Feeding the son-in-law


Zubin D’Souza

A marriage can be a wonderful institution. In India, the institution is somewhat larger! A guy just doesn’t marry the girl; he gets the entire family and they have to integrate.

Unlike several other nations and cultures, Indians try to keep their familial relationships intact.

And this is just not from the nuclear family point of view where a child would keep in close touch with his parents till death do them part.

Many of us still love living in what we term as ‘joint families’ that could sometimes hold four generations in a single home.

There are bound to be cousins and aunts, grandpa and nephew, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law all frolicking within the same four walls. They should have ideally been separated by at least postal codes if not actual militarised borders.

Just in case you thought that things couldn’t get chirpier, we tend to think of everyone within our diluted DNA right up to a fourth cousin as a close relative!

And we are always looking out for a reason to celebrate.

When we are not celebrating gods and their achievements, we are celebrating people and relationships.

We have days to celebrate the unbreakable bond between a brother and sister; we have a day dedicated to teachers or gurus.

But my all time favourite has to be the Bengali festival of ‘Jamai Sashti’.

The Bengalis choose a date that lies anywhere between the end of May to mid June each year to reinforce the bond between a mother-in-law and her son-in-law.

The son in law or the ‘jamai’ is a revered member of every Bengali family and the celebration of jamai sashti just goes ahead to emphasise that union.

So, in the patriarchal society that we live in, the daughter used to always be treated as a debt that had to be met. The birth of daughter somehow used to feel like a Damocles sword hanging over the head of the father. The obligation of rearing the girl child culminated at her marriage and it was always in the family’s best interest to ensure a ‘good’ marriage for the young lady.

‘Good’ is normally subjective and is often left to the discretion of the family and how they choose to arrange the match. It could mean any of the wide possibility of connotations. It could mean rich or from a distinguished lineage or could even mean that the scheduled-to-be-groom holds a sought after position in a corporation that is highly regarded.

Then to ensure that the girl is well looked after, a suitable ‘dowry’ is negotiated

and paid!

The Bengalis prefer to think of themselves as progressive and do not believe in the dowry system. But once a year on the auspicious ‘Jamai Sashti’ day, the mother-in-law will fast the entire day to ensure a long life and the well-being of

her son-in-law.

The son-in-law is invited over for an elaborate lunch cooked by the lovely mother-in-law which is preceded by a few rituals and a blessing being bestowed upon him.

He is showered with gifts and he offers gifts in exchange.

Traditionally, the son-in-law or jamai always visited his in-laws carrying a fish because of its symbolism and connection to prosperity and abundance.

The festival isn’t a ‘bribe’ mechanism to ensure that the daughter is well looked after; rather it serves as a day for renewing familial bonds and to ensure that the parents get to see their daughter who has since moved into her husband’s home.

Far away from all these showering of love is a beloved street snack from Thailand called ‘son-in-law eggs’!

Now why on earth would someone name a savoury and tart egg preparation after a son-in-law?

The story goes that a Thai mother was not too happy about the manner in which her daughter was being treated by her


The mother felt compelled to intervene but wanted to broach about the topic in a rather delicate manner so as to avoid the risk of the matters worsening.

She invited her daughter and the errant young man over for a meal and presented this beautiful dish that she had invented.

On a plate lay boiled eggs that were then deep fried till crisp. On top of it were drizzled a tart tamarind sauce with crisp fried shallots and chillies.

Then she looked at the young ruffian and gesticulated towards the plate and indicated that the next time her daughter was treated shoddily, there would be a particular part of his anatomy that bears a striking resemblance to the eggs that would be used as substitute.

Her daughter got the respect she deserved and the dish was a roaring success.

Far away, a Bengali man read this story and thanked the heavens for their tradition of Jamai Sashti!