Until the day she died, my mother-in-law and I had an amazing relationship. In the thirty-eight years I have been married to her son, she and I did not have even one serious falling-out. She was ninety-nine (and seven-eighths) when she passed away, and she lived with us, more or less full-time, for the last eighteen years of her life. We stayed out of each other’s way when our styles collided. (Which was often. She was meticulous, detail-oriented and time-conscious to a fault; I am relaxed, “big-picture,” and habitually late.) But the bedrock of our relationship, after the love and affection, was respect.
So I was a little thrown when I overheard her talking about me some years ago to distant relatives who had come to visit. She described my family back in the states. She spoke approvingly about our three children and about my work. Then came the kicker: “Though she is a Christian, still she is a wonderful girl.”
It took me a long time to move past this. “Though she is a Christian”? Had I been here all these years on sufferance? I came to India in 1981. Was she still waiting for me to convert? Her elder sister, who was far more conservative than she, had been skeptical about me from the start. In her opinion, the only way to make the marriage last was for me to become a Hindu. My own beliefs were completely irrelevant; women believed whatever their husbands instructed them to believe. My mother-in-law thought that was ridiculous, but there was nevertheless some distinction in her mind—an impediment that, though not my fault, I constantly had to work to disprove.