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An Ordinary Indian Working Couple, a Lockdown, and a Problem

The lockdown exposes a crack in an Indian marriage. Will it be filled with anger or love?

She had spent a large part of the lockdown being angry. Not just at external events in the news, but by an internal matter, a private issue, which was a public one as well.

It all began in late March when domestic helpers were deemed non-essential services in India, and disallowed to go to work in the wake of coronavirus.

Suddenly, she ended up doing most of the household work in addition to her own professional work and personal commitments. And she noticed a strange thing she had never noticed before: despite being in an equal marriage with a man who called himself a feminist and a great cook (he actually was), it automatically became her duty to take on the cooking and housework.

Was their equal marriage the result of privilege then?

In the absence of helpers to do the house chores, suddenly, its basic algorithm was laid bare, and it spelt male entitlement.

In another life 20 years ago, she would have accepted the situation and given in and surrendered to the workload – just like her female cousins, friends and colleagues admitted they were doing.

But – like Taapsee Pannu’s character in Thappad who said signs of inequality she never noticed before suddenly became visible after one life-changing incident – she could not unsee the unfairness anymore.

She fought back. She ranted and threw tantrums. Every day was a battle. Sometimes she won. Mostly, she simmered in fury.

One day, while doing her husband’s share of the dishes, she asked her inner Krishna: “Is this anger going to eat me up from the inside? Is this creating toxins that will one day kill me?”

The answer she got was: The opposite is true. Giving in will kill you, for you will extinguish the essence of who you are.

“Follow your calling, even if it is to fight.”

She instantly remembered a 2014 meeting with the spiritual teacher Sri M, whom she’d asked: “Is it better to accept one’s difficult circumstances or try to change them?” He had replied, “Whenever you have to choose between acceptance versus proactive change, choose proactive change. Keep trying and trying and trying. That situation is given to you for a reason.”

So she rebelled. She nagged the husband to get off the sofa and into the kitchen. “Why are you so nasty all the time? I help you, don’t I?” he complained. “No, you don’t help me! It’s your own share of the work. I help you every day, in fact,” she yelled.

But eventually, all the fighting wore her out. One cannot be in perennial battle mode, she told the universe while chanting one evening. Her Buddhist gurus answered: You cannot change others, you can only change yourself.

So she asked, “How do I change myself in a way that it brings about change in others?”

Her mentor Daisaku Ikeda’s words loomed before her eyes: With love, love and love.

The mentor was right, of course. Hate and anger only perpetuate themselves.

There’s no bigger weapon for change than love.

She looked at her man with new eyes that night. He wasn’t a bad guy; he just didn’t notice the privileges bestowed on him due to his gender. Like white people in the West who thought they lived in a democracy suddenly waking up to the systemic racism in their midst only after #BlackLivesMatter became a mass movement, he believed marriage made them equal.

But she is not fighting anymore. She is trying love instead. Maybe this lockdown was meant to teach her that.

PS. It’s working.

Lead representative image: Ketut Subiyanto / Pexels. First published in eShe’s July 2020 issue

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