Vive la vida, femmes

Some years back, in an HR initiative, I used to go to Jalpaiguri Engineering College once a month for 2 days to teach prospective company employees communication skills. The first time I went, my son was about 5 years old, and I had to make all preparations, his meals and his dad’s (yes, you got that right, the dad is fairly inept and I am being very kind here), set out their clothes for the two days. AND my mother was anyway coming over to see him off to school etc. I was worried, imagining the immense potential for chaos I was handing over to my mother. Several phone calls happened even before I boarded the plane –“love you, miss you already”, “where have you kept the Chocos?”, as though I have a special corner where I hide them. No marks for guessing which call was from whom. But, and listen to this and agree (and I know the honest among my readers will), the moment I got on the plane, it was almost as though a physical weight got lifted off my shoulders and I happily opened my book and got the first opportunity to do that in peace in months and months. The classes themselves were great – two hundred young boys and girls with an eagerness to learn- how bad can it be? But what I felt was the lightness in my heart, not having to worry about when to cook, when to spend ‘quality time’ with my family (it usually is the precise moment when I want to get down and read a book or watch some telly.) I was getting what is called ‘me time’ in the psychobabble one hears everywhere. And god, guilty as I felt, it also felt like heaven.

If you have seen the movie “Shaadi ke Side Effects” – think of the last scene. The bliss, the bliss, oh God the bliss!

The world of women is funny – we ourselves create an aura of our indispensability around us, guilt-tripping all the time we can’t match those exacting standards. Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. There is a reason why Goddess Durga has ten pairs of hands. The sages of yore were prescient, they knew this was a prerequisite to being a woman. Along with at least 3 eyes, of course. And sixth sense which would put a dog to shame. The eyes and the sixth sense could see through closed doors and understand perfectly when the child stopped studying and began Facebooking (I can’t believe I am writing this word, but what other word does one use for this particular activity?) with friends. The pair she has which the world can see is the one which can gauge the mood of her family and colleagues and walk gingerly when needed, walking on thin ice but walking just right, keeping everyone’s emotions and feelings in mind. And did I forget the one she has at the back of her head? That tells her the exact moment when anyone of her family makes a face at something she said, so she can point home the fact of the existence of said eyes precisely afterwards.

She cannot be ill, and if she does feel ill, chances are the children already have the virus and she can go heal herself, (or well, go to hell) and is a whole lot better at it than physicians. I should know, I have a husband who is a physician, who has threatened to declare his will plenty times with fever of 99 degrees.

So, the woman. I had read somewhere, when I myself was a kid, that ‘God couldn’t be everywhere, so he made mothers’. I think that’s when he made women. And I am fairly certain we did not get fashioned out of the ribs of any man, it would be more like the entire skeletal structure plus some extra invisible bones to take on the load of the entire extended family. Motherhood is an extension – the most crucial one, admittedly, – of being a woman. When my son was born, I was in a foreign country with no family (mom was too ill to travel), and the little twat just refused to sleep beyond 25 minutes. Within weeks I was a wreck and debated secretly (and in desperation also did) whether a shot of sherry in his night milk was an option. But through total lack of choice, I plodded on. One day when my husband came home I said it was like being on-call 24 hours every day. My sage husband said, you don’t know what being on-call is, so you can’t say that, the implication being on-calls were worse. I later asked my friend who was a mother as well as a doctor, and she told my husband that being a sleepless mother with a relentlessly crying child was much worse than being on call.

There are women like me, I am sure, who love to see their house looking fabulous, clean and tidy, no cobweb showing anywhere, as much as we like to put our stamp of quality on our day jobs, the one which gives monetary rewards. But I hate the work involved – mine, always mine, because others will say, you have a problem with things untidy, you sort it out – in keeping it that way. Housework is a treadmill from futility to oblivion with stop-offs at tedium and counter productivity. The best way to deal with it is to not think about it – work on auto-pilot, ignore the wet towels on the floor, the trousers which lay as though the wearer has jumped out of the heap on the floor, the music which numbs your very teeth, or the tooth-paste caps and shampoo bottles which are strewn all over what was once a decent bathroom.

As a woman, you will have to sit and watch when the man in the house makes a federal case out of making tea or coffee. They make it into a big deal, and it is possibly the only thing they want to do which does not threaten their masculinity. It is right up there with sitting outside clothes shop while women shop inside, in terms of the compromise men sigh about making. To the women, it’s on the same domestic entry level as putting the bottle under the Aquaguard just so the water does not drip out of the bottle. But the men feel happy, and we are OK with it. Compromise for peace.

See, women can find humour in self-reflection. Try telling these to a man, and he will immediately get defensive. I am not saying there aren’t exceptions, good heavens, no, – but they only prove the rule. That kid who is a genius, – and well-behaved with his room ever so tidy-, that husband who practically does everything around the house, they do exist. In fact, we know a few of those ourselves. But can someone tell me why they never happen in my life? And while you are at it, also let me know where to find a man who does not believe his hair won’t grow on his chest if he stopped and asked for directions? Also, all women I know would need a man who does not watch the highlights of a cricket match he has just seen from start to finish, at least 3 times in the same night. We can’t find any around us. And men, if you are reading this and going, ‘there she goes ranting again’, well guess what, she has to, cause no one else will do it for her. Except maybe her mother, who has had a worse life in terms of housework at least.

Women have to train their bodies to think what to cook for dinner at 10 pm when they wake up at 6 am. Women like me who once made the mistake of wanting a dog, have to take the dog out to do his morning ablutions at 6.30 in the morning even if she goes to sleep at 4. Women have to tolerate spouses who laze around with their beer and kebabs and expect their wives to ‘help’ the friends wife who is making food arrangements. Women have to take self-catering bungalow holidays and come back from the beach and be told to get tea/coffee organized when she is feeling just as lethargic after all the time in the sea. Women are the ones who get so caught up in their lives that they end up not doing so many of the things they wanted to do. Like the conversation with a friend with cancer, a friend who died. But then, your life teaches you realities like, ‘what good would it have made even if that conversation happened?’ We are the ones who cook in a wildly neurotic and furious manner and if we are looking for applause, go figure, it ain’t coming or at any rate is not proportional to the effort put in. We try to be all things to all people. Is this the beginning of a pathological strain of feminist overreaching? We don’t know. We are too busy carrying on conference calls while warming up the milk in the microwave for the child sitting on his high-chair screaming the neighbourhood to oblivion.

Several years back, I had gone to the office and right in the morning, while trying to have a telephone conversation with my Supervisor, walking towards the coffee vending machine. I slipped and fell and zipped fast, on my posterior, to the wall ahead and as a result, suffered immense pain. When the pain only grew, I rang my husband, who asked me to go to the hospital and get an x-ray done. I went and it was done and it showed that I had a fracture in my coccyx. My husband got me from the hospital home and as soon as we got home, declared to my son and my mother that no one should disturb me, I needed two weeks of bed rest and then he proceeded to change his clothes. 5 minutes later, he was out of the toilet and asked me “Aren’t you going to serve dinner?”

People, I rest my case.

Vive la vida, femmes.

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2 thoughts on “Vive la vida, femmes

    1. I am afraid I cannot make any promises about a post-marriage scenario which involves equal sharing of work, even for your generation. But marriage is worth the shot, I guess, for most. I lived in a time and world where to stay with the man I loved, I had to get married. I would have loved not have had that necessity, but well.

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