Girls cook, boys work
I was raised as most Indian children are. Boys are brought up to be breadwinners and girls to look after the house. Boys go to school and college. Girls are taught cooking and cleaning.
I also grew up just as all girls do – played ‘ghar ghar’ and ‘mumma-baby’ with dolls, dressed pretty in skirts and frocks, grew long hair and also behaved like girls (always sitting cross legged!). By the time I was 12, I had a ‘clear idea’ of what I should and shouldn't do.
Undoing the training
However, as I entered my teens, I started to question – why boys did not help with household chores. They live in the same house too! And why do girls not prepare for outside work, when they do equally well or better at school!
I questioned everything around me. I did not share these thoughts with my parents or most of my friends – as they themselves were brought up like that. However, in marriage, I found a partner in Vijay, who had been brought up very differently.
It was time for me to ‘undo’ the training I had got as a child. From day one Vijay was my partner in matters of home and heart.
Vijay and I both work. So in the first few months of our marriage, we decided to do whatever work comes to us, instead of going by who should do what traditionally.
After a few months, it was clear that Vijay was quite at ease in the kitchen and would happily pack our lunches in the morning and brew our evening tea. I was good at cleaning and keeping the house. It helped us get ready on time without either of us being too pressed. I did not face any problem in balancing work and home because I was never worried about doing the household chores all alone.
However, soon our unique understanding started bothering our neighbours. Our style of living was quite new for the area we lived in – where women were mostly housewives and men were used to being taken care of. Neighbours would often taunt Vijay when they saw him in the kitchen, cooking. If he was seen drying clothes in the balcony, they would ask, ‘Is Nishtha ill today that you have to do all this stuff?’
Unke haath ka khana
One day as I was sitting with the neighbourhood women, someone asked what dish was I good at making? I blurted out, ‘I love rajma chawal that Vijay makes. Maybe you should come home and try it one day!’ Suddenly everyone went silent.
Then one of the aunts in the group said, ‘Oh my God Nishtha, it’s not good to make Vijay cook in the kitchen every day. If he wants to do it as a hobby one day, we all understand. But making it an everyday affair for him is just not right!’ I did not want to pick up a fight so just smiled back at her.
However, my mind could not stop thinking about how what Rama Aunty had said. Rama Aunty was in a violent relationship but she would always defend her husband. Everyone knew how her husband would throw fits of anger, shout at her and even hit her. But all she could unsuccessfully do was to shut her door tightly, so no one could hear.
Spoiling the children
One day Rama Aunty visited our house and we started to chat over a cup of chai. She mischievously mentioned how her daughter Shona had once seen my husband dusting the house one day. And with a very sarcastic laughter, she said, ‘Do not spoil our children at least. What will our children learn tomorrow? I do not let your uncle even fetch a cup of tea.’
At that point, I had had enough. I had always been a mute spectator to the ridicule thrown at me and my husband. I decided, it was time to confront this.
‘If Chatterjee uncle cannot even make a cup of tea for himself it’s not something to be proud of’, I said. ‘We all know what he does to you behind closed doors. Yes, Shona will definitely get spoiled but not because of us’, I rambled.
In our own way
Rama Aunty did not know what to say. As she tried to hunt for words and mumbled a few ‘hmms,’ I continued my onslaught. ‘Shona is a very smart girl Aunty and has a bright future ahead of her. Do not bind her with age-old misconceptions of what a boy is supposed to do and what a girl should’.
Vijay too joined in. ‘Aunty, all the chores are my responsibility too because it is after all, my house too. I am glad that my mother got my sister and I to do all the work. By the way, I hope you like the tea, it’s my mother’s special recipe!’
Rama Aunty had tears in her eyes. But she continued sipping the tea. She then got up and blessed us both for ‘changing the world’ in our own little way. We still get ridiculed by our neighbours every now and then but a few who have had Vijay’s kadak chai and rajma chawal don’t complain as much anymore!
This story was first published on December 12, 2017.
Persons in the picture are models.