Ask Amma

A String of Jasmine

In Why on 10 May 2013 at 7:56 pm
“Give J___ Auntie a string of flowers,” my mother-in-law told me.  Suddenly I grew tense with a sense of not knowing what to do. 
string-of-jasmine-768x499I had a long string of jasmines which I had cut into small pieces and was giving out to my daughter’s friends at her Sankranti party.  My mother-in-law and a couple of her friends were sitting on the sofa. 
I busied myself in the kitchen so as not to have to respond to her instruction right away.  Away from the crowd, I reflected, why had I become tense?  I realized that it was because I was not sure how I could give flowers to J___ Auntie, while K___ Auntie was sitting right next to her.  Then I realized that the solution was simple, give flowers to both J____ and K____ Auntie. 
Why had this obvious solution not struck me right away?  Why had there even been a “problem” requiring a solution? 
Let us go back to the instruction, “Give J___ Auntie a string of flowers.”  In giving this instruction, my mother-in-law had made an assumption.  Someone who had not made that assumption might have had two questions:
1) Why had she instructed me to give flowers to J___ but not also to K___ Auntie?
2) Why hadn’t she herself given out the flowers? 
For both questions, the reason stems from a distinction made between a married woman whose husband is alive and one whose husband is no longer alive.   My mother-in-law had instructed me to give flowers to J___ Auntie because both of us fell into the former category.  She did not give out the flowers, nor did she ask me to give flowers to K____ Auntie, because she and K___ Auntie fell into the latter category. 
Upon hearing her instruction, I felt the tension of being unwilling to follow it, but it took me some time to unpack all this to understand why.  Once I understood, I saw the way.  I picked up three strings of flowers and gave one to each – my mother-in-law, J____Auntie, and K_____ Auntie.  Taken by surprise, K___ Auntie immediately asked, “why me?”  I just smiled.  My mother-in-law explained, “she doesn’t believe that there should be that difference,” and put the flowers into her hair.  K___ Auntie replied, “Yes, these customs should change.”
(originally written for the monthly newsletter of Association for India’s Development)
  1. I had no idea that that awful custom existed. Good job of squelching it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes. To paraphrase the “Texas Defense,” it needed squelchin’


  3. This story was part inspiration for my mother to resume wearing flowers after my father’s passing….although no one told her not to wear flowers after he passed away. The other inspiration was Aung San Suu Kyi

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Amazing! Lakshmi, I am so touched to hear this. And congratulations to Auntie!

    Even when no one tells, or maybe especially because no one talks about it, it can be very hard to silence the unspoken assumptions and risk wondering what people will say or think without saying.

    More power to the Aunties!


  5. […] people read my articles and tell me that they made a difference.   Earlier, Lakshmi told me that String of Jasmine had made a difference to her mother.  I was awestruck.   In Dallas,  Kitchen Shelves in […]


  6. […] ways, a Sankranti party is a site of celebration and resistance. Be the change! Related:  A String of Jasmine (earlier posted as “Little Things“) from Sankranti […]


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