Social Conditioning??

Yesterday was a really hard day for me at work. I was tired, and in a foul mood, and I had a little thing called grocery shopping to finish in the evening. I missed my usual bus home in the evening, the next bus was impossibly crowded, and I ended up standing all the way home. And by the time I had gotten off the bus, I was ready to take offence at anything the world said or did. TS was on his way home and these days, due to a new train line opening, he gets home faster than me. And although I had asked him to carry on home, he chose to wait for me at the supermarket. Now, when I’m truly angry and depressed, I choose not to talk about anything. So me and TS finished our grocery shopping in pretty much complete silence and headed home. TS said nothing. I was not in the mood to cook but, if I didn’t there would be nothing for dinner or for the next day’s lunch and as I started to step into the kitchen, TS came up and said he would do the cooking. And he did. He made me an evening snack, cooked dinner and lunch, served dinner, washed the dishes and managed to chase away my foul mood in the middle of all this.

The one thing that I noticed was, all the time that TS spent in the kitchen, I had this tiny feeling of guilt at the back of my mind. I kept on thinking, I should be doing it. I should be the one cooking, not him. He’s had a hard day at work. I shouldn’t make him cook too. And then as soon as I started to think, I squashed the thought. I’d had a hard day too. Possibly one of the worst days at work I have ever faced. And I should not be feeling guilty about making TS cook for just a day. Usually, I manage the evening meal at home and TS is in charge of breakfast. But it is not the end of world if he does the dinner also one day. What bothered me the most was, in spite of being extremely vocal about women’s issues and gender equality and all, I was still feeling guilty about something like this. And I blame it all on social conditioning.

From the time we girls are old enough to understand, we are taught that we need to know how to cook. It is an essential skill that we need to be well versed in, in order to survive in this big bad world. We are taught that in future, the responsibility of an entire household will rest on our fragile shoulders and we will have to do everything from cooking and cleaning and washing and what not. And also manage a career if we insisted on it. This was something that I heard quite a lot and, thankfully, it came from everyone else other than my parents. My parents were considered not so lucky by many people we knew ‘cos they had the misfortune of having two kids- both girls. Oh! think of the sacrifices thee parents would have to make, think of the amount of dowry they would have to accumulate, the amount of money they would have to save for our weddings, the headaches that were sure to come during our adolescence. The list of issues would go on and on. But thank God for forward thinking parents, who bought me and my sister up to be independent, strong individuals who didn’t think their role was limited to the kitchen or that they were in any way inferior to the son(s) my parents could have had.

In spite of this, there were always eyebrows raised when Mom or Dad said that I didn’t know how to cook. I was doing my degree then and except for the tea, coffee and rice and some simple curry, I was clueless about anything else. I had people say to my Mom she was making a huge mistake by not training me in all these “womanly” stuff. They said I would become lazy and spoilt and that my sister would also learn from me. They said I would not make a “good wife” or daughter-in-law. They said, me and my sister should be taught everything from ironing to washing to cooking to cleaning to the art of identifying the freshest of veggies. There were even people who told my parents not to educate us too much, as our future husbands or in-laws might not appreciate us being very smart. Mom and Dad never forced us to do any of this. We learnt when we felt we wanted to. There was no pressure. I learnt to grocery shop when I realized how difficult it was for my Mom to go shopping on her own, when it was just a few items, and I could easily get it for her on my way back from college. I learnt to iron when Mom was not around or when she was too busy to do it for me. I learnt to cook when my Mom was busy taking care of my sister who was extremely sick, and both of my grandmothers who were recovering from different surgeries.

Once I started doing stuff on my own, Mom or Dad would correct us if we were doing something wrong. I have seen my Dad ironing his own clothes, polishing his own shoes, cleaning and dusting, washing the car, gardening and in dire straits even cooking his own food. He chooses not to cook ‘cos Mom’s cooking is way better than his. But there was never a sense of something being thrust on my Mom or on us. And so, I grew up thinking and believing there was nothing wrong with a man cooking or cleaning although society always told me otherwise. Sometimes those voices would dominate my head and make me wonder, but, I would always think of what my parents had taught me and shown me and feel better. So me and my sister grew up doing the things we wanted to do and in the process ended up learning how to do pretty much everything. We both can do everything that society deems is a woman’s forte and more. Although my sister hates cooking and I cannot sew a button to save my life, we have both done good. I have a few “cousin brothers” (as we Mallus say) in our family who have been so pampered by their families that they don’t wash their own plates or even know where their own clothes are. And they are teenagers. While me and my sister could be living by ourselves and we would manage just fine.

I say stop this conditioning of women. This is an age when women can more than compete with men in any forte you can think of. When we can go out and work 12- 14 hour days and run a household, men can also come back from work and not vegetate in front of the television. If women can do well academically and professionally and be a good homemaker, then men can learn how to do these household chores too. After all, if it’s all about gender equality, men wouldn’t want to feel unequal or worse still inferior to women, would they?

So now, when the TS cooks or cleans of washes clothes, I don’t think of it as an event of international importance or of myself as a very lucky wife. It is just a division of labour. We both do everything depending on what we feel like doing. If I don’t want to cook one day, TS does it. If he’s lazy about ironing, I do it, and so on. I don’t believe I am a bad wife for not wanting to do something that has traditionally been considered a woman’s job and I don’t think TS should feel belittled if he is in the kitchen cooking. Thank God for his wonderful mother who taught that women are not slaves and men slave drivers. And here’s to more men like him and more mothers like his. 🙂

A Year Back…

Today is September 27th. It’s a date neither me nor TS is likely to forget in all our life. Last year, this same day, TS had, what we then thought, was a tiny little accident on a squash court. What we assumed was a pulled muscle on his back, was soon diagnosed as a slipped disc. I will never forget the pain and agony that we went through for a few months after that, until TS was good enough to manage walking on his own. I will never forget the sleepless nights and the multitude of scary thoughts that would run through my mind each day. It was horrific to say the least. At the beginning of last year if someone had told me that TS would go through something like this, I would most certainly have laughed and shrugged it off. After all, my husband was healthy enough. Except for a few kilos he had to lose, he was doing just fine. I would never have associated something like this with the big, strong man in my life.

Yet, last year, this day, it happened. TS had wanted to go to the gym. He had gotten back from office real late but he still insisted on going. I was, as usual, lazy and tried to convince TS otherwise. But he was adamant and so, we went. TS opted to play squash with a bunch of our friends while I headed to the gym to get on the treadmill. I am not particularly fond of exercising in the gym. I prefer either running or some yoga, but the treadmill was enough of a pastime till TS finished his game. Forty five minutes of running done, I headed down to the squash court to find TS hobbling around outside. He said he seemed to have pulled the muscle on his back trying to take a tricky shot. Since it was something that happened routinely, we didn’t think it was a big deal. We took a cab back home. TS took a hot shower, applied some Bengay and went off to sleep. The next day morning was when our nightmare truly began.

TS woke me up in the morning saying he couldn’t get up. Even trying to roll onto his side was hurting him, he said. I tried to help him up and after a lot of screaming and grinding of teeth, we finally managed to get him on his feet. But he couldn’t stand properly. He couldn’t hold his head up. Even trying to look straight was causing him unbearable pain. We decided to head to the doctor right away. He diagnosed TS with a muscle spasm and said it would be alright in a couple of days. So armed with a load of painkillers we went home. But, nothing helped. The pain got worse. No amount of painkillers gave him any relief. We headed to the doctor’s again and got him to refer us to a polyclinic, with a more qualified doctor. That doctor turned out to be worse than the first one. We finally managed to convince him to refer us to a specialist at a hospital here. Meanwhile, we heard of an ayurveda doctor here and decided to try that out too. Anything for some relief from the horrible pain was welcome. He took one look at TS and said he had a slipped disc. He also convinced us to get an MRI done. The specialist at the hospital also suggested the same. The MRI only confirmed what our ayurveda doctor had said it was indeed a slipped disc. The specialist suggested immediate surgery. The ayurveda doctor said TS could manage without surgery but recovery would be slow. We went for the no surgery option and yes, recovery was slow, painfully slow. But he recovered. The MRI also bought to light the fact that there was a significant amount of degeneration in the fluid in his spine which meant no more of the sports that TS so loved to play. To me it seemed like a small price to pay, but TS was devastated. He was a sportsman, always had been. This was like a crushing blow for him. But the state he was in then, all I was praying for was for him to be able to walk and run like normal.

Those days were living hell for the both of us. Initially it was the uncertainty of not knowing what was wrong. And once he was properly diagnosed, it was the uncertainty of what next, of wondering if he would be back to his normal self, of how long it would take for him to walk without pain, It was hard for me to see TS suffering so much. The normally fit and always brave husband of mine was utterly helpless. He needed me to help him sit up even. He needed help with everything, even rolling over in bed. And it wasn’t something TS dealt with very well. He was irritable and angry and would snap at me at the slightest excuse. He would scream and yell without any reason. I, on the other hand was left to fend for the both of us. Right from grocery shopping to taking TS to the doctor, to cooking and cleaning and paying bills, it was all upto me to get things done. I even managed to pack up and move houses during that time- all on my own. And somehow I managed. I was all alone in a place that was far from home, just a year into marriage, far from my family, trying to hold myself and my husband together and tide over a crisis. We didn’t have family with us. TS lost both his parents a long time back. My Mom was at home taking care of my Grandpa who had just been diagnosed with a tumor in his throat. She was even more distressed than I was. I thought I could count on all our friends here, but I realized people were just too busy living their own lives to bother helping others out. I didn’t even have people to help me take TS to the hospital. He couldn’t walk on his own and trying to support his formidable frame was quite a task for me. Sometimes I had to ask cab drivers to help me out. My major support system was our bunch of good friends, who in spite of being miles away were always there for me. They listened to my million fears, they wiped my tears and asked me chin up and battle it out. They gave me the courage to go on and to keep my tears in check. I owe them a lot.

Those days also taught me about love and commitment and understanding. I understood what “in sickness and in health” meant. I understood what it meant to be there for a person in his darkest days while you are suffering as well. I got to know TS better. I had always known him as the strong guy, who took care of everything around the house, who took care of poor absentminded me, who was my handyman and my hero. It broke me to see him in tears, wondering if he would ever be able to play all his favourite sports again, wondering if he would be able to go running with me again. It showed me how vulnerable he was. And that in turn made me stronger. When the guy who never flinched when I was in hospital and was my rock throughout needed to hold my hand going in for his MRI, I knew how terrified he was. Till then, I used to think that maybe TS was being unreasonable in his tantrums and stuff, but that instant I knew otherwise.From then on I tried my best to be his rock and today, a year later I know we have done fine. We pulled through without help from anyone. We pulled through all on our own.

We both know there are a lot of things that TS will never be able to do because of his bad back. He could, but he would have to be very careful and there would always be the risk of him getting hurt. But all that is ok. We have found other things to do. Those dark days have been an eye opener for us- I got to know a side of TS I had never seen before. I got to know more about the man I married. I got to know more about me, I got to know that there was a quiet strength in me that I was unaware of. I got to know who my true friends were. I got to know that being in the same city isn’t a prerequisite for friendship and that sometimes strangers can mean more than friends. Today TS is pretty much back to normal. He still works out. His exercise regimen is tailored to not put too much stress on his back. He can walk properly now, he can jog, he can lift small weights (he can’t lift me like he used to though :(), he can go bowling once in a while, he’s slowly losing weight and building strength in his back muscles, he hasn’t required surgery or medicines and I’m thankful for it all. I know we both will always look back at that experience and although we will always remember the pain and the darkness, we will also remember the love and the strength that got us through it. Life looks good…it really does.. 🙂

When it rains…

All I wanted, from the minute I woke up today morning, was for it to rain.
I’m a sucker for rains. I love the way the sky opens up and unleashes its fury in the form of big fat raindrops. I love the grey moisture laden clouds waiting to break open. I love the cool breeze that precedes the rains. Its not the chilly winds that have you going “brrrr…”. Its more like the soft caressing, cool wind that makes you smile and savour the respite from the heat. I love the soft splat with which the first raindrop hits the earth and then a million replicas follow suit. I love how the splats turn to plops as the earth quenches its thirst and puddles are formed. I love how the grass and trees seem to become greener, the eath and the tree trunks even more brown, the water even more blue, the moss even darker. I love the symphony of the wind and the raindrops- a wild, tempestuous symphony that somehow reminds me of unrequited love. I love the goosebumps that pepper my skin invariably every time I step out in the rains. I love the fact that however you try to keep yourself dry underneath your umbrella, the raindrops invariably find you and drench you in a spray of love. I love the fact that eveytime that happens, although I think I’ll be annoyed, I feel a smile stirring on my lips. I love the way how every song I listen to then seems to be in sync with the symphony of nature. I love the fact that I can stare at the falling raindrops for hours on end and never feel bored. I love the feel of the water on my face. I love sloshing through puddles. I love the racuous symphony of the frogs at night that signal the zenith of the rains. I love the raw power of the lightning bolt that streaks across the sky and the answering cry of the thunderbolt. I love how the morning after a downpour you wake up and everything seems fresh, crisp and new. I love breathing in the clean air, opening my eyes to the dewy morning and feeling like its the first day of my life, the start of something amazing and momentuous. I love lounging around on the chair in the balcony, watching the rain, book and a hot cuppa tea in hand and Mom sitting close by talking in her singsong voice. I love the millions of memories that flood my mind everytime the skies darken and the tiny drops start pounding the earth. Incidents, people, places, songs, books, food- I have memories that link all these to the rains…
(Clicked by the TS on his Nikon on a rainy day. This was the view from our bedroom window at the first apartment we stayed at. )
And today, all day morning I kept bugging TS on chat saying I wanted it to rain and asking him if he thought it would rain. I’m sure I drove him up the wall with my incessant whining and whimpering. But someone up above was eavesdropping on our conversation I guess. ‘Cos in the afternoon, the heavens opened up and it poured, and how!! Big fat drops of water sprayed in all possible directions by a brutal wind that was hell bent on showing he was superior. The water droplets helplessly tossed about. People caught unawares in the sudden deluge running helter skelter, taking cover wherever they could. And finally, the water mastering the wind and the rains mellowing down to a steady, rhythmic beat. And where was I all the time? Standing in the corridor outside my office, watching the rain, a smile playing on my lips and a million memories flooding my mind… Bliss…