Here’s a sheepish story. After college I really wanted my own place, for two reasons. As a feminist, being independent meant being able to look after myself in every way. As an artist, living alone helps you figure out who you really are. As a semi-kangaal film assistant, it taught me the most important lesson of my middle-class life: How to live on my own without domestic help.
Jhadu-pocha-dusting-bartan, I figured out. Cooking, though, like filmmaking, required planning, remembering your footage/stores, keeping control of time and space and still turning out something beautiful and good. Maybe cooking taught me filmmaking or filmmaking taught me cooking.
Illustration / Amit Bandre
I did better at work. I could afford domestic help. N entered my life. She cleaned. I cooked. Fewer chores gave me more time and headspace for work and fun. I got busier. I asked N, if she would cook. She refused on grounds of “kantaala”. “No baba, cook at home and at work!” she declared.
I moved house and here, I hired a cook, P, but we often cooked together, trying out new recipes. Work got busier, daily cooking dwindled. Years passed. P cooks wonderfully so I only got my apron on for extravaganza cooking.
Recently P went on long leave. I was nonchalant. Cooking is part of my independent nature, after all.
What really happened.
1. Absorbed in work, I forgot rice cooking on the stove several times. Now three pans have black bacteria shapes on the bottom, which we can’t eradicate. Maybe penicillin? 2. I ate eggs (fried, not even bhujiya’d) 3. I put water to boil and started watching TV till that hot metal smell flooded the house 4.I left milk out too long (oh well, paneer) 5. I ate bread and cheese 6. I ate instant noodles 7. I forcibly invited myself to people’s houses at mealtimes 8. I ordered thrice from Spice of China.
I became acidic, my mood sludgy, like my diet. Then, a horrible thought bubble popped up overhead. Had I... become a man?
Because I sure was behaving like those fellows whose wives go to their maike for two weeks and return to find a wild-eyed, semi-helpless man in a devastated kitchen.
Despair flooded me. Did I immediately make a crisp, fresh salad? What? When I could berate myself while drinking vodka with my friend J instead? J said — arre so what? Why should women have to do everything all the time? So what if you’re not on top of everything. True. We’re human, so why expect this perfection from ourselves? But.Having domestic help gave me freedom, mentally and physically, to spend time on my personal and professional growth. It allowed me to have crazy hours without giving up the comfort of a made bed and nutrition. Sure, I’d made my own way in the world, and my own home.
But eventually, someone helping with the home — staff in my case, family in other people’s cases — eased my way in the world. Men have taken this for granted for a long time. More recently, feminism has allowed women to have some of that too. For both, the ability to make a thriving, fulfilling life (including a career), rests on someone sharing or taking over domestic responsibility.
Assuming this has to be a woman, is the beginning of much gendered violence in the world. Assuming domestic work is inferior allows you to underpay people who work in your house or not imagine they need time off from the kantaala of it too.
So, you know — Either do more. Or pay more. Phir milke bolo — Happy Women’s Day.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.