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.