The Maithils – IV

Though I had said in the last post that I would end the discussion of those four days there, but a small piece of information was left out. Marriage might be the time to eat and enjoy for others, but bride and bride-groom have to sustain for those four days on only “anoona” (food without salt – so it basically includes sweets, fruits, kheer etc.) Even for the greatest sweet-lover, four days are not much of fun, believe me -)

Before I move on to other things, an interesting point came to my mind. Behaviour-wise what would make a “good” daughter-in-law? I dare say, that in my generation, even the girls “raised for getting married” (in want of a better description), are very often ignorant of some of the nitti-gritties here. No moral stand being taken here (in fact that can be added as a disclaimer to all the posts in this series.). For fun’t sake let me put it in the form of “tips for would-be daughter-in-laws” -) (All the occurances of sister-in-law and brother-in-law in the list below mean “nanad” and “devar” respectively, unless otherwise specified)

  • Make it a point to touch the feet of all elderly ladies of the house at least once a day, as a routine. It could be either when you see them for the first time in the morning (this might be more effective); or when you come out after taking bath and doing your pooja.
  • This is applicable not just to daughter-in-laws, but to anyone. But can be devastating for your career as a good daughter-in-law, if you ignore it even once. Others can be excused once in a while, with a warning. When you are touching the feet of a new elder person you are meeting, you must touch the feet of all elders present there, no matter how many times you have done it to them earlier. (Oh yes, girls do touch the feet of elders in Maithil society; and I like it better than the tradition of only boys being expected to touch the feet and not girls, in some other communities.)
  • If you are sitting with one or more of elderly ladies of the house, make sure you are massaging the feet of one of them. Even if she asks you not to, you must insist. After she would absolutely not allow you to do it, move on to the next one. Also, must offer it to the sister-in-laws, particularly those who are married (even if they are younger), and have come to visit you. Further, before going to sleep every night, try to offer the massage to all the ladies of the house.
  • If this is your first time with your in-laws, that is you have come for “dwiragman”, do not speak to the elders who come to see you. Even if they insist (in fact they will, to test you!). Your not speaking won’t be considered a disrespect; you speaking out would mean that “you are too fast”. Well, this is something not much appreciated in urban areas these days, but if you have come to a traditional family, or in a village, make it a point to observe this rule.
  • When elders enter the room, stand up. If they insist on your sitting, sit on something lower than what they are sitting on. e.g. a smaller stool etc.
  • Speak in a low voice. Try to convey your requirement, as far as possible, through your brother-in-laws or sister-in-laws.
  • Do at least “gauri pooja” (worshipping Goddess Parvati), if not other kinds of worships as well, regularly.
  • If there is a function in the house or neighbourhood, offer your good dresses/jewelleries to your sister-in-laws.
  • If ladies of the house are eating together, and there are no servants, make sure to pick up the plates after everyone has finished. DO NOT let your sister-in-laws or anyone even marginally elder to you in the family do it. Okay, this is not expected, if you are absolutely new in the house and hence would not be expected to go to the place, where the plates are to be kept. Also, once some other daughter-in-law, younger to you, comes, you can relieve yourself of this function.
  • All the above are intangibles. Of course, more household work you take upon yourself, better you are. But if you observe all others, probably you can manage a good reputation, even without doing too much of work. But if you do all the work, but fare very bad on the above, all your labour might go invain.
  • Do not address even the youngest one of your sister or brother-in-laws directly by name. Take the name, but add “Jee” after it if they are not too young. If they are very young, still find some suitable suffix. For example, on of my sister-in-laws (bhabhi) calls me “Jaya Rani”. When she was married I was hardly 10 years old and she must have been in her late 20s! There were some other cousins of mine younger even to me. She added “bua” (meaning “child”) after their names. “Babu” is another common suffix for brother-in-laws.

Now, that’s quite long a list. Especially when made by someone like me. How much of training do you think I have? ;)

There was something else I wanted to add in this list, but that takes to the nuances of Maithili language again. So, I thought I shall put it up separately.

To set a background, I would start with the reason of my not speaking Maithili. I have mentioned in an earlier post that my mother is from “uttar” and father from “dakkhin”. Language differences were obvious. Now, the word used by husband and wife to address each other in the language of “dakkhin” is “tohen”. This is equivalent to “tu” in Hindi. “tohen” as such is not used in pure Maithili (i.e. that of uttar). The words for “You” in Maithili are “tu”, “ahan” and “i” (”i” as in “Kissan”). “tu” is equivalent to “tu” of Hindi. “Ahan”, many people say is equivalent to “aap”, but I doubt that. I think it is more equivalent to “tum”. The real translation for “aap” is “i”.

Now the nuances. The use of “i” is exclusively for the elders amongst the in-laws. For all other purposes, “ahan” is the word used. “ahan” is formal and/or respectful for almost everyone else. Husband and wife address each other as “ahan”. Now, my mother didn’t like my father calling her “tohen” and my father in those days could hardly speak proper Maithili (even now, he is not very fluent, but better!). So, they decided to switch to Hindi in the very beginning and hence the tradition of Hindi in my family. My brother was brought up in Katihar, where majority of my maternal family stays, in his initial years. He also spent some time in my native village. Hence, he is adept at both the languages. I was born away from any such continuous contact, in Banka and spent first seven years there. So, never got into the habit of speaking Maithili or Angika (the variant of Maithili spoken in Bhagalpur – my native place). Later, when I had better contacts with the relatives, I was too shy and nervous to try to switch. More on my Maithili learnings later. Right now, back to all the translations of “you”. I have already said that “i” is to be used for elders amongst in-laws. “ahan” can be safely used at almost any other place. “tu” is (though need not necessarily) used with intimate friends, youngers in your own family and with mother or elder sisters. Amongst in-laws, “tu” should be used only for those youngers, whose parents are also younger to you (confusing, eh?). As in, the children of the elder brother of your husband should addressed as “ahan”. Children of younger brother can be addressed as “tu”. You might want to maintain uniformity (all being called as “ahan”), it wouldn’t matter. By similar logic, your younger brother-in-laws and sister-in-laws should be addressed as “ahan”.

In fact, in the use of “tu”, “ahan” and “i”, there seems to more similarity with “tui”, “tumi” and “aapni” of Bengali, than the respective words of Hindi. “tumi” is Bengali is used almost as universally as “ahan” in Maithili. “aapni” in Bengali in restricted to very specific situations; at least, it is not used as often as “aap” in Hindi. The use of “i” in Maithili is also very restricted. The use of “tu” and “tui” are similar, though I do not think that there are nuances about addressing the children of your elders amongst in-laws in Bengali -)

Okay some other language specifications. In Maithili, for father’s sister, the word used is “didi” and not “bua” or “phua”. Again this is not being followed by many children now. My nephew used to call me “phua”. My brother said that since he did not see me very often, “phua” is a better word so that he does not confuse my identity with all the “Didi”s around him. But my father did not like the idea of non-use of “didi”. So, now my nephew calles me “phua didi”!

Does that not create a confusion about addressing sisters and “bua”s? Actually earlier, the sisters did not used to be addressed as “didi”, but as “bahin”. My generation largely seems to have switched over to “didi”. So, our generations had a confusing time (presumably – not that it was anything noticeable)! Now, if the next generation switches to “bua” or “phua”, probably the confusion will not be there any longer. But nuances of the community and language are being lost for sure!

Also, there is no concept “bade papa/badee ma” or “tau/tai”. Earlier elder as well younger brothers of father were addressed as “kaka” and their wives as “kaki” (again the Bengali effect!). Our generation largely switched to the uniform use of “chacha” and “chachi”. Myself and my brother call our uncle (as in my father’s sibling) and his wife as “kaka” and “kaki”. But for all the cousins of my father, we also use “chacha” and for their wives “chachi”.

When, I talk of my generaion or next generation adopting a particular usage, I am mostly talking of what I see around myself. It does cover quite a few families, but then differences might always be there. After all, all this is not a well-researched description.

Now, my knowledge of Maithili. Though I never used to speak Maithili, ever since we shifted to Purnea in 1990, I was in constant touch with my relatives and had started to get a hang of Maithili. In Banka, the language local people used was Angika; so I did used to hear it. By now, I think I know better Maithili than many of my generation. Many people do not know the there are specific words in Maithili for things like pillow, comb and dog! (”gerua”, “kakwa”, and “kukur” respectively) -) Or at least they do not recall these words so easily. But I do not yet have the fluency. Its difficult to start talking Maithili with those relatives with whom I have been talking in Hindi till now. But if I meet some new people now, I try to converse in Maithili. I am becoming better.

That reminds me of something. A cousin of my father, who is younger to him by many years, was once going around (along with some other more experienced family members, of course!) doing match-making for a girl in the family. After he came back from a few places, he informed my mother that he has learned two things during this process. The first one was that when you go to a prospective bride-groom’s house, you do not indicate your intention of match-making by saying so. You say, “Dwarastha bhel chhee” (In Hindi, “Dwarastha hua hoon”. In English, “Have come to your door.” The particular phrase conveys your purpose, though it does not explicitly say so!). My mother replied laughing that it was good he learned so, and what was the other learning? The other one was that a boy who is employed is called “servicia ladka” (”servicia” is a localized derivative of the word “service” – literally meaning “having a service”. It conveying, general, “having an employment”). Well, my mother was not sure, if this was a good learning too ) )

(Its growing faster than expected! – If you still have patience, you can expect to see more.)

This entry was posted in Descriptive Articles, Imported from Old Blog by Jaya. Bookmark the permalink.

About Jaya

Jaya Jha is an entrepreneur, a techie, a writer and a poet. She was born and brought up in various towns of Bihar and Jharkhand. A graduate of IIT Kanpur and IIM Lucknow, she realized early on that the corporate world was not her cup of tea. In 2008, she started, one of the first print-on-demand publishing platform in India. She currently lives in Bangalore and divides her time between writing and working on her company's latest product InstaScribe ( with a vision to make it the best e-book creation tool. Blog: Twitter: @jayajha Facebook:

14 thoughts on “The Maithils – IV

  1. Since I am removing the Haloscan Comments, I am copy-pasting the comments I got on this post here.

    I am out of hibernation .
    Khub bhalo lageche “The Maithils” series tomar.Jante pralam je Darbhanga sabdo tir utpotti- dwar banga theke.
    Amarder desh koto sundar,koto sundar sankritik poriwes.Sudhu matro dorkar je eer theke kichu somajik kuriti baer kore dewa jak.
    Prem Piyush | Email | Homepage | 12.11.04 – 3:46 pm | #

  2. Jaya Madam
    May I request you to please visit once and contribute something in Angika language? It is still in very begining stage of construction phase.Your talent and desire to work for Angika language may change the face of our Mother Tongue. Pl. do not comment on spelling mistakes of the site as it will be rectified in due course.
    Best regards.

  3. Good daughters in law are not necessarily slaves. I have not seen too many follow too many of the tips you laid down yet many were still considered gems.

    Now I am thinking, for a modern day daughter in law, one would almost expect her to wear shorts, her gym tees, a hair band and perch on the couch to drink with her in laws before heading out for a party, all, while her poor husband might be at work.

    Where you fit in between these two descriptions would be upto you, but either does not automaticaly preclude you from being a good daughter in law. Therefore there has to be a missing ingredient.

    I would think the missing ingredient could probably be “To Belong.”

  4. I do not exactly want to get into a serious debate here. So, your comment would remain unreplied (except for this clarificatory comment, of course).

  5. The only time I have been to Darbhanga (I dont remember when), I was walking in knee deep water on the road close to laheria sarai. I was thinking if the woodland boots ads showing ankle boots on treks really used those shoes, because my new pair was almost threatening to look befitting for a tramp.

    I was trying to figure out where my cousins lived, and I do not speak maithili, not that I am proud of it particularly, still. And there was this group of dhoti clad gentlemen, who eyed me with curiosity/suspicion/distaste/sorrow that the young genenration turned out like me, walking in the rain with a rucksack and no umbrella.

    Their next words however, made me like that place a hell of a lot though. One of them shouted like I never thought possible, across the raindrops, and said, “Katta jai chi vidyarthee?”

    I am a fan of my culture. Refer to people younger to you with “aap” rather than the ubiquitous “tu.” Call strangers appropriately, in my case being referred to as a student was a new experience. One, I am not likely to forget.

  6. Salaam Namastey,

    In my view, it is just an uphill task to follow the rules,made by our elder family members.Though, i often try to to obey, but candidly speaking, its really impossible.Like touching the feet of all,even someone whom i never come across earlier!I love my culture,a lot but then there should b some limit.

    I remember one very bizarre incident happened with me while touching the feet of all.That time i was in +2.I was very shy that time,never interested to get trapped in the circle of elders!Those days, i used to visit a maithil family,typical one!!To brush up my doubts regarding mathematics!Mine impression was indeed good as a student.But as i mentioned, i just like to shun elder people,so whenever i visited his house,especially in the starting i often felt edgy….like kahi koi jada log to nahi hoga..sab ka feet to nahi chhoona parega like that!

    My father and that felloow is pure bossom still!!..Anyway, so when i reached there one day i saw around 7-8 typical maithil brahmins…oh god ..and 2-3 ladies..meri such fut gayi, aaj nahi bachooge beta!.Anyway i walked towards them..of course trying to b as polite as i could, but knowing from edgyness,i was sure something uncanny will happen soon.My mentor started saying in typical tone…Bhawanand ji ke ladka chhain..actually they all were professors belong to same campus, where we were living that time, so naturally, they knew father very well.I started touching feel of all one by one..the last one was a lady..when i saw her face. my inner state of mind told me to stop now..reason was i was sure about her…position in that house.But i maintained my culture and tradition..i touch her pronto,the daughter of my mentor laughed like she is laughing for the 1st time in her life!Actually she was the Maid-servant of that house!I b came pure MTV-BAKRA!

    Maithil brahmins are aping culture of punjabis and others..there are endless reasons for it…i wish to see our culture like what it was 10 years back..when i touched the feet of a MAID!!

  7. Another thing which i indeed abhor about maithil is their way of arranging marriages!!So much promises so much onus on daughters side, so much embarrasments if you indeed fail to serve THEM properly..and list goes fact this is endless!

    Its indeed rubbish, if you reckon that someone will just listen you b coz you are from BOYS side!Though i have nt attended any such marriages for long time, but those harsh memories are still in my mind…and force me often to think of knot beyond these debrish!!

    I m not saying it happenes everytime and every where but its a part of knot especially with maithils!Even when two groups are highly educated you are bound to find 3-4 people who are just typical they just visit to banter shallow!I rememeber one such incident, when i was the victim..and despite the good service what we had given,i heard words which i will never ever disclose to anyone!!

    I donot know really how my baratis will behave in my knot,but if i will find anyone, teasing sans any apposite reasons, i m sure i will just hurl him! Sorry my future baratis!!Ho sakta hai meri koi barati ho hi nahi…hahahha

    Write soon,


  8. Jaya ji, no disrespect meant but I am really saddened that educated qualified women like you are promoting these highly regressive value systems (inspite of your disclaimer ) , that too in the 21st century.Really feel sad for the girls (or am I thinking too much).No wonder we have baby girls killed after birth or even before birth.Perhaps it is merciful for them than to lead the life of slavery you described.
    Excuse me if I am intruding , but I could not resist commenting.

  9. I am sorry..I had completely got it wrong..I had just read your piece above in isolation and I dont know why but I mistook it for a lecture on how girls should behave ..reminded me of those ekta kapoor serials and I lost my cool (and sense ).
    I did read many more pages on your blog today, I thoroughly enjoyed it..I just have one comment (actually a request).You are not aggressive enough in replying to some of these guys who are still living in the 18th century.

    [Edited by admin to remove a name referred personally.]

  10. माधव “तोहेँ” जनु जाह विदेश ………………विद्यापाति ।

    “तोहेँ” & “तूँ” both are Maithili words – former is more used in some region while later word in some another region. But both are MAITHILI.

    The apparent difference is virtually due to lack of communication / inter connection (via roadways & railways too) between different parts of MITHILA. The EGO FIGHTING of different parts of Mithila has added fuel to this dispute which has given tremendous advantage to its enemies.

    So I request you all to contribute in UNIFICATION OF MITHILA & help to remove such barriers which hinders in making a HOMOGENEOUS CULTURE IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF MITHILA.

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