We had my husband Brijesh’s three uncles and their entire families over for lunch during Diwali. It was a full house with 20 adults and 3 hyperactive toddlers in our humble 2 bedroom apartment. After everyone happily gulped the sumptuous meal, all the men hastily plonked themselves on the sofas of our living room. It almost felt like a Mumbai local where passengers haggle around for a seat. As hosts this felt very satisfying but after a while the clamor just got bigger. My husband helped us clear the dining table and served dessert to everyone. The men in the group eyed him with a little disdain and called out to him.
“What are you doing going to the kitchen, the women are there to take care of the stuff. Come sit with us, let’s talk about the government.”
He settled amongst them feeling a little helpless to argue with the men. But soon his voice was lost in all the chaos. As I was watching all this I was itching to ask some of the men around why it was such a woman thing to clean the table or serve dessert. It was a chore after all. But being the silent rebel that I was I let the argument die down in my mind. I casually moved into our bedroom where the women had grouped themselves to chat and observed their conversations. Most of them seemed curious about my resignation. Since I had been working all the 6 years that I had been married into this family and the only one at that, they were pleasantly surprised.
I had been working as a software consultant for over a decade. I had never taken a sabbatical or a break so it had become routine for everyone to ask me “How is work?” instead of “How are you” because that’s what I always did. After an entire decade, I resigned from my job within 3 months of returning from maternity leave. After all these years, I had realized that I had a bucket list of my dreams and goals which never got ticked off at all. The corporate world did not really leverage my potential since I could hardly deal with its politics and pressures. I had taken this break to find my passion. It was the perfect opportunity since I could also spend time with my son while figuring all this out.
Most women in the room assured me that this was the best choice to make because eventually this is what we were supposed to do. Look after the family, tend to them and subtly let our dreams fade away. Little did they know that I felt otherwise. I wondered why most women were happy with this settling down. We tend to associate only men with patriarchy but women too are products of it. I often found my mother or mother in law queasy if they saw my husband with a broom or doing the dishes. I would joke with my mother that if I had a son I would teach him all the household chores. He shouldn’t be couching on the sofa waiting for dinner to be served just because he’s a boy.
“No! don’t teach him all these chores. He would be better off playing in the field. Your generation always thinks of parenting like some kind of a mission.”, she would often say.
Suddenly my son, Ishaan entered the room where the ladies had their own little party going. He brought out the broom and attempted to sweep, imbibing from what he had seen the women in the house do every day. Everyone had a hearty laugh at his antics and were thoroughly entertained.
“Ishu, you should have been born as a girl, if you loved doing all these household chores!”, his grandmother exclaimed.
I smiled at him, wondering perhaps this could be the first step in our little change of switching gender roles. As I watched him keep all the washed utensils back to their rack I thought, maybe it’s about time.