The ‘co-sister’ syndrome 04/10/2010

Just as I was settling down to read the newspaper,  heard an autorickshaw stop with a thud right in front of my gate. “Oh no, not any more visitors at this moment,” I cursed, as I wished to catch up with the day’s news . Only the previous night, I had seen off my mother-in-law’s sister who had left for Delhi, having stayed with me for a couple of days during her visit to Madras.

One look at the familiar figure emerging out of the auto, instead of bringing me pleasure, only confirmed my worst fears, leaving a dreadful feeling within me. In fact, more than the sight of the visitor, the baggage she had brought along was responsible for the feeling, I thought.

“Hey, Mom,” greeted Sunitha, my daughter, with a smile. Since she was holding two heavy suitcases in both her hands, she could not wave to me.

Seeing my puzzled look, which perhaps made her feel unwelcome, she immediately burst out, “Mummy, it was all your fault, it is Prathima again.”

“Wc can discuss that later, but first get into the house and freshen yourself,” I said, quite flabbergasted at her accusation. Knowing Sunitha’s temperament, I knew she would not rest till she came out with all that had happened between her and her co-sister Prathima in the last fortnight from the time Sunitha left us to return to her husband’s place.

“Ok. What is the provocation this time Sunitha? I know you have never been very fond of your co-sister Prathima ever since you got married into that family,” I said. I didn’t want to add the same applied to all her husband’s people – his parents and sister as well but did not want to upset the already disturbed girl – motherly consideration perhaps for a self-centered daughter.

“Mummy, you have no business to make such sweeping statements,” Sunitha shot back. “Especially because you have never had to contend with a co-sister as I do. If only you had one, you would have understood me better,” she fumed.

“Yes dear, I agree with you for once. I always regretted not having a co-sister. But you know that your father’s two sisters and I get along very well indeed even to this day. And also his parents did till they passed away recently,” I added, but noticed not a single word seemed to sink into the girl’s head in the mood that she was in.

“It is all your fault,” accused Sunitha again. “Whoever asked you to marry me into a family of so many in-laws?” (So many in-laws were her husband’s parents, his only sister and brother).

“But Sunitha, you cannot say three children are too many, two brothers and one sister for that matter. You have families where there are five and six brothers and their wives seem to get along very well, are friendly to each other, for appearances’ sake at least,” I ventured to say.

“Thank God, I am not one of them. Having one co-sister is like having a monster breathing down your neck.”

“Why don’t you tell me what poor Prathima did to provoke you to this extent?” I knew Prathima was a gem of a person, very lovable and friendly, no airs considering that she came from a very well-to-do family.

“What is the use, Mummy, you will not support me at all. You say I am always wrong and take ‘poor’ Prathima’s side. You are very partial towards her, and prejudiced against me. I really don’t know why,” Sunitha went off at a tangent.

“Ok. Why don’t you first tell me what happened between you and Prathima?” (This time I was careful not to prefix the ‘poor’ to Prathima).

“Then listen, and don’t take her side again. If you do, I will not go back to my house at all,” Sunitha warned.

The prospect of my daughter staying with me for the rest my life did not appeal to me at all. But, at the same time, I could not let the girl have her way when she was in the wrong, I thought.

It was five years since Sunitha had got married. She refused to live with her in-laws ever since, maintaining that in-laws were all touch -me-nots. Her in-laws too did not insist and continued to live with their eldest son. But occasionally they would visit their second son and the daughter. I knew Sunitha did not relish their visits and was very possessive of Sunil, my son-in-law. The poor boy had no say at all and was literally frightened of his wife.

“Mummy, are you listening?” Sunitha’s words brought me back from my reverie.

“Yes I am,” I said.

“You know my friend Keerthana came yesterday. Do you remember her?”

“Yes, l do.”

“What she said really shocked me Mummy, I just could not believe my ears,”

“What did she say?” I prompted.

“I believe she had decided to go back to live with her in-laws whom she had detested ever since her marriage. And, mummy, do you know why?”

“How should I know?”

“I believe something happened that changed her mind. It appears her mother died recently.”

“Oh, poor girl,” I said sympathetically.

“But that was not the reason for Keerthana’s decision to go and live with her in-laws. She said she had been a fool to believe all that her mother had said against her in-laws and co-sister. The older woman had literally brainwashed the daughter against all her husband’s people especially her co-sister, Preethi. Since Preethi came from a rich family her mother-in-law was more fond of her, she had said. This not only gave Keerthana a complex but made her develop hatred towards all her husband’s folks.”

Even then, I failed to understand what made Keerthana change her mind and asked Sunitha again.

“You know Mummy, before dying, Keerthana’ s mother confessed her guilt. Since she had decided to move into her daughter’s house after falling out with her husband, she had poisoned Keerthana’s mind against her in-laws, lest she encouraged them which would have made her (the mother) feel insecure in her daughter’s house.”

But still I did not understand the reason for Sunitha’s impulsive action of coming away from her house.

“Now, Mummy, coming to the point. My ‘co-sister’ Prathima said she would like to stay with me for a month since she got transferred to a bank which was near my place. I could not refuse because Sunil insisted that she would be good company for me as he would be away on official work for nearly a month. The moment Sunil left, I packed my bags, leaving my co-sister to fend for herself,” said Sunitha proudly.

“Oh! now I understand. How can you ever stay with that co-sister of yours for a month? I know she is a difficult woman to get along with even for a day (my words sounded strange to my own ears). I am sure she too would have preferred to be left alone.”

Sunitha appeared shocked at my words and probably did not expect me to take her side and talk ill of her co-sister.

“Mummy, I never thought you would talk against my co-sister like that. You don’t seem to be any different from Keerthana’s mother. Don’t ever try to brainwash me against my co-sister. I know her better than you do. I hope you have no intentions of pitching with me in case you and father have a difference.”

Sunitha’s reaction was expected. For once I did not mind her accusing me of my “intentions”, though I knew she should have known her mother better.

What she said next was even more surprising. Mummy, the auto is still waiting, let me go back home and welcome my co-sister. It is mothers like you who are responsible for keeping our in-laws away, all because of vested interests.”

Picking up her two suitcases, she left in a huff.

I thanked God that better sense prevailed on my daughter and she at last appeared to have ‘a mind of her own’.

N Meera Raghavendra Rao


3 thoughts on “The ‘co-sister’ syndrome 04/10/2010

  1. V Raghavan

    A co-sister? In Tamil, we have different names for wife’s sister and husband’s sister. I was under the impression that in English the same word ‘sister-in-law’ applies to both.

  2. meera rao

    when I referred to Prathima as co-sister ,I meant that she is Smitha’s husband’s brother’s wife–co-sister is typically Indian English ,the term is used to differentiate between a sister-in-law who could be taken as either one’s husband sister or one’s brother’s wife.Hope that explains all.

  3. V Raghavan

    Thank you for the clarification. It is the English language, which is funny and confusing. The term sister-in-law applies to

    Brother’s wife
    Husband’s sister
    Husband’s brother’s wife
    Wife’s sister
    Wife’s brother’s wife

    I guess all Indian languages have distinct names for these different relationships.

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