Foundations of Patriarchy

My family likes to believe that they are liberal and outgoing and what not, and strangely enough, they genuinely believe so.

But, to quote my mother, “We are liberal, but traditional people.”

My mother, a homemaker, has always felt that we don’t respect her enough for the work she does. But recently, I have come to the conclusion that she herself is not convinced that what she is doing important work, and the respect she wishes from all of us (and claims not to receive)

My father was doing the dishes last night, and my mother was a walking ball of fury.

“How can you let him wash the dishes! Why can’t you and your sister do it!” she hissed.

Her logic was that my father had just come back from work (he is on rotational duty – he works on the sea for 4 weeks, and has a break for 4 weeks) and needed a break. My sister and I were both doing our homework, and when we pointed this out to her, she said that it was okay, and she would do it herself.

So I heard her going to the kitchen, wrenching the vessels away from my father, telling him repeatedly, “You don’t need to this kind of work.

My mother, I think, thinks that as the earning member of the family, my father deserves to just be on an eternal break! This may seem like a simple enough reason, but the truth is everyone has work; my mother works day in and day out, my sister is currently on vacation but busy with her homework and I have college deadlines to meet.

This stream of thought I think generates from the simple idea that men’s place is not the kitchen! Is it because they are clumsy and cannot do this type of work?

No. It is because they “earn.”

This might seem a valid enough explanation, but I remember the time my mother used to work as well. She was contributing to the family income too! BUT she still did all the work; only my sister and I could help and my father was not supposed to be involved in work like this (although he really does like to help out, which is a different story altogether!)

Her saying “…this kind of work…” is, according to me, an indication of sorts that she does not deem it important enough.

But from another perspective, my father is the only one with a lot of time on his hands, and if he was allowed to do some chores at home, the routine and my mother’s burden would be so much simpler!

What made me most irritable about this, was how my mother demanded respect but did not deem her work respectable enough for my father to do!

To uproot gender differences in the society, it must start at home, where there should not be distinction between work that men and women do.

“That Western Influence…”

I don’t know about elsewhere, but in my house it has become fairly common to link almost every like and dislike to the Western culture; it is referred to as some kind of a disease!

“They lead such fast-paced lives!”

“They call that music!?”

“This fast food culture from the West is ruining our children!”

“BOYFRIEND!?”

“Why won’t you wear Indian clothes for once! Too uncool for you?”

This list could go on.

It is common notion in the minds of parents that we consider the Western Culture “cool and modern” and look down on the Indian culture as “uncool and primitive”. While this may be true in some cases, it is largely untrue, and it is the latter that I intend to address.

When I express discomfort with the idea of wearing a half-saree (ghaghra of sorts) my mother immediately admonishes me, saying that I am shunning the Indian culture. My explanation of finding a half-saree extremely uncomfortable is simply not acceptable because when she was a child, it was one of the most comfortable pieces of clothing for her. Therefore, she could not see how I could be uncomfortable and I simply did not want to wear it because it was traditional.

I am afraid to play English music, be it pop or western classic, out loud at home because then I would be accused of listening to English songs because I don’t appreciate the Indian culture enough and deem it embarrassing to listen to Indian Classical music (Bollywood music too has a western influence, so it does not count as music that projects Indian culture).

I wish that likes and dislikes could be taken at their face value without attributing a whole context/story to it.

In fact, everything I have mentioned before have very simple explanations.

Firstly, my Mother tends to forget that I do wear salwar-kameez and kurtas, both of which classifies as Indian attire. I was a 90s kid, and it was the decade of economic liberalisation; a lot of new things were in the market and even my parents, probably out excitement, dressed me up in dresses and such. I grew up wearing t-shirts, jeans and kurtas, so I naturally do find them more comfortable! Out of nowhere, I cannot be expected to wear a half-saree; especially not when I have gotten used to wearing baggy t-shirts and jeans!

I listen to English music mainly because I can relate to the music. My mother tongue is Telugu, and I do speak Hindi, but the truth is I am proficient at English, and not in either of the former. English is more or less my first language because I have read only English literature, have been speaking and writing in English ever since I can remember. Maybe it is a thing to be ashamed about, but the truth is I understand the English language better than any other and can therefore, relate to it better. Classic Indian music generally consists of an older dialect, and for someone who cannot even understand the modern dialect very well, the appeal is lost! I do enjoy Classical Music and do not detest it in the least; I just don’t listen to it out of choice, wherein lies the problem, according to my Mother.

When it comes to fast food, I may not even need to explain; fast food. Parents may not accept this, but the fact is children lead fast-paced lives not just in terms of non-platonic relationships as parents would like to believe. Deadlines, tests and academics in general have gotten extremely competitive, even more so with the dawn of internet, added to which is the desire to keep up with our hobbies and extra-curricular activities. Therefore, we tend to grab munchies and fast food to eat something. It is unfortunate that fast food is mostly junk food.

The prevailing western influence I think can be explained through globalization. There are more options to choose from, and therefore invariably, there is a rise likes and dislikes. This is because there is an increase in the opportunity to compare between more choices and decide what suits our tastes best; there is no “Indian culture? Ew, so primitive! I want to be modern!”

The Studio Apartment Plan

I’ve always enjoyed spending time alone. My idea of the way I would live when I grew up was to live in a studio apartment by myself, with a great view; a small kitchenette, a humongous book shelf and a typewriter atop a table, space for my art workstation too.

Simple enough.

This was back when I did not trust people, and more than that, I was afraid of growing attached to a person only for them to leave. Cliché, yes?

That was the plan, until my mother went to attend a week-long wedding and I was alone at home. It sounded like a great plan.

On the second night, I was bored, so I decided to cook. When I was done, it was a strange feeling; I really wanted someone to eat what I’d made.

So I called home done friends, and they relished the food! Over the next few days, I cooked and had someone or the other home for either lunch or dinner.

This made me realise, that living alone, even out of choice, would at some point or the other evolve into loneliness. Success, achievements, failures, happiness… none of it would mean anything unless there’s someone to share it with; be it with someone with whom the relationship is platonic or non-platonic.

Even the smallest of things like trying out a new recipe, writing something new, trying a different art form, loving a new book, call for the need to share with somebody. Yes, all of that can be done alone, but it makes a big difference to see someone happy for you, pat your back for the success, appreciate the new things you try.

I’d told of my studio apartment plan to my mother few years ago. She said that would be lonely, so I said that I’d get a dog.

As I started to increasingly fight with my mother, I had a fleeting thought once – “When I have a daughter…”

And so I threw in a little girl into the mix. So now, it’d be a studio apartment, a dog and a little girl.

“How will you do that without a man?” my mother asked.

“I’ll adopt,” I said. “The world already has enough population and too many orphans.”

It’s not impossible to stay alone without feeling lonely, but it does require superhuman effort to detach one self from emotions.

But why would anyone want to feel absolutely nothing? 

True, that would make you numb to all the pain out there, but then neither would you feel passion and happiness!

People need motivation to live and grow; they need to live for someone or something. The feeling of making a difference to someone is important, no matter how small a difference that might be, and largely, I think that’s what keeps people going.

The Third Friend

I have, all my life, moved around a lot because of my father’s job; never lived in a place for more than 3 years, never made bestfriends.

I’ve always had close friends though. But…

I am the friend that falls back when there is not enough space on the pavement.

That friend who is forgotten when a party or “fun trip” is being planned. That friend whose absence is not usually noticed. That friend whose phone does not ring at midnight on her birthday, and that friend who is the last to know anything that happens in the group.

I was the third friend; the odd one out in an even group of friends.

It was difficult, the first few years. But soon, I realized with time being the third friend was what shaped me to be the person I am today.

Once, a close friend returned from a party (which of course, I did not even know about), sloshed; her drink had been spiked, and she wasn’t sure if she was still virgin (turned out she was, thank God!).

This was the first time the thought of being left out did not seem so bad; it lasted for only a brief moment though.

But soon, I realized that walking behind on the pavement meant I could see when those ahead of me faltered. Being left out of parties and trips gave me more time on hands. Going unnoticed meant being able to avail of the rarest thing one can find today – privacy. Lack of calls on my birthday still do bother me a little bit, but at least I got messages and uninterrupted sleep. And being the last one to know left me uninvolved in any kind of drama.

In all these moments of loneliness, I found the urge to write and paint, and sketch and discover all my favourite fandoms. In an attempt to escape from what felt lonely at first, I delved into books. It was in these moments that I could introspect and reminisce, and understand myself as a person.

Loneliness soon turned into solitude and although it had seemed unlikely at first, it was in this solitude that I found myself; the only companion I ever needed, as it turned out.

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