Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Woman and a Cat

Every morning I witness a piece of magic!

A middle aged Indian housewife walks up to the roof of her rather humble house to water the plants. There, she meets a cat and transforms into a beautiful young girl and both put up a riveting display of affection and playfulness! On days when the cat would not be there to greet her she waits for it, looks around impatiently and at times calls out to it. But when it is there, they meet like long lost friends and the metamorphosis of a regular middle aged Indian housewife into a happy young girl happens! Then as if answering to an unseen alarm bell, she transforms back to the serious, busy, unkempt self. Moments later, her family starts to emerge from their slumber. For the remainder of the day, this woman will remain the housewife she is and even though the cat will always be there, she would not even notice it! She cannot! She is a wife, a mother, she is responsible! Her family needs her to cook, wash, clean and not play with cats.

I do not know her or her family but I can see that she is a housewife and a mother of three. Socioeconomically, the family seems to be very close to what late Dr. C. K. Prahalad would describe as the bottom of the pyramid. Her husband never seems to be in a hurry and even though that is a state worth aspiring for, it is not a good sign if you actually have to earn your living in the current social setup. The kids I am sure go to school. Everybody goes to school in Kerala.

Back to the magic. Unlike her husband, I have never seen this woman at ease. Be it morning, noon or evening, I always see her busy with household chores. I have never seen her get ready or groom herself.  She is always dressed in a house gown which has seen better days. It is quite apparent that she does not step out of her house much and that she has enough on her hands to think about herself.

Not that it is a surprise; the job of a full time homemaker is one of the most thankless jobs a woman can be in India. We all know how deprecatory the title ‘housewife’ can be made to sound. Even the most liberal minds around me have at times made statements that reveal a moderate version of Mr. Mohan Bhagwat’s application of the theory of social contract to explain the institution of marriage. Even though Mr. Bhagwat was criticised for his suggestion that it is only natural that women remain at home and look after the household, the idea finds sympathy in a very large percentage of Indians.

Such beliefs in a predominantly masculine testosterone driven society ensures that we bring up our girls as passive, mute receivers of whatever our society chooses for them. The past few weeks have seen vigorous debate and discussion on women’s issues. Admittedly, problems are there and the good news is sections of the society seem to be looking for a solution for many of them.

But in my opinion, even the call for gender equality irrigates the deeply entrenched feeling that women will need to be granted equality for they naturally are not. A woman sacrificing her career, her aspirations and desires for the sake of her family is considered normal and that I think is where the patronising attitude towards women stems from. So many successive generations have been brought up trained to ignore their feelings that now being submissive is almost second nature to women. Whatever may be your address, your income or howsoever understanding your spouse may be, the Indian woman has been told that she is the one who has to make sacrifices.

Maybe the housewife I see every day is happy the way she is. Maybe it is all her choice. But if it were, why does she don a glass slipper before the crack of dawn everyday and transform into this beautiful, happy, carefree girl who plays with her cat?

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