Among these unfortunates is Renubala, the woman who, as a bride in Tripura, had worshipped her own mother-in-law as a goddess. Her life straddled the transformation of Indian families and society, and she wound up suffering again when she became a saas herself. Sitting on the floor, she wipes a metal plate with the end of a grubby sari and calls her bahu a “tigress”. The younger woman was 30 at marriage (the average for Indian women is now up to 21). Renubala says she was denied food, prevented from speaking to her son, suffering abuse and violence.
In the end, she says, her son told her he was taking her on holiday, only to abandon her in Vrindavan, 1,400km from home. With a smear of mud on her forehead she now begs for alms, singing devotional songs and reciting the 108 names of Krishna. Her son won’t light her pyre, she accepts, though she sends him what she gets by begging. Asked to explain the changing fortunes of mothers-in-law in India, she says: “we are living in the time of Kali Yuga”, a mythical era of strife, when human life is only lust, greed, broken vows and violence.
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