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Among the many other items that were fit to print, the New York Times recently devoted two-thirds of
a page to the prevalence of arranged marriage and courtship by mail in a small Nepalese village 100 miles southwest of Katmandu. The article refers to the village by a fictional name to prevent an incursion of tourists, but it shouldn't be too hard to find. It's the one where the Post Office is wrapped in white lace and baby's breath. I found it fascinating to read that the hapless bride in an arranged wedding sometimes wails throughout the ceremony. She may know more about marriage than she lets on. I was also astonished to learn that every morning the bride is expected to wash her husband's feet and drink the water. Perhaps that's why she wails.
The story is stimulating, but the images in this article are indelible. One young woman is shown prostrate before a scarf-swathed matriarchal malcontent. The elder, a haughty hag with the smile of victory on her lips, lifts her skirt just enough to facilitate foot kissing. The caption reads, "A woman shows her subservience to her mother-in-law in a Nepalese village where changing marriage practices have been under study" (NYT, 2.9.99, p, F3). On her face, the mother-in-law bears a look of eminent entitlement. I know that look.
I had never expected to have a mother-in-law. It isn't that I dated only orphans or matricidal maniacs. I just assumed that I would become an eccentric professor of literature, isolated in academia with a group of bright, weird people. The occasional affair with an itinerant poet would subdue my fantasies - intellectual and other - and I would breeze around the campus encased in flowing garments of natural materials. But one day, at a time that must have marked my own hormonal convergence, I met a man, fell in love and got married. For a long time, the only natural fabrics I dealt with were diapers. One neighbor informed me that when you love a baby, you love even his soiled diapers. Not so, I learned. And the same goes for my mother-in-law. Though twenty-five years have passed since I "stole" her son, I am continually reminded that the opposite of "in-law" is outlaw".
What is more distressing than having to kiss the -er- feet of a mother-in-law? For me, it's the concept of actually becoming a mother-in-law. Right now, my Generation Xers would rather pierce a private part than propose, but I'm sure the day will come when somebody will appear on the doorstep with "the one." I'll be in natural fabrics again. I'll wrap my silken sleeves around the hapless creature as I wonder why her family decided not to invest in orthodontia. I'll refrain from suggesting a wardrobe consultant as I silently pray that the tattoo is temporary. Though I might be thinking, "Take my son away and I'll activate more acrimony than the asp to Cleopatra," I'll simply say, "Welcome to the family, dear." My mind will drift back to the 60's when Ernie K-Doe droned his infamous hit, Mother-in-Law. Oh well, who can escape her destiny? You've come a long way, baby. Now kiss my feet!
Goode, Erica. The New York Times, 2/9/99, Arranged Marriage Gives Way to Courtship by Mail.
Written by Marcia Brown Rubinstien
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