‘I realised it would be unfair to trivialise truth for humour’

Veena Venugopal | 39 | Author
Photo: Yogen Shah

What prompted you to write about the most dreaded figure of the Indian household: the mother-in-law?
The original idea came from my publisher Chiki Sarkar, but initially I was a little reluctant to go for it. Later, whenever I mentioned the idea over lunch or in parties, everybody would enthusiastically contribute opinions and anecdotes about their mother-sin- law. I thought it would constitute for a quirky book and went ahead with it.
What kind of response did you get from women during your research?
I intentionally kept my research beyond my friend circle. The anonymity factor made them more honest. For many, it was like a free therapy session! It was difficult to listen to their unsettling accounts because sometimes the reality is not funny but grim. I was caught in a dilemma to either write a funny book or an honest one. I realised it would be unfair to trivialise truth for the sake of humour.
Is your equation with your mother-in- law an informal one? How did she respond to the book?
When I got married, I made a resolve to not end up like a clique. But once we started living together, we most certainly turned into one! We are both very non confrontational and choose to sit on our resentments. So it hasn’t been an easy relation. In retrospect, I think we should have communicated more. My mother-in-law was very helpful during the research so I’m now feeling bad for dissing her in the book!
Some would accuse you of reinforcing the ‘evil mother-in-law’ stereotype…
The stereotype exists for a reason. It may be a changing reality but it still exists and that is the truth for the majority of Indian women. Today, the differences between the two relations are more acute than ever. We are at cultural crossroads. The figure of the mother-in-law has changed little but the evolving dynamics of the new age daughter-in-law is giving rise to a conflicting scenario. This conflict is rooted in the structure of Indian households where your mother-in-law acts as your mother while she’s not and is constantly riddled with the insecurity of losing her son to the daughter-in-law.
But we didn’t get to hear the mother-in-law’s side of the story…
Well, that could be another book!