What will the men say?
As expected, there were some extreme reactions from the menfolk. Some sniggered at the idea, while others stared at their wives angrily (and willed that the stares would make them scurry home and get the dinner onto the table!) and Baburao, Malati’s husband was so incensed that he said, “What a stupid idea! As if any of this is going to work. What are you trying to do? Establish superiority over men! Snacks and chutneys indeed!”
None of the anger was openly directed at maami, her authority in the chawl, was not questioned, yet! For after all, it was she who was with everyone in times of both joy and distress. Wasn’t it just last week, that she carried Sobiya’s little Soham in her arms and ran all the way to Dr. Banait’s house in the middle of the night as the boy had a raging fever of 103? Wasn’t it she who thrust Rs. 5,000 into Nisha’s hands when she had to leave for Raipur immediately because her mother met with an accident?
Maami waited for the general murmur of dissent to quieten before she put forth her points. Ramya, the activist-in-the-making, tried to match Baburao by beginning with, “How can you?” till a piercing glare from maami not only choked her vocal chords but also sent a shiver down her spine. She also trembled at what was to come later, as she knew her mother did not tolerate any sign of disrespect!
“What’s your problem, bhau? asked maami, gently. “Are you scared that Malatitai will ignore her household duties and not pay attention to the children. Or are you worried that she will start acting snooty?”
Baburao stared at the ground not daring to answer maami. “I wish all of you could understand a few things. Though we don’t go to offices, we women work as much as you do. We manage small budgets, do the shopping, look after the children and run every aspect of the household. Aren’t we also entitled to do something that would give us satisfaction in the long run along with a little extra money? We are all ambitious for our children, that they should go to good colleges and have a good life, maybe even some day move out of the chawl and into the flats at nearby Dhantoli, with two bathrooms, a huge balcony and a swing in the drawing room? We have our dreams too,” she continued.
“Also, by teaching the slum children, we are not only giving something back to society. We will gain a lot in return, the feeling of contributing to bettering the lives of children and giving them an education that will change their lives to some extent.”
Surprisingly, Joy was the first to speak up. “Maami, tell me what I can do? “
“It’s not the question of you doing something alone, Joyda,” said maami. “I’d like all the men to support us in our endeavour. You don’t have to sit with us and make the chutneys, get orders or deliver them. You can help us in little ways, by shouldering a part of the household chores, going to the market, helping the children in their studies or at the least, by learning to make your own chai,” and with this, maami burst into laughter.
The little joke eased the atmosphere and Jayati piped in, “Now, Joy will learn to make chai for his friends!” and the ripple of laughter spread, creating an ocean of camaraderie among the group.
Maami smiled! It would take some time to break the gender stereotypes and for the men to get used to the change. But she knew, it would happen… Every new beginning does not come easy. She looked at the sky…. and the twinkling stars…
Yes, limits existed only in the mind.
Bhau – Marathi for brother
Tai – Marathi for sister