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The Supermom syndrome

india Updated: Aug 15, 2009 01:07 IST
Highlight Story

43 pc of men polled think working women neglect the home. One young husband’s advice: Just switch sides and see if you can do it.

Last week, Shubhada Gopalani noticed cobwebs in one corner of her bedroom. She couldn’t sleep.

“It was past midnight, but I woke up my husband and told him we must vacuum the house over the weekend,” says the 30-year-old lawyer.

Post-midnight panic over cobwebs, unwashed clothes and utensils piling up in the kitchen sink are something young couples are learning to live with in Mumbai, as they struggle to make even their combined paycheques last till the end of the month.

An HT-CNN-IBN survey found that 43 per cent of men polled think working women neglect household duties. But in a metro — where life is governed by railway timetables, late-evening business meetings and traffic — the guilt is shared by husband and wife alike. Just as the responsibilities are.

“If I’d been asked the question, I would have had to say yes,” says Shubhada’s husband Dhiraj (32), a businessman. “But I would also have said yes if the question had been about men.”

And while the numbers are relatively higher in the small towns, professor Kamala Ganesh, head of the Department of Sociology at the University of Mumbai, feels there is a changing trend among the younger lot here too.

Ganesh feels the survey findings may be a result of the fact that, though many men subscribe to the idea of a division of labour, not many not follow through.

“Men who have only seen women as homemakers in their families may feel working women neglect the home,” she says. “But their views change when they see a working woman in the family and can better understand the issues.”

That’s how it was at first for Jatinder (31) a lecturer in Chandigarh, and his wife Harpreet (30), a nurse.

“Initially, our house was being neglected. And Harpreet was under too much stress,” says Jatinder, a lecturer at Punjab University. “We chose to break with tradition and, contrary to my upbringing, I decided to take up cooking and cleaning. Now, things are going smoothly.”

Jatinder then began noticing his female colleagues and how harried they seemed. “They are under constant stress of performance at work and performance at home,” he says.

Preeti (30; she did not wish to reveal her surname) worked as an accountant with a Chandigarh NGO and knows what that feels like. “Most of the time, I would come home from work and go straight to the kitchen,” she says. “A woman has no right feel exhausted.”

Preeti eventually quit and is now a full-time homemaker.

“I don’t think many men here would say working women neglect their families,” says Ganesh. “And in cities like Mumbai, people do see that if there is some neglect involved, it is not just because of the woman but because there are no services and facilities to enable her to work [and balance it with home].”

Shubhada, whose daughter Ria is eight months old, goes to work twice a week and works from home the rest of the time. On the days she goes to the office, Dhiraj stays home until the afternoon, after which nannies take over until Shubhada returns. Shubhada’s mother-in-law also comes over to help.

“I had to go back to work because I didn’t want to lose my job. And in Mumbai, it is necessary for both spouses to work because the cost of living is so high,” says Shubhada.

Dhiraj tries to help by doing his share of bathing the baby, changing her diapers and feeding her. But he says he marvels at how Shubhada juggles things, something he still hasn’t learned to do.

“If I’m bathing Ria and the doorbell rings, I get completely flustered,” he says. “I don’t know what to do.”

Living with in-laws increases the guilt quotient among women, says Vaishali Karekar (28, name changed on request), a programming executive with a TV channel in Mumbai. “I don’t feel guilty at all about not being able to give enough time to the house,” she says. “But I do take the extra effort to do what I can because of this baggage of being the daughter-in-law. No matter what, the primary responsibility lies with the woman.”

Back at the Gopalanis’, Dhiraj is feeding Ria as he talks. He has a few words for men who feel women can’t balance work and home, he says: “Just switch sides and see if you can do it.”