Coping with a Malayali mother's obsession with gold.
“Just try it on...”
“Just until you leave...”
“Just for today, then...”
“Da, I bought this for you. I just want to see you wear it!”
I roll my eyes, grunt, snatch the gold chain, and put it on with a sigh. Amma’s eyes light up; she's grinning.
This is how day 1 of every one of my visits to my parents’ house goes: Hugs and kisses at the door, quintessential small talk about the bus ride, comments on my haircut and uneven beard, a little nudge to have a shower, more small talk at breakfast followed by the conversation you just read above (but in Malayalam).
For the record, I’m a guy. But my mother loves to cover me in gold. She has a daughter too, by the way. The only way to cover her in gold, however, is if we drug her. That’s not exactly why my Amma decides to torture her son though. She genuinely loves it when guys wear gold chains. Watch the movies, it's a Mallu thing. But I cannot let my mother have her way anymore.
Look closely. Yeah. Baby Bling, Baby!
I don’t like wearing a gold chain. Not because I feel a need to conform to my gender roles or rules or whatever (case in point – that black bindi on my forehead). I just don't feel like making a statement. The statement being: ‘I’ve given up on life’. So wearing a fucking gold chain is totally off my brand.
“Oh look at the rich kid whining about having to wear gold chains in a well articulated way that could land him a book deal from a prominent publication which will eventually make him a New York Times Bestseller,” you'll complain.
I'm not rich. My parents aren't rich either. We're middle class. Can't complain.
And still, we're obsessed with gold, owning gold, wearing gold, showing it off... It's a Mallu thing.
A typical Malayali bridal neck. Image credit - youtube.com
Point is, gold down here is a status symbol, an investment, it brings prosperity and is also something that could potentially break a stereotypically rich Malayali bride’s neck.
It’s the most precious of all things. Every (stereotypical) south Indian amma turns into Gollum if you try to get near her gold. Unless it’s to compliment how chic they look. (zero chic, amma! ZERO!)
There are more jewellery stores in Kerala than there are restaurants (don't fact check that!). The most common topic of conversation at a Hindu wedding is how much gold the bride's family "gifted" her. Every wedding planning revolves around gold. It's not just a wedding thing either. The wealth of a family is assumed based on how much gold the women in the family wear on a Tuesday!
Here comes the bride.. Dressed all in gold.. Image credit: glamgalz.com
When we were kids, my sister lost her gold chain in the toilet. That was one of the darkest days at home. Amma yelled so much she sounded like a tired Samuel L. Jackson. My father was busy trying to get a plumber to come home at an ungodly hour. My sister seemed numb, but if you looked closely you'd notice the horror in her eyes – 'What have I done!' The wind was cold. The jasmine flowers in the front yard had crisped away.
That gold chain is still in our septic tank. My sister went on to become the golden child with her Goldman Sachs career and her gold investments, but I’m pretty sure there’s a part of amma that still hasn’t forgiven her. I make sure she remembers, every other week: “Oh Amma, why are you nagging? Is this so bad? I mean, don't you remember the time chechi lost a GOLD CHAIN in the toilet? That was bad...”
During my last mandatory Onam visit, as usual, she tried to emotionally blackmail me into wearing one. To get her off my back, I told her the chain wasn’t pretty enough and it made me look like a 60-year-old jewellery shop owner who married off all his baby girls to ‘Gelf’. It worked. She nodded and put the chain back in her locker. Later that day, she called me from work and asked me to get ready to take a trip to the jewellery shop when she got back, so that she could buy me one that I liked. Again – and I can’t stress this enough – we are not rich! We're the middle class of middle class!
Shout out to this dude who celebrated his 45th birthday by gifting himself a 4-kilogram gold shirt worth over 13 crores. Image credit - odditycentral.com
If I ask her to buy me that latest Google phone or a MacBook or just to lend me 500 bucks, she would remind me how poor we were and reiterate all the financial struggles pre and post ‘08.
So I told her the truth. I summed up the courage and told her I didn’t like wearing gold chains and I would never wear them, no matter how guilty she tried to make me feel. She still went ahead and bought a new one for me. Shiny but subtle. I kind of liked it a little bit, to be honest. (Amma, don’t even!).
But I was adamant about my decision.
That’s when she realized there’s another person in the house who has nowhere to run.
No one to turn to for help. Her dear husband. My father. A glorified Barbie, if you will.
It wasn’t her first time trying to get her husband to wear a gold chain though. But he always refused and stood his ground.
After 32 years of marriage, he finally obliged. My mother won.
Sometimes, mostly on Friday nights, after work, I wonder. Should I have taken the damn chain? Nobody's buying me a few rounds. The chain could.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Arjun Raj
Cover photo credit: Mashable.com