Some time in February 2016, my exhausted mother was sitting in an aunt's living room drinking a cup of tea. This was probably hundredth house she had visited that day, distributing invitations in person. My wedding was just weeks away and my mother had organised everything almost by herself. However, that day, this distant aunt had a more pressing question to ask than the wedding preparations or how she was managing alone. She asked, "Ebar toh meyer o biye hoy gyalo, ki korbe aar chakri kore? (Even your daughter is married now, what is the point of working?)." My mother, like always, laughed the suggestion off as I rolled my eyes and looked away.
Looked away, because this wasn't the first time, as a daughter of a working mother, I have heard suggestions, advice, accusations and just 'well-meaning' banter about how she need not work. So when I read what Mira Rajput said about not wanting to work, because that would mean she'd have to treat her daughter as a 'puppy' I was mildly amused at her choice of words. And somewhat saddened. Rajput's words probably came from what she sees are her priorities and choices as a mother and she may have chosen some disastrous words to articulate them. However, her words reminded me of my mother and how difficult it must have been for her to work and then bring up a daughter who'd have the strength to fight such stereotyping.
Her words reminded me of my mother and how difficult it must have been for her to work and then bring up a daughter who'd have the strength to fight such stereotyping.
My mother has worked for as long I can remember. She was working before I was born, she worked full-time as I was growing up and at 56 years of age she continues to work and lives on her own in Chennai.
She started working in 1983 at the age of 22 to financially help out my grandmother, saddled with the responsibility of running a family. Two years later, in 1985, she was married to someone who could very well "provide" for her, but she chose to keep her job. And now, almost three decades later, it is her job that is sustaining her, and not just financially.
The important thing to point out here is the fact that this was what she chose to do and was best suited to her life and ambitions. And back in the late 80s and early 90s, this was not a choice society facilitated easily and was deeply supportive of.
My mother's struggle was beyond striking work-life balance. It was standing up against the entire world, well almost, telling her there was no real need for to work.
My mother's struggle was beyond striking work-life balance. It was standing up against the entire world, well almost, telling her there was no real need for to work. Or that, being employed interfered and hindered her duties as mother to me. There were friends, colleagues and family who were absolutely supportive, but the naysayers stayed persistent and didn't give up decades later when I was getting married.
If I failed to do well in school, it was always her fault (of course it was all because my mother was working). "Ebar chakri ta chhere dao (Now, quit your job)," was something she heard often. Almost every failure of mine was traced back to her and the fact that she was employed and perhaps like Rajput, many people thought, that she couldn't tell between her child and a puppy.
Even as a child, I could tell my mother was doing something most other mothers I knew didn't. Only, it manifested as pride to me. So, I would take great pride in announcing to my junior school classmates in Kolkata that my mother goes to a place called an 'office'. Yes, that same 'office', that we knew fathers frequenting. "Every day?", some of my friends would ask me, wide-eyed. "Every day," I'd quip.
On hindsight, I wish she knew or someone told her that those were not her -- or any woman's -- responsibilities alone.
Every morning when my mother prepared to leave for work, I would watch in rapt attention and then feel this great impatience to grow up and go to this fantastical 'office' place. What is this wizardry of wrapping that saree within minutes? How fascinating is that thing she calls a lipstick, can I please, please, have some? My earliest memories of my mother have to do with her being a working professional, and I suspect, those images also partially shaped my own choices somewhat.
I had a nanny, but I also had the phone number of the telephone operator of my mom's office. She knew my voice, because I would call her and ask "Can I speak to Mrs Chatterji please?" Not once, not twice, but multiple times a day. She answered, every time.
Her day was divided in two shifts, work, bring up child, repeat. Everyday she would return from work sharp at 6 pm, her day was far from over. The next on her list of chores would be to feed me and ensure my homework was done. Then the school bag would need to be packed, the dinner would need to be heated (there were no mircrowaves then), I wound need to be fed again and be put to bed.
In hindsight, I wish she knew or someone told her that those were not her -- or any woman's -- responsibilities alone. But I still marvel how she managed to pull all of it off. Some times I wonder, did she never give herself time, take a break and continued to work like a well-oiled machine because the world had made her feel guilty she wasn't doing enough for her child? My mother insists, that was not the case and she chose to do it all. But I still have my doubts.
From a double income family, we were suddenly a single income family and perhaps, my mother didn't want me to skimp on things I wanted from life.
In 2006, she was transferred to Chennai. I would complete school in a year, so my parents decided she would move, and then I would move too. My dad would shuttle between Calcutta and Chennai. This left many people baffled. What kind of woman leaves her husband and child, and moves to another city? That too for a job! Mind you, this was 2006. A nosy aunt taunted her, "You must be happy that you are leaving." It was a difficult situation, she was drowning in guilt.
A year later in 2007, I moved to Chennai and my dad passed away. The death was unexpected. I was just 18, my mother was 46. That was perhaps the only, long 'break' she had taken from work. However, a month later and still grieving and reeling under shock, my mother went back to work. Losing the person closest to you isn't easy and at times, I know my mother wasn't ready for the world, but she still went back to her job and I know it was because she knew she had to look after me. From a double income family, we were suddenly a single income family and perhaps, my mother didn't want me to skimp on things I wanted from life. That job everyone advised her to quit? That one kept us afloat. She gave me everything I wanted or needed and also taught me that women needed to look out for themselves.
And she taught me that we deserve to choose whatever is best for our lives, whatever makes us happy -- no matter what the society says.
She has taught me resilience, patience and love like no one else. Her life has taught me that despite personal losses and struggles it is her job that has kept her sane and happy. And she taught me that we deserve to choose whatever is best for our lives, whatever makes us happy -- no matter what the society says. A job? Get a job. Stay at home and bring up a child? Sure, do it!
My mother has been made to feel guilt about making a choice all her life. And through that she worked hard to make sure I felt no guilt while making choices for my own life. She fought her own battles, she fought many of mine as well.
Why does she work? Now, it gives her something to look forward to when she doesn't have a child to bring up anymore. And I can safely and confidently say that she has spent much, MUCH more than an hour a day on me and has always been there for me. She has never failed me even once. If I have made anything out of my life it is because of her hard work.