White Saris and Sweet Mangoes
White Saris and Sweet Mangoes
Self-identity or personhood is bound to others in society in a variety of ways. The relationship that is established from birth with the mother’s brother (mama) is important among Bengali residents. The Mangaldihi is also an important part of Bengali culture. The author refers to the Mangaldihi as a net of Maya given that it consists of affections, love, jealousies, and other forms of human attachments. This forms an integral part of all social relations for the Bengali people. The Bengali people have a high regard for the Mangaldihi and its elements given that Maya is formed through daily relations and interactions. It is formed and enhanced through daily activities such as living in the same house, similar neighborhood, engaging in sexual relations, exchange of pleasantries and words, touching, sharing meals, and existing in harmony in the same village (Lamb 21).
Such attachments provide important links for people according to Bengali culture. For instance, families, friends and neighbors are all linked by Maya. It is also important to note that Maya is not limited to people but also exists among people and their homes, animals and possessions. When such bonds are formed, they are often difficult to break or loosen. The author notes that the village hosts protested her attempts to leave to move into a bigger house. She notes that, “how will we cut this Maya when you leave? Maya cannot be cut” (Lamb). The Bengalis seemingly hate separation upon establishing relationships with people such as friends, family and neighbors.
Upon establishing a relationship (sampark), they work hard towards ensuring that it remains strong (śakta). The relationships between people in the Mangaldihian culture include bonds of Maya and jealousy (hiṃsā). The author also notes that “Bengalis are a very jealous people (bāngālīrā khub hiṃsute jāt)” (Lamb). This stems from the attachment placed by the Bengalis on relationships with one another and the constant efforts to interact with one another. The author notes that, she being a foreigner induced jealousy amongst people who fought to be associated with her by gaining favor in her eyes. They exceedingly competed for her attention through gifts, company and kind acts to establish a strong relationship or Maya.
The author notes that the jealousies and presumed fights for her attention were as a result of her privileged position as a foreigner. The Mangaldihians developed a powerful relationship with the author, which she highlights as summarizes in a response provided by one of the villagers. The villagers tell her that, “We have maya for only one person—you—who will leave and cause us pain. But how much more pain will you suffer! For you have maya for all of us, and will have to leave all of us” (Lamb 35). They all viewed her as net or center of maya given that she had managed to interact successfully with them and they considered her as family and an integral part of their village.
The author notes that her interactions and relatively short stay with the Bengalis was effective in providing her with an understanding of how people view social interactions. She notes that it was an “avenue toward understanding how Bengalis think about and experience the forming and loosening of social-substantial relations in their own daily lives” (Lamb 44). In addition, the author had only stayed with the villagers for a short period, which brings into question the effect of departure of an individual or persons who had managed to live with communities for several years. Thus, it is evident that the Bengalis place social interactions and co-existence with their neighbors and foreigners in high regard. In addition, it is also notable that all aspects of daily life are in centered on maya given that social interactions enable people to live peacefully and to survive.
The text notes that there was a high level of lack of reciprocation in the family systems because of the effects of modernization. Persons were traditionally bound together across generations by distinct values and moral systems. Reciprocity has declined given that children have abandoned traditional family moral and value systems in favor of western practices and values of individualism. The author notes that an old man had grown pessimistic over the ability of his children to take care of him in old age. He states that, “When you get old, your sons don’t feed you rice” which is an indication of the shift in traditions due to western cultural influences (Lamb 43). Old people have turned into beggars after abandonment by their families who are seemingly busy in pursuit of wealth in the urban centers. They move from one household to the other in search of food donations.
Family conflicts, especially between parents and their children, were primary reasons for the high number of abandoned people of old age. The author notes that there were four primary intergenerational challenges that were evident in the family systems in Bengali. They included conflicts in relations between daughters in law (bou) and mothers in law (śāśuṛī), relations between married sons and their mothers, sons and their fathers, and married daughters and their mothers. The four bonds identified were particularly susceptible to attenuation because of tendencies of engagement in conflicts with other familial bonds (Lamb 48).
Focusing on one bond resulted in straining another bond that had been in earlier evidence between family members. Young adults or children of aging parents set out to start new lives with their spouses, which shifted the focus of an individual from his or her familial bond with the parents towards one with the spouse. The author notes that the entire family morals system is pivoted on a type of contradiction given that families give away their “own” daughters to “others” to become wives and accept “other” women into their homes to make them their “own” (Lamb 57).
Women are depended upon by families to produce daughters and sons and to care for the elderly while retaining the perception of being partly “other” and “own”. The author notes “This ambiguity in the position of women within households, we will see, was the source of many of the conflicts and ruptures within Bengali families” (Lamb 59). The relations between daughters in law and mothers in law, as noted by the author, were relationship that was fraught with highest number of conflicts. It can be noted as provided in the text, that mothers and daughters seemingly fight for the attention of the son and husband respectively resulting in a competitive natured relationship between the two.
A majority of women note that their mothers in law are relatively helpful and welcoming at first before the relationships deteriorates into fights for the attention of the son or husband of the daughter in-law. The wives or daughters in law have control of household affairs which results in gradual ceding of control and authority by the mothers in law. On the other hand, married sons and their mothers are also in conflict. The author notes that the son does not move away from his mother’s home after marriage, but rather continues to live in the same homestead for the rest of his life.
The loosening and breakage of the bond between a mother and her married son was largely attributed to a lack of reciprocity on part of the son (Lamb 67). The son reserves his love and providing of material goods such as gifts and household items for his wife and his new family. The same is not extended to his mother, which results in a sense of abandonment and a lack of reciprocity by the son towards his mother. Thus to enhance the relationships between parents and their children, there has to be reciprocity by the offspring towards their parents to retain a balance between the new family and the parents.
Lamb, Sarah. White Saris and Sweet Mangoes: Aging, Gender, and Body in North India. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. Print.
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