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For years, this working woman and mother has been treated as unpaid, unthanked labour around the home. How long will she suffer? Or will she gather the courage to resist?
Ragini was about to retire for the day. She had been having terrible back pain since morning and all she longed for was some rest. As she was entering the room, her mother-in-law called out, “Ragini, tomorrow make pav bhaji and pulav for lunch. Mita is planning to come over.”
Hearing this, Ragini made a u-turn towards the kitchen. As she checked in the refrigerator, she was relieved to find that all the required vegetables were stocked. She pulled them out, started washing them, stacked them on the chopping board and started the arduous task of cutting them. As she peeped into the living room, she saw Vikram watching the highlights of yesterday’s match. She wondered what was so important about this done and dusted match. But then, her husband had always been like this, when it came to his me time and his hobby time; in short, for him, it was primarily about himself.
He knew she was in a bad shape and could have come to help her, but sacrificing his me time was next to impossible. If at all a miracle of that level did occur, her mother-in-law would be scandalised and pained to see her lovely son working in the kitchen. She had told Ragini umpteen times that making the men work was against the principles of their house, but strangely considering the woman as a machine wasn’t.
As Ragini continued chopping the veggies, she remembered Mita aunty had come last week also and she had to go through this arduous task of preparing an elaborate lunch and set the table on top of all the other work before going to office. She wondered why someone who visited this often was considered a guest, and that the least her mother-in-law could have done was give her prior information. But, telling her this would have led to a lot of unwanted drama, which Ragini felt she was better off without.
It was another 45 minutes, before all the vegetables were chopped and packed into air tight boxes and stacked in the refrigerator. She had a morning meeting at work and with such an elaborate meal to prepare, to which there would be last minute additions, she knew she would have to wake up earlier than usual. As she finally hit the bed, her back pain had become worse. The next morning was extremely difficult for Ragini. The back pain had become severe. She could manage to sit with a lot of difficulty, but she had no option and got down to work. The only help she received was from her eight-year-old son, who looking at his mother’s plight, got ready for school all by himself. He even offered to help in her work, the only positive memory of the morning for her. She gave him a tight hug and sent him off to school.
The rest of her family members were oblivious to her sufferings. All that mattered to them was that their work needed to be done. As she set down to do all the household chores (having a maid, was also against the principles of the house) wincing in pain, not one soul in the house turned around to check on her. This selfishness had now stopped bothering Ragini as she had gotten used to it. But, she had to admit that it hurt.
As she was rushing out after the busy morning, with no time even for breakfast, she heard her mother-in-law say, “What is this? Only one type of raita and no chutney? There is just this halwa in the sweet dish. I said there are guests coming over. And, what is this? Vikram’s lunch box is lying like this on the table, you could have at least put it in his bag, my poor boy has to do it all on his own.” Ragini was fuming, but left without uttering a word. At work, several of her colleagues realised she was in a bad shape. Her friend Usha, offered to come with her to the doctor, but Ragini was reluctant to go. “It’s just some muscle pull, I’ll be fine,” Ragini assured her. But Usha was in no mood to buy this, “It’s been more than a week. First it was just the shoulder, now your whole back is in pain, and you are still neglecting this,” she responded in an annoyed tone. “Let’s at least go and meet the company physician”, she said, forcing Ragini to come with her.
The company physician examined her and referred her to an orthopaedic, after prescribing medicines for temporary relief. She assured Usha that she would take the orthopaedic’s appointment and go and meet him at the earliest. But, she wasn’t sure if this would really happen. In the evening, she told Vikram about her visit to her company physician and his further reference. His response was as expected, “You think this really requires an orthopaedic’s attention? I mean, it’s just back pain, but you decide.” Though she had expected this, she was hurt at his lack of concern. She had already decided, “It’s been more than a week that I have been suffering, and you have been turning a blind eye to me. I think I deserve medical attention, either give me money or give my debit card.” The coldness and anger in Ragini’s voice surprised Vikram as this was rather unusual of her, countering his decision and that too, this coldly. He realized this wasn’t the time to argue with her and quietly gave her the money. Giving her, her debit card was out of the question. That power had to rest in his hands and he could not let that go.
Ragini managed to get the orthopaedic’s appointment in a couple of days. Though she would have felt much better, had someone been there with her, Vikram claimed to be busy as usual and she knew her mother-in-law thought it was pointless, getting so worked up over a mere back pain, so she went alone. On examination, he revealed that she was suffering from spondylitis. He advised physiotherapy and asked her to reduce physical stress for some time. The course of treatment had to be followed strictly. Though she was relieved to know the cause of her physical distress, she was worried how she was going to manage with her daily routine. She had been strictly told by the doctor that physical exertion should be kept to a bare minimum and not to lift anything even slightly heavy. But, she was hopeful at least this time, her family would understand.
In the evening, she showed the doctor’s reports to Vikram and her mother-in-law, telling them about the precautionary measures and course of treatment. “I told you, simple back pain will be unnecessarily blown out of proportion by these specialists, but you wouldn’t listen, look now and this exorbitant bill on top of it,” Vikram retorted. Ragini was aghast and hurt, but before she could respond, her mother-in-law quipped, “What was the need for making such a big issue out of a simple back pain. Look at all the uncalled for expenses it has led to and seriously, if you end up with so much rest for a back pain, it will only cause laziness.” Ragini was hurt, her eyes welled up, all she managed to say was, “We can hire a maid and all of you can help a bit, it won’t be so difficult to manage.” Immediately she heard, “A maid, never, not in this house, this house has had certain rules and as long as I am around, they have to be followed.” That was her mother-in-law. Vikram was quick to retort, “I already have enough on my plate. It’s really taxing in office. I can’t manage more work at home”. The concerned look in his mom’s eyes at his words hurt Ragini all the more. She didn’t say a thing, quietly went into her room, and cried herself to sleep.
The next day, she only packed her son’s lunch box and left much earlier than usual for work. When she returned in the evening, what welcomed her was a messy house and an even messier kitchen. Her mother-in-law was seething in anger. As soon as she saw Ragini she flared up, “What is this? You left so early without even informing any of us and look at the mess the house is in. Is this how you are managing it?” Without uttering a word, Ragini quietly prepared her tea and went and sat on her favourite corner of the sofa, leisurely sipping it.
Her mother-in-law was furious by now, but equally baffled as she had never seen Ragini act so insolently. After a while, Vikram walked in looking visibly irritated. Seeing Ragini, flipping leisurely through the newspaper at this time, rather than running around the house managing a hundred tasks, he was rather surprised. “Why isn’t your debit card working? You received some message from the bank,” he asked Ragini. “I blocked the card”, she replied calmly. “I was going to tell you, but you seem to have found out.” “What? Why would you do that and that too without informing me. You know it’s me who operates that card and haven’t I told you not to meddle in the finances,” Vikram screamed in anger.
“Calm down, it’s the money I earn and I have the right to handle it. After all the fuss you made about paying for my treatment, you think I am stupid to part with my salary any longer? I knew you would never give me the debit card, so I blocked it and applied for a fresh one. This time, I have also made sure it will reach me directly and you have no access to it.”
Vikram was aghast, “What has gotten into you?” he retorted. He was instantly joined by his mother, “Ask her, son, she is behaving so insolently. The house is in a mess, I had to cook the lunch also myself and you know I haven’t been keeping well, but who cares.” Now, Ragini had had enough, she got up, looked at Vikram and his mother, and replied calmly, looking into their eyes, “Mummy ji, don’t worry about the messy house – the maid is coming from tomorrow morning. Now, don’t start off with the rules of the house, all these years, I was the maid here and she is replacing me in that capacity, so the no maid rule was broken the day I entered the house, I am not breaking it. And, about care…the lesser spoken the better, don’t you both agree?” Both mother and son were shocked at this behaviour of Ragini’s. They had never seen this seething, angry avatar of hers and that stoic calm in her anger scared them. It seemed to say, you have messed enough with me, not anymore.
But, were they going to give up so soon? The next day, Ragini woke up to a house which was unusually quiet. She soon noticed that nobody even considered her to be existing in the house. She realized they were deliberately ignoring her. But this time, it didn’t affect her at all. People who didn’t care for her, didn’t have much place left in her heart anyway. She went into her son’s room and happily cuddled up to his sleeping form… What a perfect start to the weekend!
First published here.
Image via Pixabay
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