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White Saris and Sweet Mangoes

What is the most important understanding of aging and gender that you got from reading this ethnographic study of aging and gender in an Indian village?

In the book, White Saris and Sweet Mangoes, author Sarah Lamb (2000) explored the lives of people of Mangaldihi, a small Bengali village. She observed that the idea of aging in the older generation was tied to their gender and the way their relationships evolved over the years. Over eighteen months, Lamb lived in the village of Mangaldihi, where she learned about the culture and traditions of the village. In the village, she saw a tight-knit community of people and interviewed them to understand their beliefs. It was through these interviews that she learned about “Maya”, which meant compassion, attachment, love, and affection; Maya was a beautiful sentiment and yet could become problematic and painful as a person got older.

Many old people of the village were not afraid of death but of leaving their loved ones behind. They talked about the perspective they gained about gender, aging, and kinship over the years but it was the older women and widows of the village that provided deeper insight on the subject. In India, a mother is seen as a matriarch of the society but when interviewing these women, Lamb, learned about the losses that they had to endure; the loss of their power loved ones and isolation from the family. When a person starts to grow old, their body becomes worn out like old clothes, they are no longer contributing to the society but become a burden on it; the only thing that keeps them going is their family but that too becomes fed up with them as time passes. It can be observed through the accounts shared in the book, that older men lamented about their lost physical strength, and older women grieved about the loss of their husbands and importance in the family that they raised. In conclusion, the way age affects an individual in an Indian society depends very much on the gender of that person.

Briefly note, and explain the reasons for, major changes in patterns of family structure and family life over the course of the last century in the following five areas: household composition, marriage, reproduction, employment and housework, care of dependents at both ends of the life cycle.

Although the family stricture hasn’t changed much over the years, there are some younger people of the village leaving for education and some wanting to live separate after marriage and not be a part of the joint family system. A joint family system is when the whole family lives together generation after generation and this practice is extremely prevalent in India but younger generations are now trying to break out of it so they can have privacy and freedom to raise their kids without the influence of their relatives. This new point of view, however, does not sit well with the older generation that has been living with a close family their whole lives. Their perspectives have not changed and the position and honor that was promised to them in the family when they were younger, never happened and this is a concept that they refuse to accept. Sons do not want their mothers to interfere with their married lives and the wives of those sons want to live in the privacy of their own homes.

This is seen as a rejection of “revajh” (culture and traditions) and the wisdom of the ancestors. Old people of Mangaldihi complain about their relations not paying them the same respect as they used to, society-changing and younger generation forgetting their roots. Although from a point of view of an outsider looking at the traditions and culture seem very much alive but of course, the community knows better.


LAMB, S. (2000). White Saris and Sweet Mangoes: Aging, Gender, and Body in North India (1st ed.). University of California Press.



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