"She told me I dress like a communist."
"Trim your moustache."
"You look like a beggar."
"I'm a drug addict because I wore harem pants once."
"Wave at the mirror and watch the ripples in your arms."
A friend from college messaged to tell me this:
"Every time I go shopping with her, my mom yells across the store, 'BUY EXTRA LARGE!'" (This friend is a US size 6/8.)"And then if I glare at her, she'll get defensive and yell, 'CLOTHES SHRINK AFTER A WASH!'"
Here's another one:
A colleague recently made a career break-through reporting on the Bengal Elections. The night after the results, her father and sister called to congratulate her on her excellent reportage.
The phone was then passed to her mother. "WHAT WERE YOU WEARING? THAT FADED TOP? YOU KNEW YOU WERE GOING TO BE ON VIDEO!"
"She really hates that top," my colleague explained.
Of course, asking the men yielded different results. Even the most intrusive mother has had an opinion on only three aspects of her son's bodily affairs- 1) his haircut 2) his facial hair 3) his weight. And, in the most dire of circumstances, his body odour.
For women of course, the broad band of issues open to opinion are hair style, hair colour ('You paid money for your hair to look like a jhadoo!'), eye brows, upper lip, chin, breasts, space-between-breasts, arm-hair, underarm-hair ('Your father's side is very hairy. Like you'), finger nail paint colour, toe nail paint colour ('dayan!'), acne, hair-line on back, baby hair in front ('oil lagao, oil lagao!'), waxing versus shaving, heels versus flats, matte lipstick versus gloss lipstick, skinny butts ('iron board!') look good in denims versus big butts look good in saris, when did you last get a pedicure, why don't you get a diet coke instead, why don't you get a salad instead, why don't you have fish-oil supplements for your skin, why don't I make you some ghee ke laddoo and why aren't you eating, do you want to become a model?
To name a few.
Of course this wasn't true of all mothers. The Farida Jalals of the world continue to provide hospitable feedback only when asked. And positive reinforcement at all other times. And there are also moms who are concerned only with what's inside your head.
But those are the lucky ones. The rest of us are drowning in well-intended advice from our mothers. Because she believes that no one will tell you the harsher truths of life like she can. And she labours under this misconception because she hasn't met your damned parlour-wali yet.
And then you get married
Something curious happened after I got married. My mother quietly, slowly, weaned off opining on my appearance.
I first imagined this was because I'd already entrapped a dulha for myself and my appearance was no longer of any worldly value.
I asked some of my married friends if this was also a common phenomenon. Here's what I learned:
The fact is, my mother is likely waiting in the wings to see if my mother-in-law swoops into her position. Is the new woman in my life going to opine with as much wanton disparagement?
If indeed she does, my mother will gracefully lend my M-I-L her blessings, put up her perfectly manicured feet and retire, content in the knowledge that she'd done her part. And done it well.
But if my mother-in-law appears not be generous with brickbats, my mother will swoop right back in. Deckers, matronly breasts, et al.
It's hardly a fashionable turn of phrase anymore, but what the hell.
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