(14)Promoting the Indian House Wife (Gruha Laxmi)

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What is an ideal home? A house where people live in harmony,with all sorts of comforts provided by the main lady of the household, the ‘Gruha Laxmi’. It is she who makes the house, Which is otherwise only a living space with four walls and a roof above, a place of hospitality, a ‘Home’. That is why she is called the ‘Gruha Laxmi’, which in Sanskrit means ‘ The Wealth or Lustre of the Home’! This contribution of the housewife to her home has inspired several writers, poets and lyricists to compose poems and songs in her praise, like the soul-stirring song in the old film ‘ Bhabhi ki Choodiyan’ starring Meena Kumari, Balraj Sahni and Som Dutt, viz.
” Tumse Hi Ghar Ghar Kahlaya”! All of us have come across some housewives whose entry and presence in a house brings a certain ‘glow’ into the house, and gives it a ‘festive look’ even under ordinary circumstances by her enlivening, welcoming manner!

I remember My mother as the one who gave us the feeling of returning to a cosy ‘Nest’, when we returned from school and college in our young days. She welcomed us with delicious, steaming snacks and drinks, and asked us about what happened in school or college that day.

My father was a scholarly Professor, a dedicated educationist , who has contributed a lot to our health care as well as our intellectual development by taking active interest in our nutrition as also our studies and selection of profession. I still remember him taking us for daily walks compulsorily for exercise, to the famous Kamathi Park garden in Baroda, and strolling all round it, including the zoo. So I have to acknowledge that we stand where we are now in life only because of his guidance and supervision. He was also reputed for his impeccable honesty, noble behaviour with all including women, sense of justice, and also love for animals, particularly dogs, all of which qualities he imbued in us, his children, too. I have never heard him swear at or hit anybody even when he was angry!

However, with due respect to him, it has to be said that he was too much of an academic, wedded to his books and the radio for news, and was constitutionally indisposed to much travel or speech. So even when he took us for walks, he concentrated on the walk,and did very little of talking. So, when we were school children, he appeared to me more as a Teacher and caretaker than a friend or companion, unlike my mother who, besides looking after our needs, also provided interesting company by her chatting about various things. (Of course, after we grew up, my father also started sharing his intellectual and unconventional views with me, and made me realise that there are more than one fixed traditional way to look at any subject, which has broadened my outlook considerably.)

Thus, it was my mother who made our family atmosphere lively and enjoyable in our childhood by her multifaceted personality and ‘zest for life’, amusing talk and company. For, unlike most housewives that I have seen, who are either too obsessed with the housework of cleaning and cooking, as is the case with middle class housewives, or spend their time like the idle rich ladies, at Clubs and Kitty Parties, playing cards, gossiping, shopping, and reading Fashion Magazines or trash literature, she took interest in ‘quality reading’ and was an excellent conversationalist while being a good cook at the same time. It was she who brought ‘life’ to our family atmosphere. All of us, including my son, remember and miss her a lot!

Though she was an educated woman, a college graduate, as also been abroad for higher qualification in Teaching, and was working as a teacher before marriage, she was not able to take up a job after marriage, in order to look after us girls. According to some people, she didn’t make enough use of her education, as she did not not go out for a ‘paying job’; and sorry to say, even my father felt the same, though he understood and agreed to the reasons why she was not able to pursue her career, that is, for the sake of us children, whom she did not want to leave in the hands
or at the mercy of servants, and to do a good ‘job’ of her housekeeping.

Nevertheless, he did not allow me and my sisters to choose a feminine course of study like Home Science or Fine Arts, saying that, such courses were meant only for girls who had no ambition in life except to stay at home and do housekeeping,and that girls who were good at studies should set a ‘higher goal’ for themselves than just being housewives!

(He was not quite right in his estimation of the Home Science Course as fit only for endowing rich girls with a degree, and preparing them to be good housewives, for that Course too has some subjects with good scope for employment. For example, Child Development,Food and Nutrition, etc.which can get one a good job in hospitals, Residential schools and colleges, as a result of which many men too have started enrolling for the Master’s Degree in Food and Nutrition,at the Faculty of Home Science in the Maharaja Sayaji Rao University of Baroda!)

As for housework, it was his opinion that if we did well in our studies, and got a good job, we would be able to afford to employ good and faithful servants always as my grandfather was lucky to have at his place, when we were children, and they too would look after the house quite well ! For the same reason, he did not encourage us to participate in,or learn more than the bare minimum of house work or cooking than required to manage the house in event of my mother’s ill health, or on occasions when she had to go out of station to her mother’s place for some reason, because of a strange and mistaken belief that much involvement in housework or cooking, or any feminine pursuit such as drawing and painting during student hichdays, distracted girls and made them lose interest in professional studies! As a result, we grew up to be more academic than homely like girls brought up in the traditional way (As they put it in Hindi,” Atte-Daal-Chaawal ka Daam Bhi Maalum Nahi Tha”), a thing that did not bother me then as a student, but which I regret now, because though I can do routine,ordinary cooking, I can’t prepare the various types of tasty, mouth- watering dishes which my mother made, or those who have grown up learning to cook
all types of cuisine can.

I have to give credit to my husband and in laws too therefore, for accepting me with my bare knowledge of cooking and housekeeping, and encouraging me to learn more of it rather than criticizing and taunting me about it, as they could have easily done, if they had not been so kind and patient as they were. Instead, they accommodated me among them with the understanding that I could not be as apt at cooking and housework as I was staying in a hostel while studying, before marriage.I shudder to think of the bad time and treatment I would have had to go through
if they had been that usual type of sarcastic and nagging in laws. I thank my stars for being married into their family!

I don’t have a daughter to bring up in accordance to the lesson I have learnt,that it is as important for a girl to know cooking and housekeeping as aquiring high degrees, but I have a son. So, when It came to looking for a suitable bride for him to get him married, I told him from the beginning that though he should select an educated and preferably working girl, he would do well not to select a ‘bookworm’, but someone with an ‘all-round’ personality, and glad to say, I got one like that!

Coming back to my mother, some ‘high brow’ professional people we knew used to think that it was their prerogative to tell her every now and then that she was not doing ‘anything’,
i.e. not working outside, and just sitting at home as a housewife despite being educated,
which made her feel sad and disappointed with her life and achievement at times. It angered me too, for I was very fond and proud of her as she was, and always felt that she was the ‘Laxmi’ or brightness of our house!

Traditional folk preach a lot about the importance of a woman dedicating herself to looking after her house, husband and children, but it is people with ‘supposedly modern’ views who make women of well to do families who don’t have to work for money, and are otherwise quite content with running the household, feel like failures, dissatisfied and less worthy or inferior to working women by their remarks that the housewife does nothing but sitting at home all day and doing ‘only house work’! Actually though, if you see, the work of a housewife is a 24- hour job
with no holiday or vacation, as for those working outside in offices,schools and colleges!

I for one, never felt that her decision to be at home for us,and not go out to work was a mistake, or waste of her education. For she took our lessons till we went to High School, after which my father took over our coaching. More important, would we have had her full time , exclusive company and supervision if she had been a working mother?Thus, I resented anyone insinuating that what she was doing for us and our father and for the house, was in any way less valuable than her being a career woman by going out of the house for a job!

Hence, I wish to question all those who think that every educated woman must follow a profession – Does housekeeping or Home Management have no value of its own? Alternatively, are only paying jobs of any use of value?

However, there is another side to this. The rising cost of living has made it difficult for all but very well-to-do men to support the family within their single income and many men need their wife’s help to supplement it to make both ends meet. It is also good for a woman to be financially independent, not only for status and personal freedom, but also for the support and security of herself and her children, in event of a tragedy like death or incapacitation of her husband due to illness, or desertion/divorce, for which the required level of professional education is very necessary!

However, having a job or occupation outside the house is not without it’s problems.
Those women who have people at home to look after their house and children as in a joint family,
or living with their parents in law if the latter are co operative and hale enough to handle the responsibility, can do a job outside without much difficulty. But the ones who do not have such a support system are caught in the exhausting treadmill of having to cope with the double duty of performing their job properly on one hand,and domestic responsibilities on the other, as housework is still considered to be primarily a woman’s duty in Indian Society, so that they can’t count on their husband’s or son’s help in that additional work. This results in their being stressed out sooner or later, particularly if they don’t have the training or practice of cooking and other household work. Hence, it is very essential that all girls, including those aspiring to follow a career,should have training and experience of domestic work. In fact, nowadays, with joint families breaking up, ii is desirable that boys too should have at least elementary knowledge of cooking and household jobs so that the whole burden of home management doesn’t fall on the women’s shoulders alone.

It would therefore be mutually beneficial to both the housewives and working women if the former provide domestic help to working women in return for remuneration for the services. This can be done on individual, one to one basis or jointly, by all or many housewives of a society to run a crèche, mess and tiffin system, laundering, etc., as in some communes, to lighten the load of domestic work on career women, In return for payment according to the rate fixed by the society, so that housewives can also have the satisfaction of earning, and emoluments to supplement
their husbands’ income.

In short, a symbiotic relationship can be created between working women and housewives,
for the benefit of all the families in a society, and thereby of the society as a whole, so that it can become a Co-operative society in the real sense of the word!

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