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Two days ago, I went out for a meeting and came back home to find a kitchen in disarray. My family – technically all adults but mentally all babies, including my husband – had got into some sort of Mahabharata. Dishes had shattered, a bowl of rice had been splattered, and there was a furious silence in all quarters.
“What happened?” I hollered. Everyone blamed everyone else, no one came forward to clean up.
After a few minutes of flailing my arms about in disbelief and shouting at everyone for their bad behaviour and – especially – for their cold refusal in picking up the pieces, I got to work to do it myself before the dogs stepped on the glass shards.
Raging internally for all the injustices in the world, and for being forced into certain roles because of my gender, I allowed the rhythm of dish-washing and floor-cleaning to calm me into a state of active meditation (it’s a thing, try it).
My mind drifted. I thought about my history – my grandparents on both sides had migrated to the new India from Lahore, carrying with them nothing but hearts full of fear and hope, armed with just courage.
I thought about the women in my family – grandmothers and aunts who were married as teenagers, who mothered many children, lost a few, and bore the weight of the world on their hips.
I thought about their daily sacrifices in raising families and running households. I thought about their missed opportunities, backbreaking work, and uncomplaining resilience.
The women in my family were systematically denied equal rights and freedom – to education, to their bodies, to their personal choices, to their dreams. By the time my turn came, our mothers had pushed for a few more freedoms for us, but many others still eluded my generation – such as sending a daughter away for higher studies (“What if she lost her virginity? No, no, let’s marry her off instead.”).
And yet, the women in my family all lived to ripe old ages, most outliving their men, and died peacefully at home, surrounded by the people they loved.
How did they do it? How did they wake up, day after day, and do their gender-based roles, and suffer their gender-based inequality, without bitterness?
Because they just did. They woke up, day after day, dusted off the inequality, and got to work.
The world is full of injustice – discrimination is remarkably democratic across gender, caste, class, race, nationalities. But why I idolize my grandmothers and mothers is because – despite hardship – they just got on with it, and did their bit for their daughters.
Women today have it better because other women before us pushed boundaries bit by bit, and today, we can push more. This issue of eShe is about agents of change – women who are changing the world, one person, one mindset, one city, one country at a time. These are #WomenWhoDo.
What a wonderful piece of writing that is true to most women, even today. When I moved to a same-sex partnership, I thought that things would be different here. To so extent it is, but there are just too many areas that replicate the mainstream heteronormative partnerships. I have begun to believe that it is more to do with personality types than the environment and people around us. I know, if I live alone, I would do that same – work, work and work more. Clean again and again. I like it that way and not many can live up to that. Or I create the opposite of me around me.
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Interesting point, Samasti. I doubt if I would clean too much if I was alone! I am a naturally neat person, which is why it grates on me to have to clean up after others! And I also know that these very people I live with would do the cleaning up in other contexts; it’s just that, at home, they leave it to me since I’m ‘mom’.
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