Turns out that after eating one-too-many bhaturas, Chetan Bhagat has a problem with the phulka. In his column in the Times of India a few weeks ago, the phulkas seemed to me a metaphor for the homemaker, the stay-at-home mother or wife who, according to Bhagat has done a great disservice to her career/life by relegating herself to the role of the phulka maker.
Now, ordinarily I would have ignored his rant, since I almost never read anything he writes, and also, as a CEO of a Fortune 1000 company, I have enough to worry about: I have two cats, a toddler who asks 21 questions an hour, around 600 lego blocks, 2500 puzzle pieces and a few hundred books, a maid who is conspicuous by her absence, a cook (who incidentally, makes better pasta than phulkas), a husband who puts the phulkas on the table (pays for the atta, actually), a sink that is always clogged, a car that is held by glue, and 27 gadgets, of which at least three are not working at any given time and are in various stages of repair and rehabilitation— all of which adds to my CEO duties, of course. So you see, reading a Chetan Bhagat column on a Sunday (or any day) is the least of my priorities, because I am busy wondering when I will get to pluck my bushy eyebrows or my upper lip, lest I start looking like Kallol Dutta or Hariharan. Or get beyond the 47 pages of the last book I was reading (where the fuck did I put it?)
But the piece kept staring me in the face, what with constant sharing on social media, which I hoped was more out of irony than anything else, (but I cannot tell), and so I finally read it.
First of all, I was so intrigued about his championing the cause of career women, and tickled by his feminist bone, that I read the previous column, in which he seemed to imply that women are the best homemakers. I was slightly confused. I am sure Bhagat has something really big coming up in the near future which is targeting a female audience, so possibly, he is trying to appease them on all fronts. But that was just the cynic journalist in me.
What bothered me is that according to Bhagat, I don’t count. I am not a career wife/mother, even though I am working more than ever before and I feel that managing my career was much easier than what I am doing now. Oh, but yes, I don’t get a salary cheque. I am not qualified to pay EMIs, and often, shady officials who push papers seem to add “unemployed” or “housewife” in my “occupation” column, before I rudely cancel it out and say “homemaker” or “freelancer” or whatever comes to my mind.
Once I had my baby, I thought, now I will stay at home and spend the husband’s money, get manicures and aroma facials and head massages and all those things women at home seem to do. Like I said before, I am lucky if I can get my eyebrows plucked before they curl up sometimes.
The reality is that we hadn’t thought the baby thing through. There was no extended maternity leave, no stay-at-home grandparents, no nannies with scruples, no company crèches in sight. Also I had been in the career game for 17 years, so I thought it was time to take a break and nest with my cub. Enough of that career bullshit, I thought, fiercely clutching my newborn. I didn’t exactly have a new-age aspirational job (by Bhagat’s definition: glamour photography or design, no less). All I had was a Deputy Editor’s job with an entertainment supplement of a national daily – one that has featured Bhagat on occasion as well.
I must hand it to the husband who never frowned that I had increased his burden, although I offered the position to him, but he was not about to write best-selling novels, so he figured he would rather fire-fight in the office.
Soon I reached a point where I was really tired of being told what a great career I had given up. Or being asked, “When are you going back to work?”. So, I started this blog to vent (and I had a lot of purging to do) and yes, I am guilty of being defensive about my stay-at-home decision. I did get some hate-mail from career moms on that account which riled me earlier, but I can see where that came from now. It’s not as simple as picking a side and more often than not, it’s not about choice. Home-makers and career women are not mutually exclusive. You never know where one ends and another begins. Most of us are grappling with straddling both worlds and keeping our sanity. A woman at the work place is constantly managing her home remotely, and a woman at home is trying her best to reinvent herself/her career and trying to be productive in the best way possible without tilting the balance on the domestic front. So it’s not as simple as Slut or Savitri as the Cocktail clichés imply.
Now I get that bit about affording a fancy apartment and foreign vacations with a double income. Yes, we don’t have either, and evidently, Mr. Bhagat does, thanks to his ‘COO of an international bank’ wife. So Bhagat, we are happy that it worked for you and you have your EMIs and mutual funds all sorted, but don’t you dare disparage the hand that rocked the phulka.
Of course, the husband seems to be enjoying the rest of Bhagat’s outlined perks of the man who married the career wife: I know more about office politics and appraisals than he does and also mutual funds, stocks and investments. I also have more to talk about than multi-grain atta or play-dates, my sense of humour is still intact, and even though I push the husband out to have a good time (so that I get my down time), he still says that I am the best company he’s had. He always discusses work with me and I do the same, so nothing’s changed in our conversation quotient. The irony is that I have never made a phulka in my life (and I can’t, although I can bake and make a mean salad), but the husband hardly cares if the food on the table was made an hour ago or a day ago.
Like Bhagat’s mom, my mother too worked till her retirement and loved her job. She never told me that phulkas or rasam-avial was the way to a man’s heart, neither did she say that one should put career over everything else. Incidentally she was (and still is) a fabulous cook, but my father contributed equally to the kitchen duty (we were never rich enough to outsource). And it never jarred that one half of women in my family was homemakers and the other half went to work.
About Marissa Mayer joining Yahoo as CEO when six months pregnant, well at six months, I felt I could rule the world with all those feel-good hormones. I am honestly tired at her super-woman-ness and role-model-ness being flung at all of us . But then, without sounding disparaging to Mayer, the real hero in this whole thing is Yahoo’s HR policy/department which will hopefully make enough allowances for her pumping milk (if she doesn’t go the formula way from day one) in the midst of a board meeting, or allowing her to travel to a company offsite with her baby entourage (I am guessing she could afford a nanny or two) for the first year or so.
So I told my husband, you go ahead and become CEO of your company. Let me write the books. We will outsource the phulkas, of course. I hope I don’t turn into a female Chetan Bhagat. But then, I don’t begin my columns with “Recently I saw the recently released Cocktail.”
(Okay, I am late by any standards in writing this piece, and I almost didn’t write it, but every time I ate a phulka, I was reminded of a job unfinished, so better late than never)