Cruelty and Kindness in Mother-Daughter Bonds

In a workshop titled “Gender, Context and Narrative” in Trivandrum, Kerala, India, in 1998, a gathering of Indian women—Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Syrian Christian, most from the Brahmin caste but some from the matrilineal Nayar, and others from the Ezhava and Pulaya—told stories of their grandmothers, their mothers, and themselves. These were unusually detailed, heartfelt stories. During this all-India workshop and during the live months I lived in Kerala as a Fulbright scholar, I came to know and admire the women who shared them.1

The stories of these three generations both compress many centuries of history and express a paradox of the colonized colonizer. The grandmoth­ers of most of the narrators grew up in the strict seclusion of Hindu feudal­ism. Most of the granddaughters have become prominent figures in the aca­demic and literary’ life of modern India. So the stories focus on the "great leap forward” from illiterate, secluded grandmothers to highly educated, publicly prominent granddaughters. They focus on the enormous disconti­nuities created by this great leap forward and also on the strong connec­tions it failed to shake. What struck me, as an American listener, was the harshness of patriarchal custom—seclusion, widow penance, suttee—as well as the fact that it so often fell to older women to impose it on younger ones and the extraordinary power of compassion, or at least obligation, through which daughters continued their relations to their mothers.

It was as if patriarchal fathers subcontracted to their wives the job of keeping patriarchy going, much on the model of “indirect rule” under colo­nialism. Yet as small girls, the mothers had themselves suffered greatly from severe restrictions. A mother who dutifully upheld her family’s honor had to enforce rules she knew all too well, from her own experience, hurt her daughter. She faced the difficult choice between being good (dutifully upholding family honor) and being kind (sparing her daughter from hurt­ful practices). So how did this colonial arrangement shape the relation between mother and daughter? What did it do to love?

The reality of a mother-child relation is wondrously hard to know. We have here the accounts of the daughters, which surely differ from those of the mothers and grandmothers. These accounts are their personal truths. Their truths may be myths, but myths that they tell us ring true to them. Would such stories differ from those of a culturally attuned psychiatrist who came to know all three generations? We don’t know. And about any ultimate mean­ings we are left to guess. Still, we have much to go on.

Let us take the story of Radharani, a Calcutta-bred Brahmin who lived between 1903 and 1989, as this is told to us by her daughter, the well-known Bengali poet and novelist Nabaneeta Sen. Like many Hindu girls of her gen­eration, Radharani had an arranged marriage at age twelve. Unfortunately shortly after her marriage, her husband died of the Asiatic flu and she was returned to her parents’ home as a very young and, as they say, “inauspi­cious” widow (a potential cause of family misfortune). Radharani’s mother, Narayani, oversaw all the rites of young Radharani’s widowhood. As Sen writes:

Narayani took off all her jewelry, chopped off her thick long locks, enforcing a widow’s dose crop, made her wear the borderless white cloth and forced her to [dress] in the widow’s chador [long cloth] around herself. From now on she was to eat a proper widow’s diet, havishyanna, only once a day. Radharani was to eat. .. for the rest of her life what is usually eaten only by those prac­ticing austerity during the formal mourning period after a death. And what did Radharani eat on the fasting days, like the ekadasit She ate nothing and she drank nothing. What if she cheated while taking her bath and quietly gulped down a few drops of bath water on a hot summer’s day? To stop that, she was always accompanied into the bathroom by an invigilator, like a sister or a maid who would keep a careful eye on her penance.-

In what spirit did Narayani impose these restrictions on her daughter? Did she admonish her daughter not to drink water regretfully and lovingly, or meanly and harshly? We don’t know. But Nabaneeta Sen tells us that Narayani was “not being cruel.” As a devout Hindu, she felt she was helping her daughter toward a better life in her next incarnation. And as a rule-abid­ing householder, she was reaffirming the honor of both the family and the girl by helping her daughter atone for her husband’s death and uphold the powerful taboo against widow remarriage.

Radharani loved to read, and her mother now forbade her to read because her reading was taken as a “cause” of her husband’s death. “By read­ing books, she was told, she had voluntarily courted widowhood. It was no one else’s fault but her own that her young husband had to die,” Sen writes. Insofar as Narayani upheld this interpretation, she was also participating in a common way of thinking at the time. So in the eyes of most of her kin, it seems she wasn’t being cruel.

Still, it is not hard to imagine that Radharani felt that her mother and not simply the custom was cruel. As Sen writes, Radharani “realized that she was alone: she was an outsider in her parental home.” Narayani finally sent her young daughter Radharani, head shaven, shorn of jewelry, back to her more urbane and broad-minded in-laws’ home, where she was welcomed with kindness, allowed to read, talk with literary’ guests, and ultimately go out to meetings. It was perhaps the comparison between her strict, withholding mother and her nourishing mother-in-law that allowed her to acknowledge both her mother and the feudal customs of Hindu widowhood as cruel. As Radharani grew into a young adult, she published poems in major literary magazines and became a nationally recognized poet.

At age twenty-eight she even broke the strong taboo on widow remarriage and secretly remarried. For her new in-laws, this was the first widow remar­riage in the joint family. So great was the stigma of widow remarriage that, Sen writes, “Although Mrinallna [the new mother-in-law] was broad­minded, in view of the social stigma attached to widow remarriage, [she] decided to leave the family home together with her son and daughter-in-law, and moved to a country house so that the future of the unmarried girls in the joint family would not be affected [by the polluting influence of a remarried widow],

The context of Radharani’s life was similar to that of other Brahmin women in Calcutta as late as the early twentieth century. Under Indian Hindu patriarchy of this period, grandfathers, fathers, and sons were sup­posed to rule over grandmothers, mothers, and daughters. To be sure, there were regional, class, religious, and caste variations on this theme. But from feudal times through a series of invasions from the north, British colonial­ism, Partition, and early nation-building, the vast majority of Indian Hindu families were patrilineal, patrilocal, and patriarchal, as they are to a lesser degree today. This meant that for much of its history, in a society that looked to its past, women were at every caste level a subcaste. The birth of a girl was greeted with much less joy than that of a boy. Indeed, in northern rural areas, girls were fed less well than boys, taken to the doctor less often, and occasionally allowed to sicken and die—a practice that exists in some regions today. Even among the rich, women were typically not educated beyond the elementary grades and were married off—married “off” was the phrase—before puberty. The Hindu marriage ceremony even describes the husband as a “god” whom his wife should worship. Haring “too much edu­cation” or even traveling abroad made a girl less marriageable and increased the dowry her father had to pay a prospective suitor. Sons could have several wives and remarry. Girls like Radharani often became young brides to much older men, sometimes second wives, and were early widowed and confined for the rest of their lives. The custom of suttee—a widow burning to death on her husband’s funeral pyre—was not apparent in the lives of grandmothers described here, though when Radharani became a widow in 1916 it had not yet been banned.

Material arrangements underlay the lowly status of women such as

Radharani. A girl grew up as the child who would leave home for the house of her husband’s extended family, the boy as the child who would stay* The eldest boy, not the oldest girl, was also valued as the future caretaker of his aged parents* According to the dowry system (which remains in effect today), the parents of the bride pay the groom’s family a sum of money. So for new parents, a baby girl meant they would eventually lose money; a baby boy meant they would gain money.

There also seemed no way out. In the early part of the twentieth century, marriage was compulsory. The rare girl who refused marriage was, like a widow, “inauspicious.” (Such beliefs are still widespread today. One woman, a lively and brilliant Bombay professional, told me she had resisted marriage in order to be able to have a career, since it was commonly assumed that she could not have both. When her mother became fatally ill, relatives scolded her, saying that her refusal to marry had “caused” her mother’s death.)

Given this set of constrictive customs why, the modem reader may ask, didn’t women rebel and bring their daughters along with them? After all, while both men and women thought of women as “burdens” (and, as women were early forbidden to work, in the financial sense they were), it was also true that men were burdens on women. They had to be fed, served, cleaned up after, catered to. And paradoxically, while women were seen as weak, they—like Radharani-—had to be supremely strong to endure the cus­toms that symbolized their helpless dependence. So why, we can ask, would a mother like Narayani consent with such apparent wholeheartedness to patriarchal customs that so hurt her daughter?

The social anthropologist Marvin Harris has suggested that the basis for this strong devaluation of women is, at bottom, population control.4 Girls grow up to be women who have babies, and when the environment can’t sustain a large population, one way of reducing the population is to dis­courage the survival of girls. While somewhat plausible, this explanation speaks to the issue of how a custom has a function for the larger society, but not to how a custom is emotionally embraced by women themselves.

The question here is whether within the bosom of this strong, pervasive, patriarchal culture, women ever questioned or resisted the customs that, to modem eyes, suppressed them. The answer from these narratives is yes, some did, but most did not. Indeed, a good number like Narayani staunchly defended patriarchal customs such as the harsh rites of widow penance. Why?

One reason seems to be that while all women were subordinate to all men, older women got a piece of the power pie. As a well-married bride and a mother of sons, a woman earned honor, and as mother-in-law to the young brides of her sons, she held great but narrowly focused power over younger kinswomen. The wife of the oldest son in a joint household also had author­ity over the wives of younger sons, and first wives over second and third ones. Low as they were on the totem pole, women were permitted enough authority and honor to develop a stake in it.

Women were also discouraged from rebelling against patriarchal customs because they were schooled in a notion of honor according to which their subordination was rewarding to them as well as other members of the household. As Leela Dube notes in Women and Kinships while Indian women lacked status in the wider society, they had both honor and power within the household. Indeed, throughout the discussion of these narratives in the Kerala workshop, and in other discussions on the subject I had in India, the phrase recurred: “status in the household.” This is a phrase foreign to American ears, used as we are to our small, neo-local, bilateral nuclear fam­ily, which minimizes age and sex differences. In the Indian culture that forms a backdrop to these narratives, an elder son had higher status than a younger one. The wife of an oldest son had higher status than the wife of a younger son. The first wife had higher status than the third. The first son of a second or third wife had lower status than the first son of a first, and so on. One had a status within the household. So even if one lacked status as a woman, a mother such as Narayani could have status as a mother: And in tra­ditional Indian society, the household was the main entity within which to have any status at all.

Another reason women didn’t rebel is because they were taught to keep silent about suffering. Indeed, they lived in what Leela Gulati calls a “culture of silence.” ’ This is not a minor, mannerly avoidance of certain topics, but an honorable resolve to keep real pain to oneself. Men and women alike thought it was women’s lot to suffer. In her narrative Leela Gulati describes her mother, Saras, a Brahmin from Tamil Nader, who was, like Radharani, harshly dealt with by her mother, Seetha. Saras suffered greatly but stoically told no one. Forced to leave school at age twelve to enter an arranged mar­riage with a much older man, Saras became miserably stranded between an angry mother who hastened to marry’ her off and aloof in-laws unwilling to welcome her. From neither her parents nor her in-laws did Saras receive enough love or resources to live on. But, according to Gulati, her new hus­band “had no inkling that she was suffering. So, in addition to the inertia oi custom and power sharing with men, the honor attached to silent stoicism seemed to keep mothers like Seetha and Narayani upholding customs that hurt their daughters.

But given this context, we can now wonder: What did Narayani about her daughter Radharani? What did Radharani feel toward her mother, Narayani? How did patriarchy shape their Both are now dead.

Their story is related to us by Nabaneeta Sen, a granddaughter who, she notes, did not love or feel loved by her grandmother Narayani. So the story we have reflects an openly stated vantage point. Sen recalls that her grand­mother Narayani was the mother of twelve but doted only on her sons and

“hated girl children in general.” As she explains, “On festive occasions, she sent new cloths and sweets to her grandsons, but not to her granddaughters. She advocated education for the sons and grandsons, but not for the daugh­ters and granddaughters. . . . [My grandmother] was not fond of me. In fact, she was not fond of any of her granddaughters with the sole exception of Padmadidi [Sen’s elder sister], the firstborn of her first son.”6

We can’t, alas, know exacdy how Narayani felt about her daughter, but we can come to appreciate some of the huge cultural obstacles to mother- daughter love. For woven into the relation between Narayani and Radharani is a paradox writ larger in colonialism itself. In The Colonizer and the Colonized the Tunisian author Albert Memmi reflects on the ways in which colonized people internalize the values of colonialism, become its lieutenants, enforce its rules, embrace its ideals, and uphold its code of silence. The colonizer gets the colonized to do the psychological dirty work of colonizing—to disdain, for example, the “lazy natives.”

A glance at history reveals other versions of the colonized colonizer, which find expression outside the family. The Germans appointed Jewish kapos to help control Jewish prisoners in the concentration camps. The Soviets appointed preduki to do the same in the gulag. Top British and Dutch colonial officials trained natives to serve as police, lower-ranking sol­diers, and minor officials, and it was through these lower officials that tough orders from on high were carried out. At the same time, the “lieutenants” in all these systems may also have wanted to rescue other colonized people— for few knew better than they did the painful costs of the system they upheld.

Memmi focuses on this pattern of indirect rule as it impacts a male gen­eral citizenry, and not as it impacts relations within a family or as it impacts women. But the fives of women in traditional India describe a parallel para­dox, which strikes far closer to home. Under patriarchy, fathers and grand­fathers often left it to their wives to enforce restrictions on girls. It was not Radharani’s father, for example, who cut off his daughter’s hair, confined her, and forbade her to drink water on hot days. Through the subcon traded power women wield over other women, through their acceptance of pre­vailing ideas about honor, through the stoical silence of daughters, the col­onized colonize.

But colonizers often feel two ways about colonization. For Indian modi ers in these narratives were both prison wardens of patriarchy and co­conspirators helping their daughter-prisoners to escape; some were more one, some more the other. Though Sen’s Narayani and Gulati’s Seetlia passed on the hardships they had suffered, other mothers—-many (lie same mothers—planned their daughters’ great escape. These mothers said, in effect, “These rules are rigged against us, so 1 sympathize with your disc on tent. I couldn’t escape, but 1 will help you do so."

A woman could split her ambivalence—prison warden vs. accomplice to the escape—any number of ways. But for all of these ways it may be useful to conceptualize the ambivalence as transgenerational. Three people can split a shared ambivalence between generations—a grandmother acting out one side of the conflict and a mother and daughter the other side. Indeed, Nabaneeta Sen’s grandmother, Narayani, as we’ve seen, seemed to apply the cruel rules cruelly. But Radharani, whose hair was shorn and diet restricted, vowed to liberate her own young daughter from such customs. As a new mother, Radharani wrote a loving poem for anna prasam, the day of her baby daughter’s rice-eating ceremony, the day she was named. Radharani’s poem to Nabaneeta read:

Unspoilt and tender like freshly opened petals,

Our darling baby girl, forever smiling, forever matchless,

Sparkling with the purity of a morning-showered flower,

You’ve stepped into our home and lit it up with joy.

In you lie all our auspicious hopes,

In you is fulfilled the love that conquers pain,

My priceless jewel churned out of life’s Tears and laughter,

You’ve opened up in my heart a deathless spring beyond words,

The ideals that I had cherished all through, the boundless desires and visions that remain,

Unfulfilled and find no meaning in my life,

My auspicious girl, may it all bear fruit in yours.7

How, we can ask, could a girl who had been treated so harshly by her own mother be so loving to her daughter? Even allowing for the convention of flowery writing, we can perhaps speak of a mother’s identification with her daughter coupled with the mission of compensation. “What I have wanted in my life,” she says, “May you have in yours.” But further, “may your life and your achievements make up for what was missing from my life as a young girl.” We can only guess, but it is plausible to imagine that the extreme altru­ism in Radharani’s poem was nourished by her own fairy-godmother-like mother-in-law. Yet the urgency of her wish seems at the same time to convey a command: “Make all my suffering worthwhile. Succeed.”

As Nabaneeta Sen explains, “She wanted to live through me, who was less lhim a year old, and had shown no signs of the expected brilliance.” From Sen’s point of view, her mother wanted “too much.” Sen says of her mother, “She was too strong for me. . . . She pushed too hard.” As she further iclleds,

My іішііит was my best friend and she was also my worst enemy. I am what I am today because of her, and what 1 am not, what I could not be, is also beianse ol her. I meekly insisted her overpowering ambition by not being ambitious at all. I followed her dreams but not with my heart and soul. I applied myself with the minimum effort because I took my career as some­thing that was dear to my mother and did not try to excel. In this way I was resisting Ma’s will, denying her what she desired, by not trying for it. Now when I come to think of it all, I feel sorry for both of us.8

Ironically, Radharani, victim of her mother, the harsh lieutenant of patri­archy, became a lieutenant in the struggle for the liberation of her daugh­ter. In taking up this other side too rigidly, she ambivalendy embraced the paradox of the colonized colonizer. The mother—in this case, Nabaneeta Sen’s mother, Radharani—suffers. Now, as a grown woman, Radharani is in a position to mete out punishment herself to her daughter. But does she? Or does her own suffering take the form of sacrifice? Does the mother forge a renunciatory identification with her daughter, a form of “altruistic surrender” so well described by Anna Freud?9 If so, then perhaps Radharani came to own her suffering. It becomes hers. She does not try to pass it on. She her­self takes on the cost of it to the detriment of her physical and mental health.

Or does the mother’s suffering take the form of narcissistic sacrifice? Here the mother’s suffering also becomes a sacrifice to others, but without renunciation of herself. She suffers “for” her daughter. She will not pass it on. But her own sacrifice will be compensated by the world. In particular, she will be compensated by the daughter’s extraordinary success or devo­tion. So the mother says to the daughter, in effect, “My good wishes are yours ifyou are gifted, if you perform, if у on bring honor to the family.” In this case we can speak of narcissistically ambivalent, or contingent, altru­ism—altruism with a hidden price.

Alternatively, Radharani could have converted her own early suffering into a form of revenge on her daughter. This may, indeed, be what Radharani’s own mother did to her. Here the mother does not “hold” her suffering. She passes it onto her daughter so as to rid herself of it.

In each case, the mother-daughter relationship carries the emotional burden of the syndrome of the colonized colonizer. In each case, the same- culture is received, held, passed on in ways that reflect distinctly different emotional bargains. None of these three ways of addressing suffering— through renunciatory, narcissistic, or sadistic identification—could be said to be what we might today consider a “healthy” way of dealing with suffer­ing. If feudal India’s “culture of silence” guided mothers toward renuncia­tion, women of Sen’s generation question the very traditions that made women’s suffering necessary in the first place. And they call for a new female self, which, when forced to suffer for whatever reason, can draw on strength based on a different cultural idea. If the long-suffering Indian mother of former times took pride in the strength to endure suffering and turned a blind eye to the ways in which mol hers passed on their suffering In

daughters, the new Indian feminist vision of the self calls for the strength it takes to create a kinder culture, and the strength it takes not to pass suffer­ing on.

Radharani seems to have greeted the birth of her “auspicious” daughter Nabaneeta with both kindness and demands. Sen received her mother’s blessings with a set of instructions about how to use them. For her part, Nabaneeta accepted her mother’s gift ambivalently. She got a Ph. D. at age twenty-five and wrote well-received books. She fulfilled one side of the bar­gain. But at the same time she routinely sabotaged herself. As she writes, “Without the strong self-destructive force that makes me leave things to the last minute, lose important papers, forget important appointments, miss deadlines, forfeit offers and ignore opportunities, I would be living a dif­ferent life today.”111 Some amount of such self-sabotage is normal enough. But maybe Nabaneeta’s self-sabotage is part of an inaudible conversation across three generations of women about sacrifice in the crucible of the paradox of the colonized colonizer.

Other narratives presented at this workshop suggest that surviving this crucible is an extraordinary achievement. A good example of this achieve­ment comes not from a mother but from a childless great-aunt. As Vina Majumdar, now a professor of English, tells it, her great-aunt Pishima as a thirteen-year-old girl ran away from an arranged marriage, returning to her parental home, where she remained single and devoted herself to the cause of education for all the girls in the family and community. Illiterate herself, Pishima obstinately insisted that Vina’s mother be allowed to take lessons from a dewar (husband’s younger brother), though by custom this was strictly forbidden. One by one, Pishima wrested the consent of all the par­ents of school-age girls in the neighborhood and personally escorted them, towel on her head against the rain, to and from school.11

If in some families, the grandmother acted the tough patriarch toward her daughter while the daughter, once grown, strongly supported her own daughter’s autonomy, probably in most cases mothers expressed both sets of feelings at once, as if to say both “I will imprison you as I was imprisoned” and 4 was bom in jail, but I’ll help set you free.” Prita Desai describes just

such a case. Her mother, Kusum, was born of Anavil Brahmins in south

Gujarat. About her mother, Desai said, “I should view her as a Hindu mri (woman), her childhood dominated by her father and her youth and old age by her husband.” Kusum had, Desai writes, “the makings of a modem woman but her wings were clipped by matrimony at the age of 15 years. When Kusum was a child, she was sent to school escorted by a beloved elder brother. Schooling ended when she finished seventh standard. Conservative attitudes toward co-education and the need to restrict a growing girl’s move­ments grounded her early.” This set up a conflict, which expressed itself in a message to her daughter which amounted to this: “These hurtful customs

need to change. But, still, don’t live in a way very different from how I have lived.” Desai saw her mother as a “feminist. . . who quietly passed on the message that a woman had an identity, a will, and needed a space of her own.” But Kusum also made it clear that instead of the four daughters she had, she had badly wished for four sons.12

Just as every human relationship is unique, so, too, is every form of ambivalence in the colonized-colonizer syndrome, and every daughter’s response. For both Nabaneeta Sen and Prita Desai matters of personal chemistry and relations with other family members, matters that went well beyond patriarchy, influenced them.

But whichever side of the paradox came to prevail, it was usually daugh­ters, and not sons, who took care of their mothers in old age. This was not the tradition, but it was often the truth. Sushil Narulla recounts the story of her Sikh family at the time of Partition. Mothers and grandmothers, she says, lovingly cared for their sons and grandsons, but in their final year s received care from their daughters and granddaughters. Narulla describes her grandmother Ammaji, who lit the fire and cooked delicious meals with trembling hands and would, in summers, go from bed to bed kissing all her nine grandchildren while they slept. But when the family moved to better housing, none of her sons or grandsons took her in. Instead, her three daughters took turns looking after her. “In the end, what remained for the mother were the fraught bonds with her daughters.” Poignantly, Prita Desai describes nursing her aged mother as she drifted into death, a mother about whom she says, “Deep within me remained the feeling that she hated and disliked me for a long time.”13

Fathers did not live out the same paradox with their sons that mothers lived out with their daughters. For fathers, upholding family honor did m >1 so fundamentally conflict with love and identification with a son as it did for mothers in relation to daughters. Fathers also faced the paradox differenlly with their daughters. For fathers, family honor was also pitted against whai we now see as human kindness, but, as the stories suggest, many fathers didn’t see it that way. A good number of grandfathers were described as tyrannical. The paternal grandfather of one narrator threw food in hri grandmother’s face because she served it too late. Perhaps most of the fathers in these stories were neither especially cruel nor highly supportive c >1 their wives and daughters. Most wished for boy children but accepted and loved their girl children. Most men understandably felt that patriarchy served them well, and a female culture of silence sheltered men from real izing just how much patriarchy caused women pain.

For women, however, the need to be both the colonized and colonizn infused whole female lines of mothers and daughters. Traditional Indian mothers and daughters shared this paradox with their counterparts else where. Upper-class women of feudal China bound the feet of their (laugh

ters so they would not be called “big foot” and disparaged as unmarriage­able. African mothers advocated, and female relatives often performed, clit – oridectomies on young girls to make them marriageable. American mothers often passed on oppressive norms of beauty modeled on Hollywood movie stars—thin, blond, and ever young. In each case, mothers were enlisted as lieutenants to carry out edicts of which they were not themselves the ulti­mate authors. But as victims of the same system, many mothers at the same time guided their daughters to the trap door—through a revolutionary shift in ideas about women.

In India, China, Africa, the United States, one thing is the same: whatever form it takes, patriarchy is not simply a set of external rules governing prop­erty, name, or behavior detached from women’s inner lives.14 No, the mother-daughter bond, like the family itself, is a shock absorber of social strains that originate far outside it. Through the pattern of the colonized colonizer, the Indian families in these stories absorbed the strains created by feudal patriarchy. Those strains are diminishing while others, due to newer trends, may be growing. For modernization, capitalism, and globalization are now undermining patriarchy and so, too, undermining the cultural legitimacy of subcontracting patriarchy. Certainly great changes have taken place in the lives of the Indian women who attended the workshop. In her family, Radharani’s daughter, Nabaneeta Sen, was the first woman to freely choose her husband, attend a coeducational college, get a Ph. D., go abroad to study, drive a car, hold a paid job, have an inter-caste marriage, and divorce. For others the trends are in the same direction.

But something else beyond the decline of patriarchy and the backlash against that decline is happening now. Moving to replace the status system that underlay the colonized colonizer is a more impersonal market-driven basis for distributing status and honor. In the modern world, the Narayanis will measure their honor not by the size of a daughter’s dowry or adherence to renunciatory rules, but by her education, her occupational rank, and her power of the purse. Status will derive less from the rapidly shrinking house­hold and more from one’s rank in school and at work. As the extended household gives way to smaller, conjugal households, there may be alto – gel her less “status production,” as Hanna Papenek has called it, in families and local communities, and less localism altogether.15 Insofar as patriarchy depended on the watchful eyes of kin to keep going, the pressure may be off the subcontractors, and off the mother-daughter relation itself.

Or rather, both the coming trend and the going trend act on modern Indian women simultaneously. One thing that most struck me during my slay in Trivandrum, in fact, was the way in which modern ways of thinking harmoniously coexisted—like multiple Hindu gods—with traditional ways ol thinking. More and more women were getting educated and gettingjobs (given the high unemployment in Kerala, often abroad). So a modern thing was happening. At the same time, Kerala was witnessing a renaissance— indeed an expansion—in traditional “Devi worship” (worship of a local female goddess). In 1997 a million female worshippers crowded into Trivandrum, setting up small improvised brick fireplaces along miles and miles of road to cook a sacred spiced cereal to honor Devi and to see her “speak” through the rolling boil of the cereal. Friends invited me to par­ticipate, and when I asked other women on my street what they were ask­ing the Devi to give them, the answer often included both modern aspira­tions—“to do well in my exams, to find a good position in the hospital or bank”—and traditional ones—“to get a large dowry, to arrange a good mar­riage, to have a male child.”16

Even if the new does not replace the old, modernization, capitalism, and globalization are introducing new issues and the family stands ready as a shock absorber of them. For the family is Janus-faced. It turns one face to the outer world, its notion of good and bad, high and low, sacred and pro­fane, and its system of power. And it turns a second face to the inner world of its members, their wishes, fantasies, and feelings. And now the family is turning its external face to newer social trends. For example, a combination of financial need and global opportunity has led many Filipina and other Third World women to leave their children in the care of relatives, to take jobs as nannies and maids in the United States, Italy, and Spain (see “Love and Gold,” chapter 14 in this book). The family absorbs globalization through the migration of mothers, powerfully altering the relationship they have to both their daughters and sons.

The paradox of the colonized colonizer is thus a metaphor for the impact of a wide range of cultural and economic trends upon the family. It points our attention to all the social contradictions that bear upon the fam­ily and which the emotional ties within it come to compress and express. And the metaphor attunes us to the small heroisms, however flawed, of the Radharanis and Pishimas of the world, who deflect rather than pass down the troubles they have known.