Wednesday, January 19, 2011
How to be a sanskaari bahu
I've worked since I graduated from college, through my son's birth and childhood and only decided to stay at home when my daughter was born.
Ever since I have been at home, I am amazed by the amount of time on my hands and I am constantly excited by the fun ways to fill it. I wrote my book in about 6 months after the baby was born. Since then, I have been editing and redrafting it for some two years now, it doesn't even look like the same book any more.
I learnt to sew so that I could make myself maternity clothes. I ended up making my daughter's clothes, my son's kurta pajamas and my own kurtis and skirts. And now I am still sewing up a storm for my handmade babyclothes boutique (a dream which I hope to realise soon).
I taught myself to use oil pastels and am now experimenting with water-colours. I learnt to cook a huge variety of new dishes and most days I prepare at least two hot meals. I even make my own ghee. Yummy stuff! I spend 3-4 hours every evening exclusively with my son, teaching him, talking to him and being with him. I even catch siestas most afternoons.
I have – and I am not exaggerating – bought and read over 500 new books and reread some 100-odd books multiple times. I have also watched hundreds of English, Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam movies. I am putting together a huge blog reviewing old Tamil movies from the 50s to 80s.
The days when I do nothing but cook, I feel like a truant kid who hasn't done her homework. So I wondered what women who are “real housewives” do all day. It was hard for me to believe that cooking can take all day. So what are the sanskaari bahus doing if they are not wasting their time sewing frocks for tenuous business ideas, wasting the family money buying novels and wasting their energy writing books they don't intend to publish.
I began to study the species and decided to share with you their gruelling routine. This is information collected from my observation of and interaction with many sanskaari bahus, so perhaps somewhere within this routine lies the ideal of what I really should have been doing with my time instead of wasting it as I so clearly have.
A day in the life of a cultured Indian Bahu
Anytime between 5:00 a.m. - 6:30 a.m. – Wake up, sweep up and bathe and change. Because, of course, you can't worship in a dirty house and you can't enter the kitchen without a bath.
6:30 a.m. – 7:30 a.m. – Awaken, brush, bathe and dress any school-going kids. Feed them breakfast, pack them hot lunches and send them off to school. Serve an initial breakfast to the family, comprising chai and snacks. Unless someone suddenly asks for extra tea, you may even get a cup of tea yourself. If they do ask and you were short-sighted enough to not prepare extra, you would, of course, be happy to jump at the chance to make a sacrifice this early in the day.
7:30 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. – You take part in the family worship (puja) and then make and serve a proper Bharathiya Breakfast (puris, parathas... you get the idea).
8:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. – Start a wash cycle, retrieve all the used cups and snack dishes, which everyone has considerately left just about anywhere. Boil the milk for the day and make the kitchen presentable. Get that towel off your hair and put in the finishing touches to your morning ablutions, so that you look as appealing as your kitchen does.
9:30 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. – Put out stuff that needs to be dried (lal mirch, papads, vadams etc), hang the washed clothes out to dry (making sure to put them inside out so that they don't fade – do you have any idea how long this takes (!)), make a quick round of the house - making beds, washing any veggies (like ginger) bought from the market and putting them out to dry, handplucking the methi and dhanya leaves or other greens, making two more rounds of tea for everyone, act as the maid's assistant or the maid (if there's no maid), have a quick mouthful of that now-cold garam breakfast you cooked for everyone else.
11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. – Start processing and cooking another hot, multi-course taaza meal (which will be severely depleted and tandha by the time you get any share of it).
12:30 p.m. - 1:30 p.m. – Custom deems that those who are eating cannot serve themselves because that will spoil the food. So you get to serve this meal and wait upon the family members through a single sitting (if you're lucky) and several rounds if family members drop into their chairs at random intervals.
You need to make sure that everyone's plate is filled with the steaming rotis or puris and everyone gets a good share of the side dishes. And if you are a good Indian woman, you won't want to make anyone wait for a refill, would you? Unthinkable! So you run around the table and to and from the kitchen besides.
Over time, you will become a natural at this and will stop wanting tongs to turn the rotis over a flame. Your hand becomes mildly fire resistant. Yippee!!
1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. – You clean up the table and sort out the kitchen (which is probably in an unholy mess) before the delicate feelings of other family members are upset by this reminder of the humongous amount of work you put in. Then you grab a meal yourself.
2:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. – Ah bliss. Nothing to do. Nothing! A good bahu usually spends this time in saas seva (pressing legs etc). The bad one retreats to the privacy of her room.
3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. – The clock strikes three and the kids come back from school with alarming promptitude. They have to be washed, fed, listened to and taken care of. If they throw tantrums, you have to deal with them gently because who are you – an outsider – to raise your voice at the waaris of the family?
You set them to play/study while you run outside to grab the drying things (since they can't be left outside after sunset), fold the clothes and put away all the other stuff while listening to the kids chatter or/and lessons. After this, you pretty yourself up in anticipation of your man's return from work.
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. - Another the round of tea and snacks begins.
6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. - You check the children's studies while giving the house a quick facelift. Often, guests drop by and you shuttle between the kitchen and the drawing room, entertaining them, getting them tea and cooking hot snacks for them. If they really like you, they will show their affection by demanding specific snacks or extra cups of tea. What joy to get that stamp of approval!
7:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. - You begin preparations for another hot fresh meal tuning in (as much as you can) to the mega-serials of women doing the same thing as you in more glamorous clothes. What a good thing you don't need to wear 10-odd kilos of stone-worked sarees and kundan jewellery while running with the steaming phulkas!
8:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. - Dinner is eaten at a more leisurely pace as the family members review their day and share their experiences. You're still confined to your usual cook/parlourmaid/butlering duties (euphemistically called the personal touch). The kids, meanwhile, have to be put to bed after their meal.
10:00 p.m. - 10:40 p.m. - You catch a bite to eat, thoroughly clean up the kitchen, pack up the left-over food for the maids, give everyone a glass of warm milk for the night, store the left-over milk in the fridge and finally lock up the kitchen. Sometimes, you are expected to prove your worth as a mother by packing the kids' bags and laying out their uniforms for the next day. What a terrible state of affairs if they have to do that for themselves, bechaara!
10:40 p.m onwards - You land in bed, dead tired and are confronted by the exciting prospect of getting to massage your poor hard-working husband's feet (I'm not joking. A real woman actually told me this in a matter-of-fact way last month). If you're lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it), the man is all happy and ready for sleepy sex. You close your eyes and he does his thing. Somewhere, the instinct of culture and tradition reminds you to fake the orgasm at the right place because, of course, the sex is a massage for his ego. So you do that last duty that is expected of you as a good Bharathiya Naari, and you sleep the sleep of the sanskaari bahu.
Into this routine, throw in house-guests, relatives, ceremonies, tantrums, weddings, maids on leave, festivals, sick family members, vrats... and you still juggle them all. Congratulations! You've done it. Now we love you so much more and will give you the privilege of dedicating more of your time and your mind towards our well being. We may let you press our heads when they ache. If we're really pleased, this Holi, we may even give you one of those puke-coloured sarees we picked up for Rs. 450 on the roads of Sarojini Nagar market.