Wednesday, March 16, 2011
When Ma’am asks Chotu in school, he says, “My father is a doctor. My mother is a housewife.” House wife?
Chotu doesn’t really know what the word means. Nor do most of his classmates. Yet, that is what their answer always is. It’s not wrong, though. She is a housewife, Chotu’s mother.
Her day begins well before sunrise, when Dadaji goes out for his morning stroll. He likes a hot cup of tea with an extra spoon of milk before he leaves. Then, she has just about enough time for a quick shower before Dadiji begins her morning puja. She has to make sure that the diyas are washed and fresh flowers are ready in front of the deity.
By the time the clock in the drawing room strikes 6, Chotu and Pinky have to be woken up. Juggling two pieces of semi-burnt toast, pacifying the froth on the sweetened boiling milk and the groaning-moaning kids in their blankets, the Housewife forgets she can indulge in two odd minutes of sitting and breathing deeply on the sofa. It’s a luxury she could well afford, but only accompanied with a pang of guilt.
9 am on the clock says that its time for a leisurely breakfast with the Husband before he packs his suitcase. A non-committal grunt is his ‘Thank you’ and ‘Bye-bye’ and ‘see you in the evening’, all packed into one. He doesn’t remember to meet her smiling eyes before slamming the main door shut behind him.
The two hours before and after lunch are her loneliest hours of the day. The maid, if she has come, is busy with the washing and cleaning. Lunch is ready. Dadaji and Dadiji are relaxing with their mid-morning or afternoon siesta in their room. And that is when it all comes flooding back to her.
The Housewife was once a school-going girl, not unlike Pinky, who used to announce her ambition proudly during Essay writing in Language class. One day an astronaut, another day an architect, the third day a lawyer and a painter the next; she felt no shame in dreaming new dreams and no fear of them possibly never turning real. It was only a dream, right? Fair enough.
The Housewife was also a college-going woman once, not unlike the one Pinky shall soon be. Laughing a little too loudly in the canteen, smiling shyly at that boy from the corner of her eye and still carrying in her bag a little diary where she writes down her silly dreams. Somehow, against all odds, they had found the light to blossom from seeds into saplings. The road to her future was still an empty highway with endless crossroads. The world was her oyster.
is a developing country, they all said. You will be free to do whatever you want, they said. Fair enough. India
And then it happened. One ‘meeting’, four functions and seven pheras later, she became that what she is now- a housewife. The little private world in her head came crashing down on top of its head, but so stealthily, so quietly that she didn’t even realize it. She still doesn’t. Twelve years have gone by, with no promotion, no incentives, no leaves and no appraisals. But she still gives this job her best. Every day. Fair enough.
She has to ask for permission first, to step out of the door for anything other than fetching vegetables or to have a little chat with bhabhiji next door. So she doesn’t ask anyone. And she doesn’t go anywhere. Who will take care of the house? Will it look decent if I step out too often? Why all the trouble just for some freedom? Fair enough.
She commits the sin of losing herself just a little bit everyday, sometimes watching that interesting little episode on TV and sometimes while talking to her friend from college over the cordless phone. The TV is full of strong-headed women who make the world dance on their fingertips and telecast the blasphemous message that women are the embodiment of Maa Shakti. They can achieve what they want. Nothing is impossible. Fair enough.
Her friend Anita is now in the
, freelancing as a designer. Anita gives her updates about their other classmates. Two of them are in the United States , having recently started their own little firm together. Another friend of hers is now a big shot lawyer, driving her own Honda Accord through the rowdy streets of United States . The others are in her city, but not really the ‘career type’, so they make up for it with their monthly kitty and bi-monthly outings. She doesn’t go there, though. Her husband doesn’t like her mixing with ‘those types’. Fair enough. New Delhi
The Housewife has but a few minutes to reminisce and maybe smile a broken smile until there is a faint call from the other room, beckoning her for a glass of water or some kadak elaichi chai. The lazy afternoon gently slips away into evening and the children are back home. Fantastic, exaggerated tales of school woven over hot Maggi and Bournvita milk, notes in the diary about homework not being done and Chotu and Pinky’s upcoming class tests keep her occupied all the way till dinner time. After dinner, an hour of TV is the ultimate reward (the kids watch their cartoons, the Husband watches his movie, Dadiji’s soaps or Dadaji’s news) and maybe an ice cream if it is Saturday. Then goodnight it is. Tomorrow is a busy day. Fair enough.
The next morning dawns as if new, and the schedule is lived through all over again as if new. There are no complaints registered, no protests voiced, no regrets felt, no love lost.
Wait. Does this sound familiar? I can promise you I haven’t plagiarized! Yet, the funny thing is, she is not a figment of my imagination. You will not hear this story over adventurous jungle bonfires or read it in romantic novels. In fact, you will probably not even catch more than a glimpse of the main protagonist of this story, the Housewife.
But maybe, just maybe, on a rainy evening when terraces and verandahs are filled with men sitting on armchairs and smiling contentedly, while children stick their tongues out with the efforts of balancing flimsy paper boats on the dancing puddles of water, you will catch a glimpse of her. There she is, the Housewife, wiping the sweat off her brow while frying hot pakoras and stirring sweet tea for the Husband and kids. You can see her through the grilled window of the kitchen, absorbed in the activity of her activity.
Oh yes, she’s a very happy woman. She smiles all right. But don’t be misled, because somewhere in between those 100-watt smiles and good-natured, open mouthed laughter through the day, there is a brief moment of darkness.
The darkness is not black or evil or permanent, but just like a fleeting moment when a matchstick flame goes out and another is lit. It’s like one person’s dream has gone away into nothingness, replaced by another dream. Only, it’s not her own. Fair enough.
They call her the Housewife. Some call her the Homemaker. The latter, though closer to the truth, still doesn’t capture it in its entirety. This is a story from somewhere in a quiet house on the corner of a bustling street in the very heart of our ‘Shining India’. It may feel like a tale of yore or urban legend, but take a closer look. She is a real, living person. And this is a real, life story.
So the next time someone asks Chotu, “What does your mother do?” and he says his mother is a ‘Housewife’ or a ‘Homemaker’, I don’t really know if little Chotu is right or wrong.
- Avinash Agarwal