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Kamla comes home

Kamla is any woman who would rather stay at home than go out to work – a noticeable trend among urban women. Whatever happened to the feminist dream of self-worth and financial independence?

sex and relationships Updated: Jul 09, 2011 18:22 IST
Tavishi Paitandy Rastogi

Not that long ago, in the Seventies, feminists urged women to go out of their homes and work. Domesticity limited their potential, women were told, they could do much more with their lives than remain restricted to their nurturing and homemaking roles. ‘What men can do, women can do too, and maybe better" was their anthem.



Fast forward to thirty years later. Today, the idea of women going out to work is commonplace. Economic independence has been the buzzword for women for years now. But wait, something else is afoot here. A growing number of women today are actually choosing not to go out into the workplace. Maybe they’ve tried working and opted out because they couldn’t manage home and office. Maybe they’ve stopped working to bring up their children. Maybe they still work out of the house, or do a bit of free lance work. Or maybe it’s none of the above – maybe they want to stay at home. Whatever the reason, here’s a question: what happened to the fierce desire to be someone other than stay-at-home-women?



Just a rebellion?

Some men – at the risk of having women shout them down – still view the Seventies movement as a rebellion to be "different" rather than as something that grew out of an intrinsic belief.

"That is what it was – a rebellion," says Chandra Bagheria, a Bangalore-based businessman. "It happened at a point when the idea of women working wasn’t so prevalent. That’s why the idea of women going out to work was ‘eulogized’ and looked at as ‘the only’ way for women’s emancipation. Then times changed and so did the general psyche. Going out to work was no longer taboo. Once the reason to rebel didn’t exist, how could the rebellion itself continue?" he asks.



Kamla WorkAbhishek Kant, a marketing professional with an IT firm, agrees. "Unlike men, who grow up with the notion that they have to provide for the family, the idea of going out to work was not ‘intrinsic’ to women in general. It was a certain section of feminists who propagated the idea and it became a movement. But women were never told that they needed to be the bread winners," he says.



A matter of choice

While many women agree that their social conditioning was such that they needed to be motivated and pushed to walk out of the house, they dismiss this male view as outright chauvinism. "Actually, the fight was always for a ‘choice’," says Urvashi Butalia, publisher of Zubaan books. "Unfortunately, most women never had the choice to decide what they wanted to do. A woman was always brought up with the idea that she had to be home. There was no place for her in the outside world. It wasn’t a choice, it was a compulsion to stay home. That is the notion that one needed to break. And it did get broken," she says.



Today, she says, women can choose – to step out or to stay in. Adds Dr Syed Mubin Zehra, social analyst, columnist and author, "It is a very conscious and individual decision. One that is without any sort of pressure. And thus holds a lot of value and is far more fulfilling."



The choice to stay at home, however, is governed by a host of factors. Unnati Kant, an HR professional, decided to quit and stay at home because she felt that her responsibilities towards her home were higher on her priority list. "It wasn’t the happiest decision but it wasn’t the saddest either. Work was important but there were other things as well. We wanted to start a family. Bringing up a child, I knew, was a full time job, so I gave up the other one. Also, the decision was purely mine. No one told me to quit. But I didn’t want to compromise on the quality time that I could devote to my child if I stayed at home. Besides, the choice to go back to work is always open, right? My qualifications exist and so does the support from family. So why crib?"asks Unnati.



Kamla-gymEqual share

All those years ago, husbands virtually behaved like demi gods and were treated as such; the wife had to be subservient to their whims. But that isn’t really true any longer. It doesn’t matter whether women work or not. They are educated and their contribution to the home is recognised today. "Thank god, finally some sense has prevailed," says psychologist Dr Surbhi Soni. "More than anyone else, men and their thought processes have changed. Now, they fully understand, appreciate and value the contribution of their women. The fact that women now are also equally qualified adds to this. Women do not feel the need to keep proving their worth all the time. So even when they decide to stay at home, they are fully secure that people will no longer cast aspersions on their credibility or downplay their efforts," says Soni.



Even the Supreme Court of India reiterated the value of a woman who stayed at home. "A wife or mother does not work by the clock. She is in constant attendance of the family throughout the day and night. She takes care of all the requirements of husband and children including cooking of food, washing of clothes, etc. She teaches small children and provides invaluable guidance to them for their future life," the Court remarked while settling a compensation case last year.



Abhishek Kant’s observation about women not being bread winners may sound chauvinistic, but from another perspective, it has credence. Women can stay at home and not work in cases where they are not the ‘real’ bread-winners in a family. "Why should it be an ego issue at all," asks Udita Gopal, a jet setting consultant who decided to call it quits simply because she couldn’t take the hectic lifestyle anymore.



"Travelling across the globe for minimum two to three weeks in a month, working in office till wee hours when home, client interactions, deadlines, deals and transactions... it was great for a while. But eight years of that was pure madness. I just couldn’t take the stress anymore. Yes, the money was great but I needed to do something for myself. So I quit. Between my husband and me, we decided that his salary was good enough for both of us. And please, I don’t have any guilt about spending his money. After all, didn’t he promise to take care of all my needs and necessities when he married me?" she asks, laughing.



Adds businessman Chandra Bagheria, "Most marriages are based on this unwritten understanding that the man holds the responsibility to generate income to run the house. The woman may choose to earn but if she doesn’t, it is the man’s duty to cater to her needs."



KamlaBrand Domesticity

Experts also attribute the trend of stay-at-home-women to what they call the "marketing of domesticity" by the mass media. Be it television soaps or advertisements for oils and shampoos, all of them promote ‘happy domesticity’. (Never mind that you must look picture-perfect at all times). Your daughter wants long hair? A stressed husband needs some attention? You, the woman, needs to be home. "Even schools have started giving extra points to kids who have stay-at-home mothers, during the admission process. The idea is that children are better tended to," says Dr Zehra. "Each of these scenarios further builds up ‘brand domesticity’. In a way, they are generating a similar sense of achievement and pride in work within the home."



Movie stars have also done their bit in building up the image of the domestic goddess. Actresses like Madhuri Dixit, Kajol or Sridevi quit while still at their peak to get married and raise their children. Hollywood stars like Penelope Cruz and Catherine Zeta Jones, among others, have limited their appearances to the red carpet and fewer films while their children grow up.



"The subliminal message is ‘If they can, why can’t we’," says journalist Kavita Mehta who quit her regular work after the birth of her baby and now freelances for various magazines. (People do forget, however, that actresses’ careers anyway slow down post-marriage!).



The Good life

But in today’s scenario, isn’t a double income home a necessity? Isn’t a single income which can comfortably run a household a sign of luxury?



"Sure it is," accepts Dr Soni. "But the fact remains that if a woman has that choice, why shouldn’t she exercise it? If a husband can afford to give his wife a lifestyle of her choice without needing her money at all, then lucky her. And those who can’t, well, the women in those homes don’t have that choice. They have to work, whether they enjoy it or not, because their income is important," she adds. The truth is that this freedom of choice – to stay at home or not – can only be determined by the family’s financial circumstances. Otherwise, there is no choice.



And what of the men? Wouldn’t they like the choice of not going out to work? "Of course we would. Give me a chance to quit my job and travel with my spouse, I would be very happy to do so. But no such luck. We men cannot do anything of the sort. In that sense, it is a woman’s world," laughs lawyer Neeraj Behl.



What does one do all day if one stays at home?

After a busy, fast-track life, isn’t home and household work a little too mundane? No, say our SAHW (stay-at-home-women, silly). With more and more avenues for entertainment opening up and with so many things to do, life at home is definitely not limited to watching TV and waiting on/for husbands and kids. Whether it’s going to the mall, partying with friends, travelling, joining pottery or salsa classes or participating in charities, life needn’t be dull at all. Almost all women who have decided to stay at home assert that it is fairly ‘cool’ to be home.



"Well, I may stay at home but I don’t do the sweeping, cleaning and cooking. I read, go for jogs and to the gym, swim twice a week, go to a spa at least twice a month, watch films on DVDs, listen to music... basically do anything and everything that I want to without having to stress about meeting any deadlines," laughs Udita Gopal, a consultant.



TV journalist Prerna Kapoor too falls in the same category. Tired of clocking in for TV bulletins and rushing about meeting deadlines, she quit her job just before she got married. "The initial plan was to move abroad, but that didn’t happen. Having left work already, however, I decided to enjoy my marriage. Travel is what I intended to do and did do, lots of it. I travelled across the world and through India with my husband. While these were work trips for him, they were holidays for me," she says. Two years later, Kapoor is still in that blissful zone. Though she sometimes feels the urge to get back to work, she says it has to be around her routine.



Merchandising executive Anamika Khare who quit after her wedding is happy doing pottery. "Once the course is over, I might start my own pottery classes or make pottery that I can sell. It’ll be work and it’ll also be great fun. All in the comfort of my home," she says.



What does one do all day if one stays at home?

After a busy, fast-track life, isn’t home and household work a little too mundane? No, say our SAHW (stay-at-home-women, silly). With more and more avenues for entertainment opening up and with so many things to do, life at home is definitely not limited to watching TV and waiting on/for husbands and kids. Whether it’s going to the mall, partying with friends, travelling, joining pottery or salsa classes or participating in charities, life needn’t be dull at all. Almost all women who have decided to stay at home assert that it is fairly ‘cool’ to be home.



"Well, I may stay at home but I don’t do the sweeping, cleaning and cooking. I read, go for jogs and to the gym, swim twice a week, go to a spa at least twice a month, watch films on DVDs, listen to music... basically do anything and everything that I want to without having to stress about meeting any deadlines," laughs Udita Gopal, a consultant.



TV journalist Prerna Kapoor too falls in the same category. Tired of clocking in for TV bulletins and rushing about meeting deadlines, she quit her job just before she got married. "The initial plan was to move abroad, but that didn’t happen. Having left work already, however, I decided to enjoy my marriage. Travel is what I intended to do and did do, lots of it. I travelled across the world and through India with my husband. While these were work trips for him, they were holidays for me," she says. Two years later, Kapoor is still in that blissful zone. Though she sometimes feels the urge to get back to work, she says it has to be around her routine.



Merchandising executive Anamika Khare who quit after her wedding is happy doing pottery. "Once the course is over, I might start my own pottery classes or make pottery that I can sell. It’ll be work and it’ll also be great fun. All in the comfort of my home," she says.



Tuhin Sinha

Here’s a man unlike most men – he doesn’t go out to work

I was given to understand some years ago that I belong to that category of men whom women ideally like to have as their boyfriends, not husbands – the creative sort who likes to live a life of nomadic fantasy, sans the stability that a woman looks for. To that extent, I think my wife is a really brave woman as she is at peace with me being a writer house-husband.

Not that I’ve never been in a job, but I think I realised way too early that I was too much my own man to be bound by other people’s instructions. Leading the life that I do has given me the freedom to explore myself beyond my own imagination and I’m happy with the way I’ve grown professionally and personally in the last few years, which would not have been possible otherwise.

Yes, there are uncertain phases when the anxiety is bound to rub off on your spouse as well. But I’m happy my wife has just shown a lot of confidence in me in those phases. Of course she realises the advantages of my flexi-working hours – like dropping her to her office, barely half a kilometre away from home.

Is it tougher for a man to live the life of a freelancer? I guess one is conditioned to believe that way. But the point is, should one stick to the belief at the cost of what one really wants to do in life? If you ask me, it’s as much about a personal choice as your entire life is. I’d personally pursue what my heart tells me to, because there’s no point leading a compromised life which I might regret later.

Does the uncertainty bore me now? Nope, I’d say. The key to not getting bored is doing as many different things as possible and/or doing them as differently as possible. That explains why each of my books belongs to a different genre and why I’m constantly juggling between books, scripts, newspaper columns and commissioned writing assignments.

Would I be fine if my wife chooses to quit her job too? Well, why not? Sometime ago, we’d worked together to set up my content management firm, Write Quotient. Unfortunately, we couldn’t give the venture the attention it required. But in future when we decide to start a family, I’ll be more than happy if she quits her job and instead takes care of this firm. I can’t be not encouraging her from leading the life I have so stubbornly led.

Tuhin A Sinha is the author of Of Love And Politics and a well-known columnist

Rupa Gulab
She gave up her advertising job because she was battle-scarred by office politics and bad bosses
I didn’t buy a sari for my mum or a watch for my dad like they do in those heart-warming ads when I got my first salary. I couldn’t because I had precious little left over after I paid my hostel fees – there’s toothpaste and other necessities to deal with. Both of them, however, thought that the first step I took towards paying my way through life was the nicest present to them ever. Mum also told me that now that I was financially independent I would never have to put up with nonsense from anybody – I think she was making an oblique reference to typical formidable Indian in-laws.

During my early years in advertising, I was assigned a few appointment ads. While crafting them, I always deliberately left out that foolish cliché, “Candidates must have fire in the belly” – hell, that sounds like they want to hire people with chronic heartburn. A decade later, I mentally created an ad for myself: “Desperately seeking an employer who does not give me fire in the belly”. I was battle-scarred by office politics, inconsiderate bosses who arrogantly summon you to meetings long after office hours are over, and even worse, compulsory weekend bonding sessions with largely humourless colleagues. I asked myself two life-changing questions:

One, how many bottles of antacid is it safe to drink daily? And two, why was I still living in a cage when the Internet had set me free?
I saw the light and switched to working from home as a freelance writer. Thereafter, I’ve experienced freedom and productivity like never before. I don’t fritter away precious hours in the daily commute or hang around water-coolers bitching out the boss – and I spend exactly the same time on Facebook as I did before (so there!).

Working as a freelancer is not a breeze, however. It’s made me happier but poorer. You’re not assured of a regular sum of money every month – very often you’re fobbed off with the usual your-cheque-is-in-the-mail rubbish. I often wonder if my desire to live life on my own terms is brave or foolish. Once, I got two offers on the same day: one was a half-day job at a sexy salary, the other was a work-from-home retainership that paid a pittance.

My husband suggested I get psychiatric help when I enthusiastically opted for the work-from-home job. He couldn’t understand why someone who values financial independence would voluntarily work for peanuts. He refused to accept that I needed lots of freedom to chill. Admittedly his reaction worried me a bit – I suspect a big part of why he likes me is because I’ve never been emotionally or financially needy. Perhaps he feared that it would change. See, for the first 9 years of our marriage I insisted on splitting every bill with him: holidays, household thingies, movie tickets – heck, popcorn too. His fears were unfounded because fortunately I still take care of my personal expenses, but when he insists on treating me to a holiday or something nice, I don’t protest vehemently like I used to. There’s payback, of course. In return, I do neurotic chores like spending time in a doctor’s clinic faithfully reporting my husband’s symptoms because he’s too busy working to be there in person. Also I must add that I’m hugely grateful medical science hasn’t advanced to the stage where I can get a root canal for my husband!

Rupa Gulab is a writer and author of Girl Alone and The Great Depression of the 40s


Prachi Raturi Misra
She quit her job when her baby turned one year old and hasn’t regretted it ever.

I don’t have a boss and can’t thank my 28-month-old daughter enough for it. It’s like this. After 12 years of active journalism when motherhood came calling, I was ready to take it on like another challenge. After all, I’d taken up some challenges and met them just fine (at least I’d like to believe so). Night shifts to murder spots to fashions shows, to a taste of Mumbai’s Bollywood, life had been full of interesting stories and people. And I only saw more of it coming my way. Then it all changed.

I’d just given in to the temptation of a Chinese meal at one of Chanakyapuri’s popular eating joints in Delhi with a fellow photographer when I felt this strange feeling. My tummy had this strange sensation, something ticklish. As I bravely sat back on the bike after a satisfying meal, it dawned on me that I’d felt my baby move. I was probably four months pregnant.

By the time my little girl finally arrived, I was more than ready for her. Though I did go back to work when she was five months old, I must say I struggled hard. Production days were particularly bad. I knew I was a little more edgy, a little more hassled, a little less of the 101 per cent me I like being at work. I’d constantly think of the curly hair I loved running my hands through, the magical smell typical to babies. God! What was I to do? I mean, I loved my work and I loved my daughter and I wasn’t being able to love both as much as I wanted to.

I quit. I quit my job when my daughter turned one, just when her blabbering was threatening to turn into words, when she started waving goodbye to me every morning. It’s been well over a year since I began working from home and I know I’m a better worker and a better mother.

I try and stick to an 11 to 6 schedule and a five day week, which I must confess does turn into six days at times. But then there are days when Mondays feel like Fridays, because I’ve just wound up a project. I love my work more than I ever did. What’s more, my bank account looks healthier than it did, as a salaried person. I have bigger canvas to work on, I can take off when I want and yes, I don’t have a boss.

The best part is that I know I’m around when my girl needs me. I don’t have to worry about a nanny sedating my child, I don’t have to listen to “don’t think you can take us for granted” vibes from relatives.

Charu Goel
She never wanted to work in a 9 to 5 job; she’s happy to be home.

I was never a 9-5 sort of a person. It was too mundane and rigid for me. I wasn’t very academically oriented, I was more more creatively inclined. And really, I don’t think I am missing out on anything in life by not going to work. In fact, I am much happier doing what I do – staying at home and looking after my family. Bored, did you say? Where is the time to get bored? With a growing son and a husband, I am more than busy. That apart, I dance. I learnt Bharatnatyam from my mother and have now moved into choreography. I teach dance to kids, but all in the comfort of my home. A few hours in the evening of teaching helps me keep fit and also gets me to realise my creative instincts.

It is very simple really. My priority is my son Jai and my home. So whatever I do, the timings and schedules revolve around Jai’s schedules, be it holidays or school assignments. And that is just one of the benefits of being at home almost full time. And of course, there is no pressure, no stress and no getting stuck at traffic jams. It’s a very comfortable life.

My days are rather full. I start at about 7 am, send Jai to school and my husband to office. On weekdays, I too leave with my husband and go to the gym. I exercise for about an hour, then I’m back home and the regular household chores start. Of course I don’t get down to doing dusting and jhadoo pochcha but supervising is tough too. After all, the home should be in order. That done, the next couple of hours are my ‘me’ time. I dance. Practice my moves, and choreograph some new song – sometimes with my mother, sometimes, alone. It’s my time for rejuvenation. By 1.30 pm, my son is back from school and the next few hours are his. From his regular homework to school updates to general chit chat, it’s mother-son bonding time. In the evenings when Jai goes out to play, I take my dance classes. Kids come home and my living room quickly turns into a dance floor. From classical dance to the latest Bollywood number, we do it all. Jai is back by 7.30 pm. By the time he changes and freshens up, I am done with my classes too. My husband too is back around the same time. Another half hour of finishing school work etc, and it’s dinner time by 9.30 pm. A little chilling out and it’s time for bed and another full day to look forward to. My weekends are dedicated to family, friends and movies.

Do I miss not having a regular job or going to an office? No. Why should I? Especially when I can do exactly what I want to and maybe much more, sitting at home.

Besides, thankfully, I really don’t need the “extra money flow every month”. We are in a fairly good position and manage happily with a single income. I am realising my passion which is far more fulfilling than having a profession. The best part is I have no guilt pangs of not being around for my child and husband!

Illustrations by Jayanto (The artwork for this story is inspired by Indian Value Education Posters, increasingly difficult to find now)

From HT Brunch, July 10

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