While growing up, I shirked house work because I knew Mummy would do it. The only hard work I did is to eat whatever she made. Mummy would wake up early in the morning, bathe, do the pooja, make breakfast and lunch and then of course, my task was to eat it away as if nothing else matters.
Of course, she would ask me to help her out and learn some basics but do you think I listened? Not seriously, I simply didn't. I used to tell her not to worry so much. I always felt there would be a magical Alladin's Lamp that would manifest and take care of everything when it was my turn to take care of a home. Her wise words "Start early, or else later you will find it difficult to manage simple chores in your home" always fell on my deaf and dumb ears. Those were the years I wish I could turn back time....(sigh, dreaming, dreaming!)
Marriage, Introspection and the Pressure Cooker
Suddenly, I found myself married. Unlike most girls who were mentally conditioned for this official 'lifetime' position, I lived in a dream world created by Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, you get the drift. 'M' which means MARRIAGE it transforms even the laziest girls into hardworking 'ants,' to scurry alone from dawn to dusk, unfailing carrying out tasks. You know what I mean, right?
So I learned:
- how to make tea without burning the milk
- how to get kitchen chores done
- how to survive on different variations of Maggi during a working week
- how to make curd rice without the curd curdling
- how to make upma without uppu (don't strangle me, but it happened!)
- how many teaspoons of sugar makes it okay to drink so that your better half doesn't drown in diabetic sweetness.
I grew up seeing the 'Prestige' pressure cooker ad for housewives and wondered a lot of times why a couple's marital happiness seems so dependant on that cooker.
Once I began my disastrous experiments in the kitchen, I got a fairly good idea of how critical a cooker's role is. The guy who created that ad is a genius, must say!
Well, after many trial and error sessions and self humiliation by burning most stuff that made it inedible, there were days when I would simply sit and cry because well, cooking was rocket science to me.
I found myself learning to make rice/Maggi variations/upma without all of it sticking like glue on the teeth. I learned to remember to add salt and not too much of it, little things like that got me going and growing. I began to understand that when some women friends try to help you with their suggestions, they are either laughing at your inefficiency at the next kitty party or just eager to prove that ultimately, your competence as a home maker boils down to 'being a woman stuck in the kitchen.'
Ms Intellectual Waits for Hubby to Cook
In Delhi, I've understood from scraps of social conversation with women in my building, a lot of your ability or interest in cooking or doing housework is attributed to the region you come from. I don't agree with the perspective because I think it depends on the kind of lifestyle you've led, the family background and your own inclination to it.
Lets call Ms. Intellectual. She has a literary bent but she is a housewife who is devoted to her family. I know her personally and see how much effort she takes in looking after her family.
An interesting thing she told me is that there are three things the women in her family have never done for three generations unless it was some kind of a life threatening situation:
1. Wash dirty dishes.
2. Wash laundry.
My first thought was: wow, I wish I belonged to that three generation of women because the snippet of information came at a time when my routine, besides a crazy, hectic job at the time, involved doing all three! And I don't feel any admiration about the fact that her husband who worked very long hours would come home and then cook the dinner for the family. Of course, they are helping each other and that's none of my business.
When Ms Intellectual's Mother came to stay, I was sure that maybe she would cook, bend the generation rule a little but I was wrong. The mother and daughter would wait till the hubby came home and cooked for them all.
I am not sharing this to be mean or critical because in today's world, marital life is all about sharing everything. However, I wouldn't like to follow Ms. Intellectual's style because I don't like the thought of making my spouse do all the hard work every evening after he's had a very exhausting day. My feeling is more to do with not burdening a loved one when he is already wrapped up his day and ready to just unwind after a day's hard work.
Ms Liberated Will Marry Only Hubby Cooks
I also knew some girls who were very independent and not married at the time when I met them. They used to tell me they would marry only if they met men who would do all the cooking and home chores.
And my thought: Yea, right! Wait till you are married, gal!
In Kerala, when a girl is about to get married, the first question that is asked is, "Do you know how to cook?" Since my marriage was a love marriage, I could happily skip the question and face reality directly. Ouch!
In Delhi, I've heard a majority of mothers say that their daughters don't want to marry because they aren't interested in cooking and cleaning for men. And yet I have also heard a close friend of mine who taught her 4 year old son to make his own milk and rotis on a proper stove on his own because she is working and returns late. And now the little boy makes sabji for himself and makes tea for her when she comes back home with a headache. Her explanation is this, "It is my gift of love to my daughter in law, the best gift one woman can give to help another."
Perhaps this debate will go on. The new generation may change things for the better so that tasks and chores are shared equally. Perhaps there may come a time that men can become socially acceptable home makers.
I don't know whether there is a perfect answer to this. It differs from family to family, person to person. How about you? What do you think?