Mummyji Gasped, “Do You Make My Son Do All The Housework?!”
“Bahu, you are this family’s Mahalakshmi. If you wake up late, how will it bode auspicious for this house and hearth? Go, take a bath first, and help me in the kitchen.”
“Ma, I’m visiting my in-laws for the first time after marriage. I’m looking forward to this!” Aditi exclaimed.
“In my time, we would visit the in-laws once every two months. I dreaded those visits because I had to do all the housework and cook for a joint family. Mind you, in those days we didn’t have any fancy devices like washing machines. I was relieved when we returned home,” retorted her mother.
Aditi clicked her tongue indignantly.
“Ma, times have changed now. Anuj and I are a working couple. We share responsibilities equally, be it housework or life decisions. Why should any of that change, irrespective of where we go?”
Aditi’s mother continued, undeterred.
“Whatever happens, please uphold the family-name. Do not do anything untoward, like answering back or picking up a fight. It’s a matter of a few days. Just endure, silently. You can make up for it when you visit us. After all, nothing beats the comfort of a mother’s house!”
Aditi shook her head in exasperation and bid her mother goodbye. She was glad that her husband and she were taking this break together. The past few months had been busy for them with office-work and setting up their new flat. This trip would be their well-deserved holiday.
They drove down from Delhi to Anuj’s hometown, Kanpur. It was already dark by the time they reached. Anuj’s parents-Mummyji, and Papaji, were waiting for them, and gave them a warm welcome. They chatted over dinner. Mummyji kept asking them questions.
“Anuj, tell me how your work is going.”
“Bahu, I hope you are managing the housework well. I have made dinner tonight since you may be tired. I can’t wait to taste your cooking tomorrow though!”
Aditi wondered why they didn’t ask her about her work; she had wanted to tell them about her promotion. She tried not to read too much into the comment. It could have been an innocuous remark. After dinner, the menfolk left their plates on the table.
“Bahu, clear the table first and then clean the dishes.”
Aditi wondered where Anuj had disappeared off to. Back in Delhi, he would help her without any prompting. It looked like the air here had a detrimental impact on his ability to contribute to household chores. She was tired after the long drive, and didn’t want to argue, so she let it pass and cleaned up silently.
“Bahu, please get up by 6:00 AM. I will teach you how to make Aloo Paranthas. They are Anuj’s favourite.”
Aditi headed upstairs to sleep, in a pensive mood.
“Is everything OK?” Anuj asked her.
They had been married only for four months, but he knew her well enough to gauge her mood swings.
“It’s nothing,” she said, turning to her side. Sleep overpowered Aditi.
When she awakened, the sun’s bright rays were already beaming at her from the window.
“Drat! What time is it?”
Anuj snored away, blissfully. She looked at her phone. It was almost 8:00 AM! She rushed downstairs.
Mummyji’s expression was sullen. She cocked an accusing eyebrow at the clock.
“Bahu, you are this family’s Mahalakshmi. If you wake up late, how will it bode auspicious for this house and hearth? Go, take a bath first, and help me in the kitchen. I have already made the parathas since you overslept.”
Aditi retreated to her room shame faced. To her chagrin, her husband still slumbered on, oblivious to her emotional turmoil or the dawn of a new day. It seemed that the onus was more on Mahalakshmi, and less on Vishnu to maintain the sanctity of the house.
She freshened up and went downstairs, once again.
“There you are. You took a while! Make ginger tea for all of us.”
“Mummyji, back in Delhi, Anuj makes the tea, while I cook breakfast.”
“Do you make my son do all the housework?”
“No …we split responsibility!”
“My poor boy! I have never let him set foot inside my kitchen. None of the men in this house have ever done any chores. That’s what we are here for.”
Aditi was about to complain about the unfairness of it all, but she remembered her mother’s warning words. She took deep breaths to calm herself down.
Mummyji huffed. “Leave the tea to me. Go and sweep the veranda. It’s full of leaves. The broom is in the corner. Our Bai is on leave, so you can imagine the state it must be in.”
Aditi grabbed the broom and made her way out. It was windy, and she felt cold. She tightened her shawl around her shoulders. As she began sweeping, she heard the distant call of a lovelorn cuckoo. Her eyes fell on the gate. There was a patch of reed grass growing by it.
The breeze bullied the reeds forcing them to swish and sway to its vagaries, forwards and backwards, this way and that. Everything was as it had been yesterday and the day before. The cuckoo bird continued its ‘coo-coo-once-is-not-enough-here’s -another’, coo-coo call, pleased with its own poetics, its rhythm unfaltering. So much had transpired, yet nothing had changed.
She wondered if the reeds somehow symbolized her kind. Women, forced to sway to the tune of the world. Trying to hold their own against the gale, losing their bearings, weakened and uprooted.
Women were establishing their expertise in every field, even touching outer space. Yet nothing had changed. After marriage, why were the expectations for a woman different?
Aditi’s eyes returned to the reeds. There was one reed that had managed to support its tender stem on the grille of the gate. It steadied itself defiantly- as though it was impervious to the turbulence of the storm. It inspired her.
She returned to the house. Anuj was up and sipping his tea.
“Anuj, may I have a word with you?” inquired Aditi.
When Aditi’s tone assumed an edge, it was never a good thing. He followed her.
“Anuj, it is my holiday too. Am I expected to do all the housework while you get to sleep and relax?”
Anuj bristled with anger.
“Do you expect my elderly mother to do all the cooking and housework?”
“Of course not! I am asking why we can’t all do the housework together? It will be much faster, and we will get to spend time together.”
Anuj was flabbergasted. He opened his mouth to reply, then shut it, as he didn’t know what to say. Encouraged, Aditi continued.
“If you can help me in Delhi, why not here? I’m your equal in every way. I earn as much as you do; I contribute equally to the household. So why is it that when we are on a holiday, chores can’t be equally apportioned?”
“Men in this family aren’t used to…” Anuj muttered an excuse that sounded feeble even to his ears.
“Well then, now is the time to start!”
Two hours later, Anuj stood in the kitchen, chopping vegetables as Aditi kneaded the dough. Mummyji had gone purple in the face, as she desperately tried to expel Anuj from the kitchen.
That’s when Papaji entered.
“What is everyone doing here?”
“We are cooking together Papaji,” Aditi answered chirpily, as Mummyji scowled.
“I will join too! Mummyji never lets me in the kitchen!”
Mummyji looked as if she was going to faint.
Lunch was done in less than an hour. The food was ready, and the kitchen sparkling clean.
Mummyji retired upstairs to vent out to her best friend. Aditi heard the sounds of the conversation reverberating from the floor above.
“That girl enchanted my son and now he is like a puppy following her around. She even makes him cook and clean! My Raja-beta!”
Aditi couldn’t help grinning. She may have earned a ‘bad-bahu’ label, but she felt good to have held her stance and to have a husband who stood up for her.
Her phone rang, interrupting her thoughts.
“I hope you aren’t causing any trouble.”
“Let’s just say I am ushering in revolution.”
“Uh-oh! Next week you will be here at our home. Then I will give you royal treatment and relaxation. Till then, please adjust, and go with the flow.”
“No Ma. It shouldn’t be that way. Even when I am at your place, we will help you with your chores. My role should not depend on the house I am in.”
“These things have been cast in stone for years. They are not going to change.”
“We can be the change we want, Ma.”
Aditi walked up to the veranda and basked in the warm sunlight. The reeds by the gate had clustered together and were holding strong against the oppressive wind.
She smiled as she went back in.
This story was shortlisted for our September 2021 Muse of the Month short fiction contest.
Image source: a still from the film Haseen Dilruba
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