The Open Dosa

Consuming the Ordinary Differently

According to the women in my family, resentment is best kept a secret

This essay won the SJU Prize for the Personal Essay 2024 in the school category. The theme was Keeping Secrets. The judge, writer Amulya Shruthi had this to say: “Vidmahi insists that their family’s women swallow their resentment (quite honorably) and keep it secret. But is it really a secret? Its universality is baffling.

The women never verbalise this shared, embodied, shameful secret that Vidmahi astutely observes, records, and names: the gendered dynamics of power within family. Vidmahi writes of the humiliating subjugation of these patriarchal forces with admirable tenderness and compassionate rage. Very relatable.”


The house was so big, gloomy, and empty, that it almost seemed haunted. Her only company was a few cows, a few cats, and her dying mother. She spent eighteen years of her life in that house on her own, with a mother who didn’t remember her. Eighteen years where all she would wake up, draw water from the well, cook food, feed her mother, make sure her mother didn’t wet herself, milk the cows, feed the cats, clean the big house, clean the outside of the house, go to bed, repeat. She never complained, she grew up in that house after all, it was her mother, and what else would she do anyway?

Her mother passed, and she moved into a house her husband had managed to save up for, it was much smaller than what she was used to, but she didn’t mind. Her brother moved into the big house. Soon, he began talking about selling their land. She knew that she and her siblings were entitled to a few hundred acres of land, but she never really thought about it. Her brother seemed hell-bent on taking her sisters and her portion of the land though. Her sister didn’t care for the land and neither did her children, she hasn’t lived in it for decades now and never will. She thought it was weird that they wanted all the profits, but they were her older brothers, they were her family, and she wasn’t going to say anything about it.

Her daughters, on the other hand, were livid. Her younger one pointed out how they never helped her with money, they never helped her when their mother was dying, how they never helped her when she worked as a tailor or when she worked in a factory and her husband gambled their savings away, why should she help them make an obscene amount of money when she deserved her share of it?

They’re her brothers, and what could she even say? She couldn’t argue with them. Besides, none of her kids live in her town so the land would just be sitting there. She didn’t want to go through the courts. Her nephew thought of himself as the next patriarch of the family anyway, he could just have the land and the money. Sure, he was a despicable person, but it’s easier than going to court, and her brothers… how could she possibly go against them?

So she went on with her life and kept her resentment a secret.


She, like many women before her, married him because everyone told her to. He did it for the same reason. He was fine, she supposed, kind of annoying, but he was from a respectable family.

Until he wasn’t. He kept calling her fat, and she knew she was, but that didn’t mean he had to keep pointing it out. Besides, had he not seen her photos before the wedding? He could have just not married her. His mother started being mean too. She kept reminding her about how her son was too good for her. He was going to be the next patriarch of the family, he had a great IT job, he was such a darling and he deserved a wife who would look after him like a mother would.

She went home to visit her family a few months after a while for some sort of a function. She was worried about her dad, he always had heart issues, and she missed them. The function was great, there was great food, and everybody was happy.

They asked her about her in-laws, after the function, while they were getting ready for bed. She didn’t want to say anything, but she didn’t want to lie either. So she told them. They all seemed appalled and her dad got up angrily. Half an hour later, he would be found lying on the floor in the bathroom. Two hours later, he was declared dead. She was devastated, especially when she realised that he died because of her.

Her husband wanted a divorce, all of a sudden, and since she wasn’t really happy anyway she agreed. She got barely any money from it, but she didn’t fight, she just wanted to be free. Her mother seemed a little worried about her status as a divorcee, but she didn’t care anymore, her father was probably really proud of her anyway. She found herself again. She went to work, met her friends, and lived her life again. Her mother made her meet a guy who didn’t seem to care about her weight or her divorce, and her mother told her to marry him. So, that’s exactly what she did.

She moved to Germany with him, and they had two wonderful kids. This was it, this was the sort of married life she always wanted. Her life seemed like something out of a movie.

She heard the news from her mother, that he had scandalised his family by having a ‘love marriage’. It didn’t make sense, it wasn’t that long after their divorce, how can someone fall in love that quickly? For their story to make any sense, he would have had to have known her – Oh. She wasn’t surprised. She kind of always expected him to do something like that. Just not so blatantly. She felt like the “other woman”

She was angry, he stole two years of her life, misused her, dumped her, gave her less than one lakh as compensation for all the damage he caused, and then married the woman he wanted all along. She wanted to punch him.

Her kids asked her what was wrong, as she was getting them ready for bed. She told them it was nothing to worry about. She told the same to her husband when he asked her if she was fine. It wasn’t that big of a deal and he always got uncomfortable whenever her first marriage was mentioned.

So she went to bed, went to work, and kept her resentment a secret.


She’d been married for a while. She had two kids. Her husband was a sweet kind man, who occasionally went into these fits of rage, Everything else was great.

Except for her mother-in-law.

Her husband practically worshipped his mother, especially after his dad died. He took her every word as the word of god. She would cuddle him and oil his hair, as though he was a child who couldn’t function on his own. They all lived in a tiny 3 bedroom apartment, so the proximity probably made her clinginess worse.

She couldn’t take it anymore, so she calmly told him that his mother’s behaviour was a little unnerving, hoping he’d take it well and maybe tone down his childlike behaviour a little.

He went ballistic. He threw things and raged at her. She almost expected him to hit her, but eventually, he calmed down a little and threatened her to never speak a word about his mother again.

So she didn’t, she went on with her life, got her B.Ed, and continued working. She avoided getting involved in any of her husband’s problems. She noticed he would always go out late at night and come back in the morning, but she stayed quiet about it. She noticed he would spend huge amounts of money on fancy sarees for his mother, but refused to spend extra money on her son’s college tuition, but she stayed quiet about it. She could’ve had a happier marriage and her son could have gone to a better school, but even her children were too scared to stand up to him.

So she spends the money that she earns and keeps her resentment a secret.


She wanted to become a teacher, it wasn’t that hard to achieve. She begged her parents to send her to an Arts college after 10th grade, but art colleges cost money, and they had to save the money for her younger brother, so she went to college and did Commerce.

She wanted to do a B.A., but the college asked for one thousand rupees, and all the money had to be saved for her brother, so she got her B.Com instead.

She wanted to get a retail job. The interviewer told her she had really good grades in accountancy and offered her an accounting job with a salary of 10,000 per month. She thought she could make her parents proud by making them rich because 10,000 was a huge amount in a rural village in the 1990s. 10,000 meant that you were practically a millionaire. They weren’t proud, they wanted her to get married and they started looking for a groom.

She married the first boy they saw, mostly because her mother wanted her to marry him as he was from one of the most respectable families around. She moved into their house and worked like a maid, but she didn’t complain.

Her husband moved to Bangalore, so she followed him. She had barely signed up for an M.A. course when he came home and announced that they were moving abroad. He went before her and she had to go to the airport all on her own, without even knowing any English. The authorities there were even harder to deal with, but she managed.

She was all alone, her husband was at work all day and all she could do was sit all alone in whatever cramped apartment they could afford. She would save up money to call home once a week, but other than that she was alone.

She started attending language classes and she felt a little less alone. Soon, she was pregnant. She desperately hoped for a girl and the doctors told her it was a girl. They didn’t tell their families, they weren’t stupid.

Her daughter kept her company now, she was kind of annoying but it didn’t matter. She had someone. She would drop her daughter off at kindergarten, go to classes, pick her up, and repeat the same thing. She had a few Indian friends at this point, so she felt a lot better living there.

She was this close to getting citizenship until she got pregnant again and had to stop going to classes. She thought it was unfair, but what could she do? Her son was born two months early, and just like with her first pregnancy, she would follow her mother’s home remedies, hoping the doctors and nurses wouldn’t realise.

Her husband was very indecisive and kept moving them back and forth, and she put up with it. Eventually, both her husband and kids got citizenship, and she was left all alone. It didn’t matter, as long as her kids got a good education.

Her husband promised to come back to Bangalore, only to move to another city after six months. He kept making mistakes and losing money, but at this point what could she even do?

She keeps telling her daughter to always have something to fall back on and that her daughter can get married at twenty-five, instead of twenty-two. It made her daughter angry, but it made her a little jealous of the freedom available to her daughter, but what could she even do?

So she wakes up at five every morning, wears the glasses she only got when she was pregnant, goes about her day, and keeps her resentment a secret.


She always knew they didn’t want her and her sister.

She realised in fifth grade that her cousin, the only other girl cousin apart from her and her sister, had a much better life in the city. She knew better English, her mother let her wear jeans, she could go out to malls and she could eat pizzas and burgers whenever she wanted. It wasn’t fair.

When she was ten years old, her mother had her third child, a boy. He was cute and everybody loved him. The moment he was born, she and her sister were not important anymore. Her sister took it harder than she did, probably because she had to go from being the cute baby to the ignored middle child, but she didn’t care.

Until her mother started asking her for help.

She would play mother. She would help him wear his slippers, help him with his school work, help him eat snacks, and all sorts of other things. She never really thought much of it, even when people joked that she was practising for when she grew up, got married, and had kids of her own.

That was until her cousin, her akka from Bangalore thanked her mom for having her younger brother when she was still four years old because she didn’t want to have to look after him. Wait, so not all sisters did this for their brothers? She asked her cousin, who told her there was not much she could do, because she was only four when her brother was born. She was a little angry, but she went on with her life, thinking that she could just move abroad for university when she grew up.

She even picked a few universities, until her cousin showed up and told her it was unrealistic for her to want to go to MIT or Harvard. If her cousin, who goes to some fancy, expensive school in Bangalore thinks it unrealistic, then maybe it was. How much was her dad going to spend on her university anyway? She was just going to get married off. So, now she aimed for universities in Bangalore and a good rank in IIT.

That was until a relative of hers ran away and got a ‘love marriage’ and her grandma told her it would just be safer if she got a degree from the local college near her house, and that they wouldn’t educate her too much so that she couldn’t fall in love. She didn’t want to fall in love, she was going to marry some Brahmin. She just wanted to live a cool life and live abroad as her neighbours and cousins did.

She wondered what her akka’s reaction to the ‘love marriage and less education’ situation was.

So she goes to school, goes to her classes, looks after her brother, and keeps her resentment a secret.

Illustration credits: Humaira Hasan


My mother always told me to always have a backup, something I could do in case I got bored after my kids grew up. I made a joke about not wanting kids and she said nothing.

She always told me that I would have full freedom up until twenty-five, after which I would have to get married to the same Brahmin, Infosys/Accenture/TCS employee, with no life whatsoever guy, that every girl in my family seems to get married to. I always bargained for twenty-seven, and we would decide to cross that bridge when we came to it.

Everything was great until my dad’s cousin announced that he was marrying a woman he loved. His dad reportedly started sobbing, his uncle apparently has had migraines ever since and his grandma (my great grandma), now close to 86, asked god why she had to be alive to see this. I wanted to say something, but I kept my mouth shut.

My mom told me to never do anything like this and restarted the whole “marriage at twenty-five” argument. She also told me to be careful at school, to which I pointed out how the combination of my

glasses, frizzy hair, lack of social skills, and the braces I’d gotten the previous day, wasn’t going to make any guy fall in love with me.

Everything was going according to plan.

Until my grandma told my mom to limit my education and get me married at twenty-three to avoid situations like this. She’d already told my cousin to not get her hopes up about going to Bangalore. I felt so bad for my cousin. She told my mom to not send me ‘outside and all’ and that if I wanted to get a master’s degree they could find me a husband who would allow me to do so.

I was livid. I had a bachelor’s, a backup bachelor’s, a master’s, and a backup master’s all picked out. I also had the place where I wanted to work picked out. Did she think she could stop me?!? I asked my mom if she would stop me. She told me she wouldn’t as long as I got married at twenty-five and never had a ‘love marriage’. I decided not to argue with her on that.

So, I get up every day and do my best at everything. I keep my anger and resentment a secret. Maybe one day I won’t have to.

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Vidmahi Tantry

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