Soon after her wedding, her husband put forward a simple rule. Only one of them can pursue a career, the other one has to stay at home and look after broken pipes and running noses.
“Can we have it all?” This question haunts women around the world.
The women experience a myriad of emotions while always trying to play the balancing act: sometimes blissful with joy over any compliment, and sometimes drowning in guilt over a burnt recipe.
Women are multi faceted, they possess strength as steel to face hurdles of life with grace while sometimes they silently cry over an emotional movie, all by themselves. They are represented as fragile dolls behind glass showcases and also as Goddess Durga, the personification of valour. But no matter what they do, wherever they are, women around the world are haunted by that one, million-dollar question “Can we have it all?”
This is a story of three generations of women from the same family, who are pondering over this question from their own perspectives. Here are their stories.
It was yet another day for Dhanalakshmi. Age had taken its toll and she was slightly bent as she walked. As she got up from her bed, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror. Multiple strands of grey hair, numerous wrinkles, withered frame and frail structure. Her eyes moved to her hands, the numerous blood vessels appeared like tiny streams of water playing with each other.
She wondered how the years had passed by. Her birthday was on the auspicious day of Lakshmi Puja, hence her parents had named her ‘Dhanalakshmi’, her birth had brought in good fortune to her family. Her father doted on her. She was among the five privileged girls in the neighborhood who went to school. She was ecstatic.
She loved reading books, she read them eagerly, she loved singing too, mostly crooning melodies from gramophone records while she went to school.
One day her father took her for a musical concert in the city, and the experience left her bedazzled. She secretly wanted to become a writer, a singer and after the musical concert, a violinist.
Her life began to change as she became a teenager. Just like the auspiciousness of her birth, there was another custom in her family. The increasing age of the girl being proportional to the in-auspiciousness of her marriage.
A groom search began for her, she relented, cried and silently protested before her father, but one fine day, amidst pomp and show, the hands which were supposed to write books and play the violin were placed on the groom’s hands. Those hands, over the following years, cooked food, raised children, washed utensils and clothes, prayed and grew numerous visible wrinkles on them.
She had a peaceful life throughout, yet Dhanalakshmi’s heart had that one regret, she could never write a book or play the violin. Could she have it all? As this question entered her mind, she quickly started moving towards the kitchen for preparing the morning tea. The uncomfortable question always got postponed like this.
The alarm clock woke Damyanti up. It was going to be a hectic day ahead. Her husband had an important meeting, she had to visit her daughter Disha, the house needed to be cleaned up, her vegetable garden needed to be watered, her maid was on half-day leave.
All these pointers made Damyanti dizzy. At 52, she was hoping for that one day when she would spend a day totally on herself, but the thought itself seemed like a distant dream.
Damyanti’s mind was sharp as a knife’s edge. In fact, she was the first bencher during her school days, systematically maintaining her notes, studying sincerely, and above all being an all-rounder. Her love for academics brought within her a desire to teach, to become a professor, nurturing the minds of her students.
But during her masters, she fell in love with her classmate. A person who went on to get a Ph.D. himself. As Damyanti marveled over the life the two of them would share in academics, a rude shock awaited her. Soon after her wedding, her husband put forward a simple rule, only of them can pursue a career, the other one has to stay at home and look after broken pipes and running noses.
Being in love, she chose to stay at home. And that was not a bad choice, she pondered over the years. She had used her analytical mind to household activities like origami, developing the best science projects with her children, creating their library at home, cooking great dishes with optimum gas usage. But sometimes, late at night, when the house is asleep, she quietly reads the ‘Thank you Sir’ cards which her husband has received, wondering if she would get these cards had she been a professor.
‘Could I have it all?’ The question lingers in her mind as she moves to her room, it will be a busy day tomorrow again.
Disha’s day has begun in the middle of the night. She has a number of action items on her list. The next day, she has a customer presentation, submission of estimation for a proposal and above all she has to make custard for her mother and grandmother who would be visiting her.
Her work fills her days, it gives her a sense of purpose, a feeling that keeps her enthusiasm up, a sense of identity. The job pays her well too, but for her, it is not about the money, it is about the independence of buying things for her loved ones that cheer them up.
As a toddler, Disha had noticed her grandmother and mother, discussing the monthly budget, buying the best groceries but always silently letting go when they had to spend money on themselves. She felt empowered while gifting them goodies from time to time. That made her happy.
Yet Disha could never cook a proper meal or clean the dishes impeccably. Even if she did it at times, it was half-hearted. Her heart was always filled with gratitude for her mother and grandmother who showered unconditional love towards her every time she needed them. But considering her conference calls, meetings, travel arrangements, sometimes she wondered if her child would be deprived of her love in the midst of them. She wondered if she could be a perfect wife or mother.
She wonders often if she can have it all? She quickly glances back at her laptop screen again as optimizing time was her utmost priority.
“Mom and Grandma, I am so glad that you came all the way only to meet me,” Disha exclaimed. For a change, she had kept her phone on silent mode. Dhanalakshmi smiled sheepishly while Damyanti beamed with joy as the three of them sat together, having custard.
“I know the custard is not that good,” Disha said, “I tried my best, but somehow something went wrong.”
Dhanalakshmi slowly moved her hand over Disha’s head and said, “I have seen you give your best to whatever you have done till now, just like your Mom, in fact you both went on those roads which I was not sure even existed, and as a woman, I feel proud of you both.”
Damyanti had silent tears trickling down her cheeks. She said, “Amma, since childhood, I always admired your completeness as a woman, whether it was cooking for the entire family or silently admiring me as I sat to study, I learned from you the magnanimity of always encouraging me to fulfill the dreams I wanted to pursue. Thank you for being our guardian angel.”
Disha’s analytical mind became silent as she was swept in emotions. “Thank you both of you for making me realize my self-worth, for giving me the freedom to be my best self and above all for teaching me what it takes to be a woman who is unafraid to pursue her dreams.”
Then there were tears and smiles and secret gifts. A diary for Dhanalakshmi where she could write her heart out and a brochure from an NGO for Damyanti to volunteer for teaching the slum children at a local school. Disha had a gift too, a list of 1000 recipes from Masterchef.
Dhanalakshmi finally said, “We may wonder whether our lives are complete, but the true happiness lies in actually making the most of what we have.” And that is what most happy women think and do.
And then there were smiles over the profound realization the three of them had over custard.
Image source: a still from the film Saand ki Ankh
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