On a recent talk show on TV, i was amused to discern a tinge of smirk in the host’s laughter, when his guest, a top heroine of bollywood very graciously bestowed the label of housewife to an upcoming leading actress. I was equally amused to see the ever prying media plunging into this very fresh fodder of gossip– “Aaha! Another cat fight in the show business!” – the kind of news they vouch for their bread & butter. The industry supposedly was having a field day at the cost of the gossip so much so that it invariably made its way to the covers of various film magazines. Now that was something that did not amuse me at all. In fact, if i may say, i was mildly disturbed with way the “news” was being moulded.
I have grown up in a family where i have seen my mother building a lovely home out of a brick mortar house. The walls and the furniture bear my mother’s warm touch. The blooming flowers in my garden smell the sweat of my mother’s blood. The “bari” in our backyard is deliciously rich with green vegetables under my mother’s strict yet loving supervision. My mother thinks she is not a great cook, yet not a single day pass when our dining table is not a palette of healthy and tasty meal. Seasonal haak, khar, tita karela, chicken, fish or egg . Low salt for dad, less oil for my sister, more spice for me. She took care of our taste buds as if her stomach depended on our food intake more than hers.
When i look back at my childhood, i see the memories inevitably sprinkled by my mother’s silhouette cascading somewhere in the background. If i reminisce about our Sunday mornings, i remember how we would wake up with the hummings of Rabindra sangeet, Bhupen Hazarika, Lata Mangeshkar, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Bryan Adams, Pink Floyd, Beetles, Don Williams, etc while our mom would be dusting the drawing room, the guest room and then the bedroom, and the numerous bookshelves adorning our walls. I wonder if our summers would have been the same if we were not welcomed with cold mango shake or Lime juice at the door when we would come back from school, sunbaked. I wonder if our evenings would have been the same if our drawing room did not echo “Jyoti Prasad agarwala’s bhoot puwali, if the floors did not thump with the little feets dancing on the beats of khul or if the beautiful chaos of kids’ laughter did not seep into the evening silence. I wonder if I would be standing on my own feet today with head held high if not for the values induced onto me by my mother – a housewife.
My mother left her job of a teacher to take care of us – 3 equally little babies. But then, a job seldom has anything to do with being a housewife. For, my mother was a housewife even when she was a teacher, even when she was not married. She took care of her ailing father, she bought the first set of furniture for her home from her first salary, she stuffed old blankets beneath outgrown sador to make sofa set in her humble drawing room. She taught ABCD to her brother’s daughters and weaved gamusas in the “taat shal”. And all this, while she was working as a teacher as well as an actor in a local theatre group that she led on her own. She had a job, but she was still a housewife. Wasn’t she?
This is why i was amused to see the smirk tinged laughter of the host when his guest called her competitor housewife. I just wished that the now married heroine should have known that a housewife can neither be a career choice nor an ambition. You are not paid for nurturing your own home nor do you “aspire” to become a housewife. I believe if i am a woman, i am a housewife by default. It is in my prerogative to take care of the home i belong to because by now i have soaked myself wet in the pride and glory of a woman’s ability of multitasking – of counting figures and caring for family, of handling accounts to monthly budgets, of following boss’s orders to earning Mother-in-law’s brownie points. Yes we do it all and we do it with the smile intact on our face. Yet, we stay at bay from being called a housewife. Why?
At the cost of irking maybe some of the readers, I refuse to accept “housewife” as a pejorative remark nor will I take being called one as finger pointing towards my credibility to “do” something more substantial. As if i am called a housewife because “i am good for nothing”. As if it has to be a “catfight” or a verbal spat for an actress to call the other a housewife. Hello, isn’t housewife a compliment??
Since the time my mind had been stirred by the absurd “housewife” remarks, for the longest time i took solace in the fact that the problem lies with the term “housewife” that alludes a sense of slavery. Indeed, being called a housewife is derogatory to a woman’s sensibility. Maybe that is why the term “homemaker” made its grand entry into the picture to appropriately define the role of a housewife – one who makes a home and not who marries a house. But soon enough, i kept bumping into the prefix “just a” whenever the term homemaker was used.
– So, what does your mother do?
– Oh! She is just a homemaker.
– Is your mother working?
– Nah! She is just a homemaker.
And the bubble burst. Just a homemaker? Really? We don’t say just an engineer, just a writer or just a doctor. Do we? Then, why just a homemaker? I am afraid but i will tell you why. Because in reality, the term homemaker was not produced to “appropriate” the meaning of a housewife, but to pacify the sulking feminists. Homemaker is maybe a euphemism for housewife. Because, even if we keep changing the term from housewife to homemaker to something more befitting, the role will still remain the same. Because, as bitter as it may sound, the truth is that we never really had a problem with the term but the role – the role of cooking, cleaning and caring. A role that we think is mundane. Homemaker or a housewife, it doesn’t matter until the baggage of “good for nothing” is carried along with. Until the eyebrows are raised on being called a housewife.
Being a humanist (because i consider the feminists humanist) and a daughter of a housewife (like so many others), i take the onus upon me to condemn anyone, any snide remark, or smirk tinged laughter that attempts to belittle the true essence of nurturing a home (which by the way is the most toughest thing to do). I condemn anyone whose ignorant mind thinks that an ambitious or a working woman is not a housewife, stripping off her the credit of running her own home and i condemn those who think that all that a housewife does is sit on the couch watching TV and peeling potatoes. Because if i don’t, i would be disrespecting my mother who, sitting thousand miles away from me, is figuring out which colour curtain would look good with the new furniture or my physics lecturer aunt who just came back from university and is headed off to the kitchen to prepare the meal of the day. Because if i don’t condemn, i will let down my own conscience.
P.S: Please suggest me a better headline.