Caught between the old and the new.

working woman

I had been to my in laws recently. They stay in a small town near my place. Just a shift of 70 kms or so changes my life quite a lot for the short while that I am there. Back in the city, I am a working mother, living a busy life with children, work and a lot of other assignments. I can make or break my own rules, with not much affecting my life style. I can go out buy a magazine late at night all alone, feed my kids cereal when I feel lazy to cook, talk about individuality and feminism as if they grew in my backyard and be as boisterous as I like. Yes, my work commitments and the pace of life do tire me out, and I often want a break from it. Sometimes, the meandering life, the slow passing of time and the quiet life of a small town attract and tempt me to give it all up and run. But, there is a catch. There, I see around me women who follow traditional gender roles optimally, and I definitely fall short. So, I am confused how I need to be happy.

I have grown up in a generation where education, occupation, freedom and individuality for women(to a certain extent at least) were just becoming commonplace and penetrating into the small towns of India like slow seeping of lava after a volcanic eruption. It made the landscape look different, but only some embraced it while others lived uncomfortably with it. Most, though still kept adjusting. A way of thinking where women/girls were given ‘freedom’ to study according to their will and wish, allowed to make choices regarding their careers, the first few batches of girls for whom higher education was a given rather than a doubt or choice, the first few to be given a chance at a semblance of a courtship after our marriages were already decided upon and arranged (and a lucky few whose choices of spouse were first made by them and later accepted well by the elders) and definitely the first few for whom choice of deciding when to conceive and after how long was decided by work and educational commitments rather than number of years post the marriage and irritating queries from relatives regarding the ‘good news’!

When I was growing up, I took most of these liberties for granted. I thoroughly enjoyed my childhood and college days, read about progress which was much huger than this and felt that this was the way of the world and felt lucky to be born at a time where I could do what I wanted, when I wanted to and that everyone would be accepting and appreciating of this fact.

Off late, I have started being thankful for the privileges that I have got, and definitely do not take them for granted. This is because, I see a lot of my friends, acquaintances and sometimes me leading a life which is not quite there nor here. We seem like the sandwich generation, who are caught between what the old world expects out of us, and the urge to break free of all those shackles without hurting anyone in the process. And, believe me it is exhausting.

Since times immemorial, women had to bear the brunt of everything bad that constitutes traditional. If the husband died, the wife had to be the sati and jump into the fire while the same rule did not apply to men if their spouse died. A boy child’s birth was always auspicious because some traditional text in the past claimed that being cremated by your son apparently led you to heaven (though I would say in recent times, the clamor for the boy child had a lot to do with how much dowry they would fetch!). Households were replete with stories of how mothers sacrificed their share of food or clothing or some such thing which was needed for the children. Women were depicted as being great only if were super sacrificing, always keeping others above their needs and had super human qualities of taking care of and feeding a large horde of relatives when they landed for festivals or functions. All in all, they were supposed to be always gracious and super tired if at all they had to be appreciated! Its okay if you have a personality to match, but I seriously doubt anyone’s ability to be on their best behavior at all times. I have no idea when these women did something to keep themselves happy, in between all this hoo haa.

Though we have changed with times, we still seem cling on to those role models to define ourselves. We want to live a life where we are appreciated for ourselves; both our good as well as not so great qualities which make us as human as the rest of the world. But the society we live in, our ingrained cultural values and well defined role identities make this difficult for us. In the bargain, we have ended up as a generation where we are professionals, but struggle and juggle our work and personal lives, try our best to be  loving wives, obedient daughters in law, daughters who try their best to fulfill their parents aspirations not only educationally but also by proving to them that even with double degrees and salaries to match, we still retained those obsolete qualities of maintaining our traditional roles and keeping everyone in the extended family happy! It is a tall order to meet. Even Indira Nooyi, the CEO of Pepsico could not escape these ideologies! In comparison, the men are seemingly oblivious to the turmoil we go through or choose to ignore it completely!

Hence, in my practice and around me, I see a lot of women, who are irritable, frustrated, tired and unhappy! And those, who depressingly believe that this is life and not much can change. We end up taking out our frustrations on our children and friends, coz those are the only ones who we can take for granted!

Sometimes, I feel an Indian woman’s addiction to soaps which show the wily and wicked usurping the limelight is a picturization of what we want to do in our minds, as opposed to what we are actually doing. A defense mechanism by proxy!

Indian soap operas, ruled by mothers-in-law.

I strongly believe that women have an innate strength which can work wonders if put to good use. But this can happen only if we treat ourselves as individuals first, and not ‘girls’. We need to understand that it is not a crime to occasionally take the first bite of ice cream or polish off a whole bar of chocolate before your kid does. We need to make clear rules about handling responsibilities post marriage rather than plan elaborate weddings. We need to learn to pamper ourselves, so we can be happy-and believe me, a happy wife and mother is definitely a better one than a grumpy, spiteful but self sacrificing one. We need to learn to be self sufficient bur accepting of our inadequacies. We should learn to be tradition bound, but only when the tradition seems to make sense to us.

And we need to instill these ideas in our children, so that they do not succumb to the same pressure that we did.