Amidst all the news articles and interviews after Jayalalithaa’s death, one of her statements in her interview with Simi Grewal really stuck with me, which was regarding the role Sasikala played in her life. Now I don’t want to tread on anything controversial and there are various rumours about that but what she said unabashed was that she did all the things a wife does for other politicians – buying clothes for her, ensuring that the house was not left unguarded when she left at odd hours and taking care of the entire household. So here is one of the most iconic women leaders of our times who I am assuming must have had a platoon of servants at her disposal eventually needing a wife like figure to finally take care of the house.
This is not something new to most of us working women who constantly have to battle between the two fronts and eventually try to find a balance between the two. The question I am trying to address today is who shares the household burden with you?
I can start with my personal experience.
I started work at the age of 19 not because of compulsion but I had the option since at that time you could start doing Chartered Accountant articleship immediately after you enrolled for the course.
I moved from Nagpur to Pune for my articleship.
I was working with one of the largest auditing firms globally and most days would start work at 7am since we had to catch the client bus/ taxi to their plants which were pretty far away. I would mostly end the day after dark. I had moved to Pune since there were no global CA firms in Nagpur. I was initially staying with my aunt but within a year shifted to my own house closer to office. Now I had the added responsibility of looking after the house and frankly I don’t remember that stressing me out one bit maybe because I did not do anything at home! I had found a ‘reliable’ house maid who in the opinion of my mom was the most unreliable person around, but we had a good working relationship. On good weeks she would come almost 4 times and on bad weeks would not show up at all, but when she did show up she was honest, would clean the house well and also cook something for me. Both of us would shudder at the thought of my mom seeing the house in the state it was and whenever my mom was planning to visit we would go into frantic operation cleanup mode. Overall the arrangement suited me well till I got a roommate. Now she was a really nice girl but had more ‘homely’ qualities than me, at least at that time. She would call me in the middle of the day to complain that the maid has not come or that the tap is not working etc. I used to jokingly call her my wife without realizing that someday I might be in the same position. I was still not perturbed till one day she used my new lipstick to write on my mirror that she cannot live like this and then left at the end of the month. I went back to my carefree days. My mom used to comment that only your parents will appreciate all the hard work you put in at work.
“ You will not be able to continue like this once you get married – however understanding your husband may be…cannot have this lifestyle and bring back work home too” she used to caution me when she was really frustrated with me and the state of the house. I used to laugh at her.
I finished my CA in first attempt, worked for 2 years with another global CA firm and then decided to do my MBA at ISB, where I got admission in my firs attempt. There I met my future husband Kiran and we got married soon after our MBA.
First 7-8 years after marriage we stayed with Kiran’s parents and so things went by smoothly. I mean from the perspective of ‘managing’ the house. My mother-in-law was looking after the household and I was just expected to do my part which I did without much ado. I am basically non-confrontational, live and let live is my motto. So though there was a feeling that I had lost my freedom and was not yet used to South Indian food, life was smooth sailing.
Then by a stroke of luck, I became mother to twins! If motherhood is a challenge, being parents to twins is a double whammy!! The the initial days were really tough. I also realized something strange and unforeseen had happened – with my two girls even a new Me had been born. I was suddenly very concerned, ‘paranoid’ said my mother who stayed almost an year with me then, about the house, whether it was clean enough, whether it was warm enough and stuff like that! They also brought out a desire in me to bring up my kids as per my style and to have a house where I could entertain friends, host the girls’ birthday parties and finally live as per my terms. This ofcourse came with the challenge that I had managed to dodge for a good part of my life – the responsibility of managing the household with the responsibility of two small girls.
I have been fortunate to have a supportive husband and a good nanny – both equally indispensable! My parents and in-laws have pitched in when required but there are still times when I am confronted with the question – how my life would have been different if I had a wife to take care of the umpteen tasks of everyday life ?
In essence if I had been a married man in the same job that I am doing today?
For one, there would be significantly less guilt at all the business travel and late night calls that are part of my job. Rather than guilt, they would have been applauded as a sign of moving up the corporate ladder and encouraged if it meant better career prospects. I agree guilt is an internally driven emotion and I don’t doubt that sensitive men must be undergoing some element of the guilt as well but it is more profound with women and there is a whole social conditioning around it. Whenever I have asked a mother what her work timings are, she has answered it in the context of her kids school timings or paraphrased it in a manner to come across as saying that she tries to ensure that the time her kid spends with the nanny or at child care is minimum. This has happened without fail except one time when a friend was candid enough to say that her job motivation has gone up post the kid because she gets a respite from home.
There are numerous small things that wives do like packing the suitcases for husband’s trips, having meals ready at odd times when the husband has to leave or returns from his travels, packing healthy meals and at times various different boxes for the husband’s day at work etc. Another aspect is taking care of the kids so they do not ‘bother’ the husband if he has important calls or other office work to do.
The list can go on but the most important thing according to me is that my health would have been different. This realization came to me when I saw of my boss ttoss half a dozen different supplements one day. He of course had no idea what they were because they were carefully selected, sourced and sent by his wife. Another colleague brings the healthiest lunch and also small boxes with various nutritional snacks. Now of course I can do the same thing for myself but my health takes a back seat after career, children, husband and household. Given the stressful work life combined with guilt means that both healthy eating and exercise are relegated as something essential to do’ some day in life’. This has manifested is my immunity going down. I seem to be getting viral infections like chicken pox, foot and mouth and a horrible skin virus with a beautiful name – pityriasisrosea. Unfortunately all of them are highly contagious to kids!
This ‘lack of wife syndrome’ affects home makers ( called house wives earlier) as well and I have seen it taking form in various reduced immunity or lack of nutrition disorders but I do think it gets aggravated in working women since we have significantly lesser time for ourselves and the added stress of work and work related travel.
So till we wait for the world to become a level playing field, hopefully when our daughters enter the mainstream, we will have to be our own wives and take this in our stride like we have done with so many other things and fight harder to conquer greater heights!
But meanwhile, I do want to add a p.s. here – most of my colleagues in my office, an investment bank, are males with stay-at-home wives. Among my clients too, I notice that most high flyers have chosen to marry home makers. With a few notable exceptions like the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, most politicians are married to very supportive, home makers too.
That adage holds true as ever – behind every successful man is a woman. I wish Women had that luxury too!!!
Banker, wife and mother of two