My dad’s ideology and what he envisaged of the future forced him to drive us all to become someone more than a ‘mere’ housewife.  Despite this futuristic, modern thinking, he remained doggedly traditional and orthodox in his value systems and his upbringing methodology. His standard ‘caution quote’ for us sisters was, “Always remember, whether the leaf falls on the needle, or the needle falls on the leaf, it is the leaf that gets hurt and torn apart.”  

Back then, I found my dad’s advice very contradictory, frustrating, and hypocritical. If we step out of the house, work, earn money, then invariably we encounter a mixed group. We cannot dictate to the group all the time nor can we live like an island and isolate ourselves from the group. We must keep up with the social demands. When the other girls wear modern clothes, it seemed ridiculous to always show up in traditional attire! Yet, my father’s rigid rules saw us always dressed traditionally! He never yielded, not once. He stoically emphasised that if one really wanted to outshine and get noticed, it better be because of something more permanent than clothes and appearances as fashions come and go.

Today, I am grateful for all those rigidities. They help me remain uncompromising when I set the ground rules for my children. I grew up rebellious, confused and floundered every step of the way! But what I grew up with and inculcated helped me make sense of it all when I stepped into my dad’s shoes. Most of my logic and reasoning stems from my dad’s one liners.  Without his rules I would still be floundering and setting a bad example for my children.

Another memory that has always stayed with me is what my uncle once said to me.  A few years ago, we sisters had a reunion. We were meeting after a decade maybe. Thus, we were meeting our extended circle also after ages and the first question all of them invariably asked was, ‘what do you do?’.  When my turn came, I answered, ‘Housewife, uncle.’

The way he looked at me and added, ‘Just a house wife is it’; drove a dagger deep inside and I felt insulted.  This happened almost a decade ago and is still fresh in my mind. So, imagine the impact this ‘JUST’ had on me then!

Call it fate or God’s own way of keeping me humble, I entered a family through marriage which gave precedence to being at home; raise the kids and work only if imperative. I did work (my streak of rebellion and financial independence agenda) but the situation was never conducive and I was back to home-management; grudgingly. I am reconciled and happy today. When I see today’s woman; their attitude, I am thankful I remained ‘just’ a housewife.

Recently, I saw an interview of Pepsi co CEO, Indra Nooyi.  She is amongst the most successful and accomplished woman of Gen –Y; hats off to her. Addressing a huge audience, she acknowledged that her life is ruled by her work commitments, top 3 priorities she listed were Pepsi co, Pepsi co and Pepsi co, then came her children, followed by parents, in-laws and then somewhere at the bottom of the list was her husband. All this was fine, her priorities, her call. Her husband made this observation that he was always last on the list; to which her laughing repartee was, ‘Be thankful your name is even there on the list!’ She said this in jest and very wittily, the audience laughed and the husband (seated in the front row) also gave a self-conscious smile. That statement, I felt, did not befit her, her stature. She sounded vain and belittling her husband’s  ungrudging contribution to the family. Once again, I was grateful that God did not allow me a career. I don’t know, with my strong-headed and independent streak, a similar statement or something worse was a guaranteed repartee of mine; and I would have felt small, after. 

Family life is all about adjustment, togetherness, compromise, modification, letting-go of the I-ness, focus in a very forced way at the ‘we’. Men have taken it for granted that the wife takes care of the house and family affairs. The women held it all together; played their role to the hilt; and then they decided to step out, and they have in a very big way. Because of this financial independence that woman of today hunger for, the feeling of ‘I-ness’ is more in family life. It is less of ‘we’ do ‘together’ and more of ‘I’ do what I want and you do what you want scenario. Funnily enough, men have adapted to the role of house-husband with less strife. They have kept their ego in their pockets much better than we have been able to keep our arrogance and new found financial independence in check. Financial independence has not only emboldened us, it has made us power crazy and brazen. We could not retain our modest demeanour and humility.  In all this dual working, money making spree, the progeny comes out as the worst loser. Their future and fate is getting nurtured and designed by hired care takers, crèches and gadgets, (add, giving permission to over-ride the partner’s rules, being unnecessarily lenient; over exposure to guilt-gifts from a very vulnerable, impressionable age). 

We women inherently knew how to serve without feeling servile. For Gen –Y, service also needs to be a profitable venture. We have either stepped out of the house and the house has a very desolate, guest-house look, and if we are at home we have converted the house to some business enterprise. Conclusively, today, I am not very pro-women’s liberation and equal rights for women. We have handled financial independence badly and caused more ruin than good. Lastly, I request women again, take a pause, think again, which way are we headed, why and at what cost? I am not saying we should stop, but I definitely feel , it is high time we took a pause, pondered …

“O Women! May you not be disturbed by the crooked and violent men, and ye men! May you not be disturbed by crooked and violent women. Never abandon one another, never cross the limits of respect never hurt the other. This is to be followed by both men and women. This sweet water, food and fruits are available for both of you who should remove the grief of one another.” (Rig Veda 1/183/4)

Women O women

Women O women

My Dad used to be, still is, very ambitious for all his children. He goaded us into picking up subjects which offered bright career prospects (only Maths or Science!). Becoming a ‘mere’ housewife was a forbidden thought not to be entertained ever. According to him, the days of women sitting at home; tending to children, cooking for husband; ended with their generation. Times had become such, that with a single income the family would perennially survive in a state of ‘hand to mouth’. If one aspired for a better life, some comfort and luxury (with pious earning, legal methods); it could be possible only if both the partners worked.  This ideology was drilled into us and this is the verity I see today.

Most probably, every middle – class government employee those days thought alike. That is the only plausible reason I can think of as to how most of our generation women are working women today. Our parents, in search of greener pastures, migrated from their villages and settled in the cities. Today, we encourage our progeny to seek their fortunes abroad.  But, that’s digressing from my main topic. This article is about the Gen Y, women of today.  

 Vishaka Hari, the prominent music vocalist and established exponent of Harikatha, said in one of her talks, “Without fever if you take a paracetamol, it will only cause side effects; when everything is going on smooth. Only if you have a problem, you need a solution. In the West, women were not treated on par with men. They were brutally abused and until very recent years they did not even have voting rights…..Millions of women were burnt, they were treated like dogs. They were used as objects, as amusement articles and therefore there was a need for upsurge of women liberation associations. But in India, right from our Gods, Bramha has Saraswati on His tongue, Narayan has Lakshmi in His bosom, and Shiva, I told you, has Shakti as His other half!  Where is the need for the Women’s Liberation association; if we can follow the Ancient Vedic Indian culture? Only if we want to follow and adopt the western ideals, we always take the worst from all the nations; that’s India’s best. We always want to take, every nation has its own good and bad, we always have that beautiful idea, that concept of taking the worst from all the nations and present the worst of ourselves. When we have everything in ourselves we don’t know how to glorify ourselves, that is the weakness of Indians. We have so much in us, we have so much of treasure in us. We Nava Yuga Stree, present generation women. Gen Y, what we would prefer to be called; we just have our husbands name after our names like vishaka Hari, or Vanita Siddharth or whatever it is. But you know, our Lords had their names after their wife’s name! Gouri Shankar, Lakshmi Narayan, Sita Ram, Janaki Vallabh, just …(she laughs) That is the truth. Uma Maheshwar, you name it; Radha Krishna; you name any God, they went a step further, they had so much of reverence for women, and we are trying to bring it down more and more. So, the problem is not only with the other gender, it is with the women also. So, it calls for a synthesis of both the gender to behave well so that they would respect us well. Real beauty lies in dignity and decorum not in ridicule and derision. It is the present generation society which is treating women as just entertainment parts. you see any ads,…television serials, …journals, any woman would be just featured as an amusement article. And that is not beauty, you think it is beauty? Real beauty does not come from that, it comes from dignity, rights versus reverence. You always lock up Gold in your almirah, you don’t do that to stainless steel. That’s why generally when women ask that they have not been given the equal rights vis-a’-vis men, I tell them; you are Gold, they are stainless steel; that is why you have less rights and they have more. Or whatever you respect more, you lock it up, you carefully preserve it. So, that is not a question of being ill- treated at all. The more you revere a person, the more you respect a person, the right comes down. That’s what happens to you. And that’s why we have taken up a few inspirational stories of women who have brought about positive change throughout the world by their wisdom by their will by their courage by their noble qualities and their nobility has crossed all gender, all caste all creed and all nation.”

Everything is verbatim; considering the length, I did delete a few words and phrases. The sentiment is the same; maybe stronger even. To augment and fan my ill-feeling further, movies like ‘Ki-Ka’ or ‘PINK’ receive acclaim. It makes me wonder if we Indian women are not going a bit over board with our equal rights for women, freedom for women et’ al. Don’t get me wrong, please. I am all for women, women’s lib, our rights and equal share of glory and sunshine. But, when I see the present generation, urban born and brought up women; they seem to have totally lost the plot! On one hand, they are in a mindless, competitive race amongst themselves and on the other hand they are pushing it to extremes to surpass men. Worse is, in this competition they expect special consideration for being a woman (why are they competing with men then?). They want to be judged leniently, treated with kid gloves; take umbrage playing the fairer sex card with impunity.  

What has education done to us? The adage ‘Vidya dadhati vinayam’ is vice-versa with Gen -Y. Women’s vidya seems to have obliterated their vinayam! Resonating Vishaka Hari, we are aping the West for all the wrong reasons. This mindless mimicry is costing us our integrity and innate beauty.  Our strengths have become our weakness and we no longer seem to be sure what this Liberation and equal rights is all about. We have long crossed the bridge of equality, we are racing to the finish line with a killer instinct of winning; with zero consideration for what is being left behind.

Ever wonder why in our Hindu weddings the man and woman always walk one behind the other? Also, in the Saptapadi, why the woman walks behind the man for the first four ‘pheras’ and then leads the husband for the remaining three vows?  We (the couple) can support the floundering partner only if we are one behind the other, not if we are neck to neck and trying to compete.  As for the wife leading the husband; the fifth ‘phera’ is for progeny and their well- being, the sixth signifies control over mind body and soul, to bring longevity to the couple’s relationship and the seventh step, vow, is to remain loyal and true companions for life. Our real duty (Vedic) was always to complement the man, steer him in the right direction so that he never goes astray, stop him from falling by being behind him, willingly. Wonder when this complementing become competing, and at what cost?

Long gone are the days when we used to hear, ‘Behind every successful man there is a woman’! Today the most successful man is the one who is alone or has escaped the clutches of woman.

Probably, it would be the apt time to take a pause; just that, pause awhile; not stop completely, but simply pause, and re-evaluate. Which way are we headed and why? 

PS: Dear Readers, blaming it on Vishaka Hari and her eloquence; Her talk was all this article could accommodate, leaving me with lots more to regurgitate!! With an awful lot still churning inside me; please expect another article on ‘GEN Y’ very soon…