Of gender rolls and YouTube cats.
Amma wakes up to the nagging buzz of the morning alarm. She changes into a pair of loose track pants and immediately heads to the kitchen to make the day’s meal while tying her hair up in a bun. The cooker whistle chimes loudly and the heady smell of sambar and aloo curry fills the house. She summons her strength to complete a brisk morning walk. Before daybreak, Amma has cooked, cleaned, exercised, work-ready and is thoroughly prepared to face the day.
The average 40-something urban Indian mother walks on a tight rope with the alternating role of being both the caregiver and breadwinner. The primary function of the female in this relationship is to adhere to the societal norms of being a tender supermom. Her role revolves around raving to other mothers about her daughter’s GRE scores, putting up a thematic show for the Navrathri golu, ensuring that her husband drinks exactly one peg of whiskey in family functions, and carrying dabbas of ‘variety rice’ for office lunch. Her contribution to the household income in most cases is an additional boost but not necessitated.
“It hardly takes any time to keep rice in the cooker and eat it with some podi. Your generation seems to think it is ‘cool’ to order from Swiggy and waste money everyday”, complains my aunt Sujatha. She is dismissive of this Carrie Bradshaw-esque generation that seems to ape the American system of Chinese takeout. The lack of a schedule is indicative of a haphazard existence. The lack of marriage alliance implies that young women are afraid of commitment and want to explore their latent, repressed sexuality.
Despite these seemingly draconian views, the mothership has travelled far distances to meet the young feminist halfway. She places great emphasis on the need for financial independence and education. After India made eight years of education a fundamental right, the number of 6–14 year-olds going to school has grown by over 14 percent. The number of women enrolled into Doctorate programs according to the Census conducted in 2011, has risen to 40 percent signaling an overall spike in the number of female graduates. The rise in divorce rates explains that Indian women don’t care as much about being shunned by society. Widowed women no longer lead a veiled existence. They break through the black-white binary by drying colourful lingerie in their respective balconies.
My mother, a single parent, works three jobs to ensure that my younger sister and I are smart, educated adults (She has realized that she can only ensure education. Not smartness). After teaching young humans the art of singing ‘abc’ in an off-key pitch at her Montessori school, amma heads to her bank consultancy. Here, she confronts her fear of numbers by tallying them and cancelling cheques that are deemed invalid.
The evening is the favorite part of her day. Having been a state level Table Tennis player, she got the opportunity to be a coach in the same academy that trained top level athletes such as Sharath Kamal. As the only female coach, she specializes in teaching three and four year olds who can barely see the other side of the table. She has inculcated in them a keen seen of intuition and tackle- both of which can be looked metaphorically.
The modern mother has accepted and rejoiced the natural decay of gender roles as constituted by society. She has slowly abandoned the mandatory sari and has moved on to the more comfortable salwar. She has altered the approach towards parenthood without compromising on the extra spoon of ghee during every meal. She encourages the occasional night show at Satyam but will insist on calling as soon as one reaches. She is skeptical of Uber drivers but will make the effort to converse with them about the mounting traffic and terrible roads. She now asks if shoes are cheaper on Amazon.in and has promised to do a bit of her Diwali shopping online this year. She is the cause and the benefactor of this gender evolution and has professed the need for this organic change to take place.
After picking my sister up from accounts tuition, Amma’s scooter finally comes to a halt. She climbs a flight of stairs and hangs up her boots (sports shoes in this case) to signal the end of a long day. As she quietly dozes on her reclining chair while watching a YouTube video on cats, I realize that this is the symbol of the contemporary woman- exhausted and slowly rebelling against gender roles one cat video at a time.
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