For the past seven years I have lived away from my parents, and visited them during vacations or work trips to Delhi. Seven years ago, I moved to Chennai to study, and for the last two years, I was working in Allahabad. My parents didn’t like the idea of me going to another city to study (especially my mother, who thought that “every good place to study is in Delhi”), but they came around eventually. I moved to Delhi to work with rice, and the last two months have been the first time in seven years when I have stayed at home for such a long time.
My parents live in Faridabad, just outside Delhi, which means that I have to travel between three and four hours everyday to get to work and get back home. The ideal thing in such a scenario would have been to find a place closer to work. But what came out clearer in a conversation with my mother was that from a cost-benefit point of view, I lose if I move closer to work.
These were my mother’s words: “You will have to wash your clothes. And iron them too. Clean your house, make your food, wash your dishes. You will also have to keep everything at its proper place and go to the market to buy groceries. Whatever you save in traveling time would go in doing these things. This, apart from the rent and the utilities that you may have to buy for your house”. She is right. But then, it struck me – shouldn’t I be doing these things at home for myself anyway?
Yes, at home, I don’t. I am not allowed to, even if I want to. My mother does all these things, with the assistance of a household help who does jhadu-poncha-bartan. For her, doing these things for my father, brother and me are part of caring and loving for us. But its hard to escape that she has internalised patriarchy, and this is a particularly good deal for someone like me, as well as my father and brother, who don’t do any work at home.
The guilt from this is hard to escape. But there are other implications of this patriarchy, not just guilt for sons who have completed a social-science masters. For instance, one of the reasons why my parents could live in a larger house so away from where my father works is because there was this implicit calculation that my father has to just go, work, and come back, while my mother will do all the household work. My father takes a car to work. That means that if my mother wasn’t ready to put up with patriarchy, we would have had a house closer to my father’s workplace, he would have had to travel a shorter distance to be able to have time and energy to work at home, and that, my family’s contribution to climate change, resource consumption, or pollution would have been lower.
The number of families where this is happening isn’t small. My best friend from school is a Chartered Accountant, and he travels a similar distance as me. His brother travels further, all the way to Chandni Chowk. My neighour who is a doctor travels to a hospital in Gurgaon, and his father, who owns a business, travels to Khari Baoli, where he owns a dry-fruit shop. These are distances which involve traveling at least thirty kilometers one way. And all the women in these households are housewives.
Of course, there are a large number of families for which this isn’t true, and things might be changing rapidly too. But here’s a thought: if you are in Delhi, look at the number of women traveling by the Delhi Metro, and compare that to the number of men. Each Metro train now has one women’s compartment, and between three to seven compartments that are unreserved. The unreserved compartments are really compartments for men, because they have hardly any women in them. That should give you an idea of the inequality in workforce participation between men and women in “Middle-class” Delhi households.
So what should I do? For one, I should really find a place to live in Central Delhi and stop paining my very-nice mother.