‘Mummy is still not feeling well. Should I take two more days of leave from office?’ I asked my husband Arun.
‘You have taken two days’ leave already. You go to the office now. I’ll stay at home,’ he replied.
‘Are you sure?’ I asked. I hadn’t been married for long enough yet to forget the situation at my parents’ home. Having been brought up in an atmosphere where all household chores were considered housewife’s responsibility, I could not help but feel as if I’d be doing wrong.
‘Don’t worry. She’s my mom too, you know,’ Arun laughed.
‘Ok, thanks,’ I said, smiling. Then rushed to put the clothes in the washing machine.
‘Chhavi, you’ll get late! Leave the clothes. I’ll wash them,’ Arun said, dragging me away from the washing machine.
‘What? But you…you won’t mind that?’
‘Why would I mind? Half of these clothes are mine. You don’t mind washing them,’ he replied.
‘But that’s my duty,’ she said.
‘No, it isn’t. Don’t think it so. This is our home. And taking care of it is our duty. As for these clothes, the washing machine will wash them and this Ariel washing powder will clean them. Not much left for me to do. ‘
‘But what would Mummy, Papa say?’
‘They won’t say anything at all. They too help each other,’ Arun replied.
When I left my home for office that day, I had a smile on my lips, brought on by husband’s love and care. At the same time, my heart felt weighed down with the memories of my mother. She too was an intelligent and well-educated woman. And I knew she had once been ambitious too. But she had stopped thinking of her dreams long ago. Had my father supported her as Arun supports me, she too would have had a successful career.
As I drove my scooty to my office, my mind went back to the day when my 8th class results were declared. My granny had not been satisfied with my grades.
“Preeti got 90 percent in her test. And all you got is 80 percent. See, that’s what happens when you spend all your time watching TV,’ my grandmother scolded me.
‘But I fell sick during exams,’ I protested.
She ignored the statement and continued. ‘Kids don’t get good marks on their own. Mothers have to make sure they study properly. But ladies today have time only for themselves. Thank God my daughter Neetu is not like that! And see what good grades her daughter Preeti always gets.’
‘What’s the use, Mummy?’ My mother said from behind the ironing board where she had been standing and ironing the clothes since past 20 minutes. ‘Girls have to end up as unpaid home slaves anyway.’
I could clearly hear the bitterness in my mother’s voice. I was thirteen years old at that time and knew enough of my mother’s past to realize that the bitterness was not for that day’s taunts only.
My mother had been a class topper all through her student life. She had topped her school and got admitted in one of the most prestigious engineering college. And she had topped that too and had won an enviable government job. Her parents had distributed sweets in their neighbourhood to celebrate the success of their daughter, an only child.
My mother and father worked in the same department. And theirs was a love cum arranged marriage. But still, my granny never liked my mother’s job.
‘My son’s choice is our choice. We are not so backward as to object to love marriage,’ she had declared when she had come to see my mother. ‘But of course, Shruti will have to give up her job after marriage.’
‘But I love my job,’ my mother had clearly said.
‘It’s a government job,’ her father had added. My mother’s job was his pride too.
‘Yes, yes, I know,’ she said. ‘Anyway, we’ll see about that later. Let’s first settle the dates and other things.’ And with that, the matter had been put away.
Two months later, my mother had acquired the title of Bahu. It came along with many heavy responsibilities.
When my mother set foot in her home, there were two maids to help her mother-in-law in household chores. But within a month of the marriage, one was found to be a thief and other incompetent. So both were fired and the Bahu of the house was handed over the duty to keep the house, clothes and utensils clean. And all that had to be completed before leaving for office as dirty home was intolerable to my granny.
‘Can’t we keep a full day servant?’ She suggested to her husband and mother-in-law. ‘We both go to office and Mummy, Papa are left alone at home. A full day servant will be helpful to them too.’
‘Don’t you know how dangerous these servants can be? One day you might come home to find us both dead and the house robbed,’ my granny had promptly responded. ‘And if it is getting so hard for you to manage, you can leave the job. We don’t need your money.’
‘But I’m not doing the job because of money. I studied so hard to have a successful career one day. And now that I have a good job, how can I leave it?’
‘Yes, I understand that, dear. But a married woman has to consider her responsibilities first. Those homes never prosper where the housewife thinks only about her wishes.’
My mother could say nothing to that. But she was determined not to leave her job. It was her pride. To make things easier, she found a maid to help her. But she too was dispensed away soon as she talked too much and was often late.
My mother, always having her focus on studies, had never done much of household chores before marriage. Cooking was a battle for her and cleaning and washing clothes nothing less than an intense workout. But slowly, she got used to them and even started enjoying cooking as she got better at it.
And then she became pregnant.
‘You can’t work now. We don’t want anything happening to the baby because of your job,’ the ultimatum was given.
‘Nothing will happen, Mummy. I’ll take care. Besides, Udit is there with me all the time. We go to office together in our car.’
‘You yourself complain that you get tired. That’s why I was saying,’ came the response.
It was, of course, not allowed to my mother to dare point out that the fatigue could also be the result of all the household chores she was expected to complete alone.
Her husband had so far supported her in keeping the job. But expecting any help from him in household chores was, of course, a sin. Nobody at home even bothered to put their dirty clothes in the laundry bucket and their shoes in the shoe-rack. Even on weekends, the only work her husband could do was eat, watch TV, talk to his parents and sleep.
My mother found another maid and refused to let her go till her baby was born. Her determination won that time.
She was in her seventh month of pregnancy when my granny showed her how determined she too can be. My mother was preparing for office a day after her godbharai had been celebrated.
‘You are not to go to the office now till the baby is born,’ my granny told my mother.
‘But Mummy, I had applied for only three days’ leave,’ Shruti said.
‘You can get maternity leave, can’t you?’
‘Yes, but if I take it so soon…’
‘Then what’s the problem. Write down an application for it and Udit will submit it. You are not going to the office till the child is born. It’s for your own good I’m saying this. You need rest now.’
Shruti looked at Udit for support but he knew his mother was firm and he’d rather not go against her orders.
‘Well, if Mummy is saying it is good for you and baby…’
And that was that.
My mother had no option but to stay.
Finally, I was born. But after my childbirth followed the edict that the new mother is not supposed to set foot out of the home for 40 days after childbirth. Of course, that meant more absence from office.
Those forty days too got over and my mother prepared for her return to office.
‘Are you actually thinking of leaving your infant at home and going to office?’ my granny asked with surprise. ‘How can you even think that? What is the use of such a job that prevents a mother from taking care of her infant?’
‘But Mummy, if you are there to take care of the baby…’
‘You want me to do babysitting at my age? Well, I’ll gladly do that, of course. But I’m sick so often. And your father’s diabetes is getting worse and worse. Anyway, it’s your wish. I won’t interfere.’
My mother started going to office. But my granny’s sickness bouts increased from that day. And I was not a very healthy child either. My father, of course, never thought of staying at home to take care of his mother or me. So my mother’s absence in office became almost a weekly routine.
And finally the day came. She was handing yet another application for leave to my father to hand it over to her boss. I had once again fallen sick.
‘Haven’t you become tired of giving leave applications?’ my granny said to her. ‘Why don’t you just quit the job for a few years? You are so intelligent and educated, I’m sure you will find an equally good job again later. Your child needs you now.’
My mother had become frustrated enough by then. Finally her patience gave up. She snatched the leave application letter from my father’s hands and tore it up. Then she wrote down her resignation then and there and thrust it in his hands.
Years passed away. But the convenient time for my mother to start at a job never arrived. Her household responsibilities never dwindled. Nobody ever thought of sharing her load. I wouldn’t have either, had she not considered it necessary from early on to train me in homemaker’s duties. ‘You are a girl. That’s all that you are going to end up doing anyway,’ she had said again and again.
‘Maybe not,’ I murmured to myself and smiled as my husband’s caring words of the morning echoed in my heart.
With this post, I am joining the Ariel #ShareTheLoad campaign at BlogAdda and blogging about the prejudice related to household chores being passed on to the next generation. These prejudices can’t be broken by any law. We all need to bring about a change in our mindset and stop classifying work as ‘man’s work’ or ‘woman’s work.’