Watched an iranian film - Leila. A very insightful portrayal of a woman who is forced by her mother-in-law to share her husband with another woman because she cannot bear him children.Her husband finally gives in to her pressure only on condition that she would not leave him because he loves her very much. But in spite of all her strength she is unable to stay in the same house when he actually brings home another woman as his wife, even though she herself had given him her approval. The plot would fit as well in any Indian televison serial or film except that in this film all melodrama had been totally avoided and the feelings of all concerned portrayed sensitively.

Being a woman I could relate to Leila very well - her sense of guilt ( though entirely stupid) at her inability to be a mother and her inability to share the man he loves with another woman.But my son who watched the film along with me was completely outraged at the idea and the stupidity of the women and their whole approach to the issue. He could not believe it when I said this was as common in India even among the Hindus.

I remembered a story that my friend A had told me about her grandfather. She is from U.P. and this happened in the later years of the 19th century. Theirs was a family of rich landlords. Apparently her grandfather's first wife could not bear children. So she insisted that her husband marry again but the man loved his wife so much that he said it was impossible for him to love another woman.But his wife kept insisting until finally gave in on condition that the woman should not expect him to love her the way he loved his first wife. So they found a young girl from a poor family (one of the many daughters of a clerk who worked in their house)and fed her well and raised her in the house in order to get her married to the man when she became a woman. In`a few years the marriage happened and she gave birth to a child within a year. The child was immediately taken away by the first wife - she would be the mother of this child and bring him up. What could the poor gilr do? She knew this when she consented to the marriage, didnt she?And in the course of years, she gave birth to more children too but all of them called the first wife as mother and their own biological mother as "chhoti ma". And whatever she wanted she could not ask her husband but had to ask the first wife as that was the husband's instructions! Finally she was 60 when the first wife died, this is when the second wife became the lady of the house. By then her husband was gone too!
I have often thought about the two women and wondered whose sadness was worse -
the first wife who had to let her husband have another wife and live in the same house or the second wife who had everything and still could call nothing hers!

Perhaps for many who are in their 20s now, this might all seem like fiction. Sometimes real people are much stranger than what fiction can come up with! And guess what, the first wife in my friend's story was also called Leela, Leelavati!
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17 Responses
  1. Unknown Says:

    Today in Europe they just leave each other even if they were married in the first place. In France where I live the re-composed families as they are called will soon outnumber the 'normal' families.
    I am starting the practice of visiting the 'next blog' everytime I post something.

  2. Mahadevan Says:

    In the Iranian film, the woman had to share husband because she could not bear him a child. In your friend's story, the second wife, not only had to share husband but also to surrender her children to the first wife and lose her motherhood. She virtually became a child bearing machine. One was traumatised for her inability and the other, tortured for her ability.

    Motherhood is great and not to have blessed with a child, for a married woman, is a deprivation. Why inflict a further punishment, by forcing her to share her husband? And what more, condemn her to death, by taking away her children!

    Giving one gender more power, by laws, social norms, traditions and conventions or convoluted religious tenets, is barbarous.

  3. Hip Grandma Says:

    Leelas and Leilas were found aplenty in the 19th century when adoption was considered sacrilegious and test tube babies were not even thought of in one's wildest dreams.Those were days when the lady alone was blamed for not bearing a child.But have childless women got any respite even today?She may be so out of choice but the pressure on her to produce a child preferrably a male issue is enough to drive her crazy.As you have rightly pointed out in an earlier blog referring to sharing housework IT IS ALL IN THE MIND.Change it and all will be fine.

  4. and then there is the custom of divorce and moving on the to the next husband or wife just because things didn't work out with the first can be as easy as that also y'know...what a strange world we live in!

  5. Things have changed: People don't want kids even if they can have them. It's not such a big deal for them. They want their careers. They have their priorities.

    Things have not changed: A friend of mine, who is 24, married for 2 years, is now expecting. She tells me she really hopes its a boy or her in-laws will be really, really disappointed. Chah!

  6. Anonymous Says:

    The Handmaid's Tale!
    You know what I mean, don't you? :)
    People are more mysterious than we can ever imagine..

  7. P Says:

    I got goosebumps just reading about it...but you are right.. truth is stranger than fiction!!

  8. since science had progressed now, people opt for artificial methods. may be in olden days this was their crude method of managing infertility

  9. Usha Says:

    vnrozier: Will visit your blogs.

    Mahadevan: Apparently in their obsession about children and grand children, no one cared much about the finer feelings involved. Perhaps still..

    Hipgrandma:Ya, I know some people in my own family who have been through this and still dont consider adoption as a valid option!

    Orchid: hm..sigh...

    Vaish: agree...agree again! chah indeed!

    Kishore: True. In the book, it is also a survival mechanism for women.They are preserved because they serve a purpose.

    Perspective inc: I felt the same when I heard the story. That's why i can't stop narrating it to others.

    ITW:Even today science cannot cure all kinds of infertility and there are some who go through the same struggle even today.And why should infertility be managed? Why can't it be accepted - I can't paint, I can't sing, I can't have a child - no big deal!

  10. Pradeep Nair Says:

    Harsh realities of life, which vary from individual to individual. There aren't rules. People do -- whether they like or not -- what they feel is the best alternative in that given situation. And, it's others who judge them, that they did the right thing or the wrong thing.

  11. Artnavy Says:

    I just met up with a couple of wives like that and they live so amiably with the husband who is devoted to both- the children of both are together as well!!

    the only problem they encountered is when the son of the second wife was looking for an alliance

    narrow minded as it may seem- i cannot imagine being in either of their shoes and least of all as a child of that household- one would be so torn between both the mothers

  12. Artnavy Says:

    i just read another commnet of yours-

    a woman need not become a mom to be complete and also has anyone heard of adoption

  13. When two anxious and immature persons come together in marriage -what happens is lifelong tragedy. And this is what happens to most.

  14. venky Says:

    I cant believe this story at all - i remember having watched a bolywood movie similar to this one - CHORI CHORI CHUPKE CHUPKE...but in that movie, there was an unexpected twist.

    The surrogate mom decided to stand up to her rights of motherhood and lashed out fiercely on the other lady claiming her rights over her son...the ending is another crappy story.

    Didnt really know that such stories were inspirations from real life from way back - great insight though !!!

  15. Fuzzylogic Says:

    I think times now have changed to the better for women but there are things which keep pulling them down.Infertility is not a big deal,afterall you can always adopt and give a child a loving home.This was a well thought out post Usha,I have to see this film too.

  16. hey...d topics you pick and the d way you write is too good!

  17. CatGunHome Says:

    Good that you are getting into Iranian movies. They are the best! Compared to them, European movies are average, all Hollywood is pure crap. They are minimalist and subtle. If you want, I can give you a list of Iranian movies I watched and loved.