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You always say you believe in gender equality. So why is it weird for you to stay at home and look after your daughter? Why is your job more important than mine?
Here is the third winner of our September 2017 Muse of the Month contest, Anupama Dalmia.
The cue for this month was from the movie Neerja. When Neerja is a married woman facing domestic violence, she calls up her father, who tells her to believe in herself and never lose hope. That tolerating injustice is as bad as committing it, and that one has to know where to draw a line, when to say, “No more!”
“Oh! I have done all the research. It is an excellent day care with encouraging feedback from parents, some of them being my friends. I also liked the infrastructure and aura of the place and felt positive vibes emanating from the staff there. The best part is that they have the facility of CCTV cameras through which I can monitor Kaeira at any time of the day and this gives me a strong sense of comfort and security. I think Kaeira will enjoy the company of kids in the day care and will get the kind of stimulation she probably misses at home. So, I…”
Nipa’s tête-à-tête over the phone with her dearest comrade was brought to an abrupt halt by a rebuke from her mother-in-law.
“Nipa, you will burn the vegetable. Can you finish off your work first and gossip with your friend later?”
Nipa grimaced and hung up the call, and made a dart for the kitchen. As she deftly stirred the greens with a spatula, a silent, little tear drop trickled down from the corner of her eye. Her mother-in-law was never pleased with Armaan’s choice for matrimony and had never hesitated to articulate this disappointment. “Overambitious, too modern, selfish” were just few of the terms used to describe Nipa and dissuade Armaan from tying the knot with her. But, he was clear about what he wanted and his family had to eventually give in.
Even though things began on a bitter note, Nipa tried her best to maintain a cordial relationship with her in-laws post marriage and was successful to some extent. However, this was at the expense of doing things she was not comfortable with sometimes, but because they would visit each other just for a few days, she thought it was fine to let go. But after her father-in-law’s demise, her mother-in-law moved in to live with them permanently and then began the challenge of living under the same roof. It dawned upon Nipa that she had built the foundation of the relationship with unnecessary expectations and fulfilling them constantly had become an obligation and daunting task now. She was the one who was always compromising to maintain peace at home. The scoffs that seemed trivial earlier had started piercing through her like daggers.
There were times when Nipa tried to modify her own perspective to understand where her mother-in-law was coming from. But however much she tried, she would often reach a breaking point. On certain occasions, Armaan would get into heated arguments with his mother when he felt she was being unfair or insolent. But, that only added fuel to the fire as his mother would then lash out even more at Nipa and blame her for “brainwashing” her son.
“Can’t you hear your daughter crying? Or have you become deaf? Go and pacify her. I will take care of the vegetable.”
Nipa turned around with a swift jolt and hurtled towards the room in which Kaeira was napping. The one year old was instantly placated by the warmth of her mother and flashed a delightful smile which never failed to enliven Nipa’s mood. Her mother-in-law placed a glass of warm milk on the table for the little one.
“She seems so attached to you. You still want to send her to day care? She is too young for it. Your job is not more important than your child.”
Nipa was exhausted of having this discussion with her mother-in-law repeatedly. She let out a deep sigh to compose herself before responding.
“Mummy, of course my child is most important for me. But I am also passionate about my job and it has been more than a year now that I have been on a break. I am glad I could give dedicated time to Kaeira all this while, but I feel empty now. It is quite common these days for women to join back work after the completion of their maternity leave. Doing what I love gives me a sense of self-worth and confidence, and I am sure I will be a better mother when I feel better. Also, we have taken this decision only because we are convinced that we have found the right day care for her. I am sure she will be well taken care of there and in the beginning, I will have flexible working hours so I can come back early to help her have a smooth transition.”
“It might be the best day care in the world but nothing can replace the love and care of a parent. I do not know how women these days can be so selfish that they prioritize their career over their kid.”
Nipa knew her mother-in-law was not the one to mince words and it was futile to carry on with this conversation. They had already had it umpteen times and each time it would reach a dead end. Though Armaan was on the same side of the fence as her, her mother-in-law’s constant pestering and snide remarks had started disturbing her. Guilt had begun to slither its way inside Nipa and she wondered whether she was really being selfish. When she had initially chatted with Armaan about getting back to work, she had been quite keyed up and was fervently looking forward to it. But, with time her resolve to resume her career had started wavering and she was in two minds about this decision now.
That night Nipa wept her heart out while speaking to her father who she always felt closest to in spite of being miles apart from him. He was her guiding light and always impelled her to take charge of her life.
“Papa, we often hear people say that we have to adjust in relationships but how do we know how much is too much? How do we understand when to let go and when to stick to our ground?”
“Nipa, adjusting or compromising is something we need to do in every kind of relationship. I prefer to call it acceptance of the differences and working together as a unit. This is very different from being submissive, though many people especially women think that by being docile they are adjusting for the sake of a relationship. But, this adjustment has to be mutual for any association to have a strong base. It should not become an obligation on the persons involved. I have imparted the same advice to you in the past as well. We have to do draw a line and trust me, if you pay heed to your inner voice, you will know when to draw one. Do not wait for anyone to take a stand for you. In this situation, if you know you are right, then either ignore Mrs. Sahni or be firm yet polite in making your stance clear and put an end to this dispute. And I am always there for you, don’t worry. Everything will be alright.”
The next morning was one of those rare occasions when the entire family was having breakfast together.
“Nipa, maybe we can wait for some more months before you join back work. I thought about this and I think Mom is right that Kaeira is probably too young for day care. What do you think?”, said Armaan nonchalantly.
Nipa’s heart sank and she felt let down, but then she gathered herself to converse.
“I think you are right Armaan. Nothing can replace the love of a parent. We should probably withhold the decision of sending Kaeira to day care”, Nipa replied assertively.
Nipa witnessed the sly smile on Mrs. Sahni’s face and continued.
“So Armaan, will you be talking to your manager today about taking a break from work for a few months to look after Kaeira? Approvals might take time for the extended LOP leaves so it will be good if you initiate this discussion at work as soon as possible.”
Mrs. Sahni almost spit out the tea from her mouth and glared at Nipa. Armaan seemed bewildered and unsettled.
“What? How can I leave my job and stay at home? How did such weird thoughts come to your mind?” , Armaan retorted.
“What is so weird about it Armaan? You are as much a parent to Kaeira as I am. You always say you believe in gender equality. So why is it weird for you to stay at home and look after your daughter? Why is your job more important than mine? I earn more than you and so practically, for the benefit of the household, it will be more helpful if I get back to work soon. I am not pressurizing you to take a break from work. All I am saying is if one parent has to stay at home why not you? I have done that for more than a year and now I really want to do what I love to do. Sorry but I am not extending my leave beyond the current end date.”
“Come on Nipa your tone is accusatory. Yes I believe in gender equality. Else why would I have allowed you to do as you please till now? I let you live your way always, didn’t I?”
“Allow me? I am an adult Armaan. The very fact that you think you allowed me my individuality makes me doubt whether you are as open minded as you claim to be.”
Mrs. Sahni was surprisingly quiet all this while but interrupted at this point.
“Nipa enough! Armaan didn’t I always tell you she is a selfish person? Look what she is saying. Now my son is going to sit at home to babysit at the mercy of his wife’s money! Good Lord, what days do I have to see before dying!”
The next few days passed by with a lumbering silence looming large on the house. There were the occasional jeers from Mrs. Sahni but what upset Nipa the most was the aloofness of Armaan. The day care management had informed her that they were open to welcome Kaeira whenever she was ready, and hence Nipa started focusing on preparing herself for it.
The weekend arrived and Nipa was observing Armaan while he was playing with Kaeira. Keeping the thoughts of the bedlam in her life aside, she cherished these moments and loved witnessing the father –daughter bond. Just when she was about to step out of home for grocery shopping, she heard a statement that came as a bolt out of the blue for her.
“My little darling, from now on papa is going to be with you all day and we will have lots of fun.”
Nipa was astounded and tiptoed towards Armaan to confront him.
“Armaan what did I just hear? Are you serious? Look I didn’t mean this. I only wanted to make you understand my viewpoint and emotions. She can go to the day care. You don’t have to do this.”
“Nipa, Relax! Well, somewhere I realized I am not 100% comfortable with sending Kaeira now. So I thought why not take a break as you suggested. I have already spoken to my manager and we have got the required approvals. I will use this time to pursue my passion in photography and I plan to join a month long workshop being conducted nearby. I have discussed this with Mom. She will look after Kaeira when I am away for a couple of hours. Of course, she is not at all happy with what is happening but hopefully, she will accept things with time. You probably thought I was giving you a cold shoulder all this while but I was actually introspecting and discovered quite a bit about my own self. Sorry for taking certain things for granted.”
Nipa’s beautiful eyes had welled up and the kohl had smudged her face. But, she had never felt so rejuvenated and bright in a long time.
Anupama Dalmia wins a Rs 250 Amazon voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the top winners at the end of 2017. Congratulations!