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The Saas-Bahu Drama

August 11, 2010

When Indians and foreigners alike find out that I live in the same home as my Indian saas (the Hindi word for mother-in-law), they almost always ask about our relationship.  Fortunately, I can answer truthfully that my mother-in-law and I co-exist quite well (and touch wood – the Indian equivalent of “knock on wood” – that it stays that way.)  We are respectful of one another’s space and different cultures, and we enjoy each other’s company.  She can teach me how to make paneer and where to find the best Indian clothes, and I can show her how to bake chocolate chip cookies and how to do Pilates.  All in all, a good working relationship.

I do understand, though, why questions about my relationship with my mother-in-law arise so often.  Abroad, mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships can be a bit rocky.  In India, though, it seems that these difficulties can be amplified by traditional cultural roles and expectations, as well as extended families co-existing in the same household.  There are horror stories of abusive in-laws and dowry-related bride burnings (although most recently there have been news stories focusing on murder cases where retaliating young brides are the perpetrators, and their in-laws the victims.)

What I find interesting, though, (and less morbid than these other news stories) is the pop-culture phenomenon of the Saas-Bahu (Mother-In-Law — Daughter-in-Law) serials, or soap operas.  Some despise these serials, saying that they show inaccurate, regressive portrayals of family life and women’s roles in India.  Others, though, are positively addicted to the shows, as is demonstrated by the number of viewers that these serials pull in weekly, and the number of television awards that they have won.

I don’t watch the serials regularly (primarily because they’re in Hindi, so I never fully understand what’s going on), but I do have to admit that I sometimes get drawn into the clips that I have seen.  They’re just so delightfully dramatic (to the point of bordering on comedy), and some of the women’s wardrobes and homes are so opulent that I can’t help but watch!

Below is a clip from one of India’s top-rated Saas-Bahu serials Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (Because a Mother-in-Law Was Once a Daughter-in-Law Too).  I’m not exactly sure of what’s going on – it appears to be some very emotional family meeting in the drawing room.  I do, however, love the dramatic pauses and the slow-zoom on each character’s face, which is a technique ubiquitous to all of the Indian serials/soap-operas that I’ve seen.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. April Morris permalink
    August 19, 2010 7:18 pm

    It looks like a combination of Dallas and Survivor!

  2. August 22, 2010 2:16 pm

    Recently, I wrote an article on the saas-bahu phenomenon glorified by the Indian tv shows in an attempt to vent out my frustration. Check it out at:

  3. Dr. Ramesh permalink
    June 18, 2011 6:25 pm

    Congratulations! Your blog and the photographs are captivating. As an Indian from South India (Chennai) and spent my formative years in Delhi it was nostalgic to read. Susan Partridge my wife of 16 years truly enjoyed every bit of what you have put into the blog and the magnificient display of your marriage to an Indian husband. The marriage ceremoney was new to me, as the traditions in the Southern part of India are in many ways, unique in more senses than one. Susan is originally from MA and we now live in Charlotte North Carolina one of the most beautiful places in the Carolinas. I love your cojuntry as much as India. How apt when the English people said, way back in 1759 ‘the Wonder that is India”.

  4. Taryn permalink
    December 4, 2011 10:11 am

    Hi! I have just discovered your blog with delight. I’m an Australian girl who is married to a Muslim Indian and I was wondering if you could tell me what a respectful name to call his mother would be?

    I am meeting his family for the first time in February and really want to make a good impression & make up for the nontraditional way we’ve married! Any help would be really appreciated, as I would like to surprise Altaf as well 🙂

    • December 10, 2011 2:56 pm

      Hi Taryn,

      Thanks for stopping by my blog!

      As in Western countries, there isn’t really a fixed title for your mother-in-law. It depends on what you’re comfortable calling her, and what she prefers to be called. You could call her “Aunty”, which shows respect, but is a little distant. Many Indian wives also call their husband’s mothers Mum, Amma, or Mami (I usually use one of these for my own mother-in-law.) But, like I said, it really depends on your husband’s family. It would probably be best to either ask your husband or your mother-in-law herself what she would prefer to be called.

      Good luck meeting his family in February!

      • Dr. Ram permalink
        December 10, 2011 5:32 pm


        I am an Indian married to a wonderful wife Susan from Massachuettes, US. I live in Charlotte, NC. I called my mother-in-law Mom; and when she was living I was proud of her. She is no more; but I truly miss her.

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