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Because…The Viewer Was Once A Mother

Because…The Viewer Was Once A Mother

April 25, 2013
Back-to-back Indian serials have changed the way we interact with the women in our family. Especially our mothers.


Indian television serials
and our moms. Something we all know about but don’t really discuss. It’s not easy to judge whether the topic in question is trivial (even silly) and undeserving of any real attention. Or whether it’s simply part of a new reality and we’ve just got to deal with it. Reams have been written about Indian serials being regressive melodramas about the familial power play, especially between the garishly clad saas and bahu (mother-in-law and daughter-in-law). But I have yet to find anything about how hours of teleserial viewing has affected those related to the women watching. 

Most of us remember a home life when the satellite dish was not an integral part of an Indian-American house like it is today. India’s cable channel boom in the late 90s meant there was quality programming outside of rented films, and satellite enabled a way for us to feel closer to our heritage while being entertained. But the ramifications of this ‘boon’ would be felt most when I moved away to attend college, and returned home for break. Coming back on campus after holiday break, I would find out that I was not the only one who noticed a change in my mother’s behavior. After speaking with fellow Indian-American classmates, patterns were beginning to emerge. Most heartbreaking were in regards to the ultimate symbol of home life: Maa ke haath ka khana. A meal cooked by a mother’s hand. Food our mothers made for us was about much more than taste. It was about comfort, being doted on and feeling special because even when a certain dish wasn’t liked by anyone but you, it was still lovingly prepared. Post-holiday break reports verified that home cooked food we desperately looked forward to after months of bland cafeteria grub (or cheap chow from local eateries) was not entirely as we remembered it:

“My mom only cooks during commercial breaks! We eat so late now ‘cuz it takes two hours to make aloo-gobhi!”


“She didn’t make my favorite dish this time ‘cuz it takes too long and serials start when she comes home. So she brings frozen Indian food to save time. And no, it’s SO not the same!”


Post graduation things have pretty much remained the same, although with even more channels and non-stop programming, making room for family time can be quite challenging. Catching up on Hindi films with the family was something I would look forward to during the holidays. But doing so now is not possible, unless I want to watch a movie in 30-minute increments over a span of a few days. DVR cannot work its magic in the teleserial context, as channels show new episodes almost everyday and in an already packed primetime line-up, missing an episode has the potential to wreak havoc on the week’s schedule. But in the event a show is skipped my mom knows exactly where to go online to find an episode synopsis, and my Nani (maternal grandmother) calls up a friend to get the scoop on what she missed. Now catching up with friends on how Thanksgiving or holiday break was, or asking how auntie is, I hear:

“She comes home tired from work and then watches serials until she’s too tired from watching so many!”

"After 8pm my mom is not herself anymore. I swear, the serials turn her into a zombie."


“If I’m on the phone with her and she stops replying? It’s because she’s watching those stupid serials!”


Call it cribbing or neglected (dare I say, overdramatic) offspring asking to be noticed.

But do our mothers really develop a special kinship with ‘tele-bahus’? Do these over-the-top familial sagas fill a certain emptiness our mothers feel when we leave the nest? Are the relationships on the small screen more deserving of attention than us kids?

Interestingly enough, many of the young women who’ve told me about serials taking over the lives of their mothers are avid viewers of ‘The Real Housewives’ franchise (yes, ALL of the cities) and cannot get enough of gossiping about the reality TV ladies as if they personally knew them. It’s the drama, the fashion, and the dynamics between catty (and petty) women and their husbands and children that makes for episodes we can’t get enough of. If we were to ask the women in our family why they are glued to Indian serials, I’m sure their reasons aren’t that different from the aforementioned.

Like many, I’ve adjusted to this new reality and usually call in-between shows or on Saturdays. Judging from my own experience and from what friends have told me, it’s easier to work around serial schedules, as I have yet to hear about a mom giving up on her shows because her kids complained. After all, our mothers are a lot more than providers of hot, delicious meals, and asking them to cater to their adult children and giving into all their whims is being a tad selfish on our part. If we were troubled or urgently needed to speak with our moms, they would not think twice about dropping everything and immediately coming to our rescue. After spending their youth on taking care of us, we should cut moms some slack for not listening to every single word about our bad day at work. Watching damsels in flashy saris, devoted husbands of the muscular variety and wronged daughter-in-laws is a rather harmless way for our mothers to forget their worries. Because they’re probably worrying about us.

15 Comments

  • Shivani Tripathi
    By
    Shivani Tripathi
    16.05.13 07:30 AM
    @Shai Thanks for sharing, Shai!
    Happy to hear your mother was spared (and that you get a home cooked meal!)

    I'll join you in the old fogey club...when I first went as a little girl I didn't watch any TV (only Chitrahaar interested me). Now I enjoy watching the fun ads, and the the seriously shocking reality TV is a guilty pleasure. Have you seen the MTV shows?? Tauba tauba!
  • Shai
    By
    Shai
    13.05.13 10:08 PM
    Take all of the above and substitute father for mother. My mum still makes time to cook amazing food, thank God!

    Where I've found the biggest difference in relation to the boom of Asian TV is when I go back to India. Pre-1992, I remember when we'd go back to visit relatives and there'd be so many people who would come to the station to pick us up. We'd go back to their house, then chat and eat for the rest of the trip. Non-stop.

    These days, there's still a whole lot of eating, but hardly anyone comes to see us at the station. We found out why once we arrive at the house. Everyone's hooked on the latest serial going on. With the TV blaring at full volume, you can hardly even make conversation sometimes.

    Man. I sound like such an old fogey.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    02.05.13 10:26 PM
    Mum's gone on strike: Mum-of-two Claire Cisotti holds down a demanding job (with a four hour commute) but still does ALL the housework. Last week she snapped.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2318020/
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    02.05.13 11:57 AM
    @justanotherdesigirl,

    I see your point. I agree there are workingwomen too who contribute to food, shelter and 60’inch TV screens. What’s often overlooked in Indian marriages is finding a husband with an attitude to share the burdens of the family equally. May be I am a rare exception.

    My advice: find the right man. If women marry only because they need to and are married to a man who wouldn’t share the family burdens equally all what you say can happen. How long a love marriage or an arranged one lasts would only surface when children and household chores confront a working couple.

    Germany’s Facebook Boss Sheryl Sandberg says all women should find the right man and has she? About her private life: She has two children. She says that there is no perfect Work-Life Balance. She feels guilty when her son tells her “Mummy please put away your Blackberry and talk to me” and that it happens very often. What she does not say is what she does about her guilty feeling.

    She says that she finds it very interesting that she has never known a single man with a guilty conscience. I wrote on Facebook that she not met me. No answer yet, may be she is too busy with her Blackberry.

    Same question would arise when a hard working Indian Mum comes home after a hard days work and switches on an Indian serial on TV while the Dad is cooking.

    Indra Krishnamoorthy Nooyi is CEO of Pepsi US. Has two daughters and she has made no complaints about her husband may be she has found Mr. Right.

    My advice to all working Indian women: make very clear what you expect from your would be husband before you plunge in to lifelong miserable married life.

    Living in western countries and managing household chores isn’t that difficult. With the availability of washing machines with dryers, dishwashers, microwaves, coffee machines, and the lot, managing household chores has never been easier. The only to decision to make: Who switches the start button on and who pushes the stop button.

    Time to think: Did I marry the wrong guy and if so, what do I do?
  • Shivani Tripathi
    By
    Shivani Tripathi
    02.05.13 08:40 AM
    @justanotherdesigirl You've brought up a very good point. Many of the tales I've heard (and from what I've personally experienced) is of the mother and father contributing financially to the household, with the mother doing the additional chores of cooking, cleaning, etc. It's easy to say this is another example of traditional Indian mindset, but even non-Indian women are grappling with the same issue. The women's movement tackled equality in the workplace, but has yet to fully address equality in the 'homeplace'.
  • justanotherdesigirl
    By
    justanotherdesigirl
    02.05.13 05:51 AM
    @Rajpriya: If you read the post carefully, you will see sentences like “She comes home tired from work and then watches serials until she’s too tired from watching so many!” which I am assuming means that the women in question are working too. So they are contributing towards providing shelter, food and TVs with 60" screens. My question was regarding the husbands of these women because I didn't notice any mention of men contributing towards providing food.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    01.05.13 09:00 PM
    @Justanotherdesigirl,

    Men have no time catch the serials because living abroad they have to provide shelter, food and TV's with 60" screens so the wives can catch the serials and cook during the commercials. While for men abroad it's all work and no play and wives have all the fun shopping and fast food if they are lazy to cook.

    For men abroad the clock moves at terrific rate they need to keep pace with.
  • justanotherdesigirl
    By
    justanotherdesigirl
    01.05.13 03:54 PM
    You are talking about a well educated, professional demographic of people. I still don't see any mention of men doing their share of work. You know like "parents ke haath ka khana" instead of "ma ke haath ka khana". Is it because the men don't watch serials or is it still the woman's job to cook/clean/take care of kids? Just curious because as a freshly minted nri, I feel that our clocks stop the moment we leave India. As a result, we are stuck with the same mindset we had when we left India while our counterparts who live in India continue to evolve.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    27.04.13 09:52 AM
    @Rajpriya Thanks for sharing! I just imagined a daughter-in-law making rotis while tweeting at Gaga.

    Hi Shivani,

    You’ve unintentionally hit upon your next (could be) subject. Imaginary and saucy Tweets and RT’s between an Indian DIL and Gaga could be a hit to make us all smile a while.

    A tip: Imagine they were Tweeting about making Wi Fi Babies.
  • Shivani Tripathi
    By
    Shivani Tripathi
    26.04.13 09:00 AM
    @Shweta Thank you Shweta. Fantastic comment, if I say so myself!
  • Shweta
    By
    Shweta
    26.04.13 08:45 AM
    For young Indian Americans, culture remains alive and relevant thru Indian cinema. Similarly the nostalgia and charm of Indian life is alive and well thru TV serials for our parents. I've learned to live thru this phenomenon by having at least 2 TVs hooked up to cable and having a local Indian restaurant on speed dial. Great article Shivani!
  • Shivani Tripathi
    By
    Shivani Tripathi
    26.04.13 08:06 AM
    @kumud Thank you for the lovely comment! How funny that your daughter got you hooked to serials. If she ever complains about your viewing habits, remind her of that fateful day when she rented the Kutumb cassette :)
  • Shivani Tripathi
    By
    Shivani Tripathi
    26.04.13 07:56 AM
    @Rajpriya Thanks for sharing! I just imagined a daughter-in-law making rotis while tweeting at Gaga.
  • kumud
    By
    kumud
    26.04.13 05:52 AM
    Shivani,

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. I need to share with you that my introduction to Indian television serial was by my daughter.

    She brought home a video cassette of tele serial called Kutumb!

    What can I say, after watching the first video, I was hooked. I rented all of the volumes. I purchased the complete volume of Kutumb.

    No looking back!

    Nice to see a piece of writing from you after a long break. Looking forward to many more.

    Kumud
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    25.04.13 09:45 PM
    From generation to generation habits are changing. I know of an Indian family in London. A girl from India became the daughter in law three years ago of a couple that are my close friends. When this girl first came to London she was not so much into technology.

    I visited this couple last week. I see their DIL Tweeting and Re Tweeting, updating her Facebook stuff even when she is cooking with an iPhone in her left hand. I could make an imaginary picture of what story her children and grandchildren would write on NRI when they grow up.

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