I Can’t Leave Office Early To Look After Your Father; Why Can’t You Do It?

“What is a woman’s job, Ramesh? Taking care of parents-in-law, husband, children, home and things at work—all at the same time? She isn’t God or a superhuman."

The arrays of workstations were occupied by people peering into their computer screens. The clicks of keyboard keys were punctuated by the occasional footsteps moving around to brainstorm or collaborate with colleagues in their cubicles. Most employees went about their tasks without looking at the person seated on either side of their workstation. Meenakshi was one of them.

The thirty-one-year-old marketing manager in a leading eCommerce company in India sat straight in her seat, her eyes on the screen, her fingers punching furiously into the keys. She was in a flow and wanted to finish the report while the thoughts and words were coming effortlessly into her mind.

Natu-Natu. The mellifluous ringtone interrupted her thoughts. She frowned at her mobile phone with half a mind to keep it ringing until she noticed the caller’s name on the screen, making her pick up the phone immediately.

“Meenu,” her husband’s voice emanated from the other end of the line. “You took a lot of time to pick up the call.”

“I was working on something but nevertheless picked up the call in the fourth ring, Ramesh. What’s up?”

“The nurse hasn’t turned up for Papa’s dressing. He is getting impatient. Please check with her by when she will drop by,” Ramesh, who was working from home that day, said.

“I shared her number with you. You can also call her.”

“She is a lady, Meenu. Better that you speak to her,” Ramesh insisted.

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What does the gender of the nurse have to do with talking to them? Meenakshi raised an eyebrow. The nurse came daily to change the dressing of her father-in-law, who was recovering at home after a minor surgery.

“Ok. Give me a minute. I will speak to her and inform you,” she replied, keeping her thoughts to herself.

With her mind still on her almost-finished deliverable, Meenakshi called the nurse. The latter didn’t answer the call but dropped a text informing her about being unable to come owing to being assigned an emergency shift in the hospital.

Meenakshi pursed her lips while tapping on her husband’s name from the recent calls menu of her phone. “She is on an emergency shift at the hospital and will be unable to come today,” Meenakshi informed him when he received the call after some time.

“Damn,” Ramesh muttered. “Papa will not be happy about this. Anyway, please come home as soon as possible to change his dressing.”

The silence between was the only sound on the line for a few seconds. “Meenu, are you there?” Ramesh was the first one to speak.

“Yes, I am,” Meenakshi said in a subdued voice. “I have a lot of work to do. I can’t leave everything all of a sudden to come home,” she added.

“Work is not more important than home, Meenu. Papa’s bandages need to be changed. If the nurse you had arranged had turned up today, I would not have told you to come. Someone has to take care of things at home.”

Meenakshi closed her eyes and sighed. Ramesh hadn’t given any significance to her work in the five years of their marriage. While he was not one among those to stop their wives from working, he considered her work as a source of earning some additional pocket money for their home and never took it seriously.

“If it needs to be changed now, you can always do it, I suppose,” she uttered.

“Meenu, I have a lot of office work. There are some meetings lined up too. How do I spare time to do it? And Papa here is grumbling about the nurse not arriving, disturbing me in my work. You have to come home to support me.”

Why do I have to rush home from the office early to take care of your irritated father? Meenakshi thought to herself but didn’t say anything.

“Tell your manager it is a medical emergency; she will understand. Family comes first. We are waiting for you here,” Ramesh concluded. The line went dead.

Meenakshi leaned back in her chair and gulped down some water from the glass on her table. She looked at the work-in-progress report on her screen, all her focus gone. Perhaps she could complete this on the Metro ride back home; at least, she should get a seat in this non-peak hour.

She got up and walked across to the other side of the alley towards her manager’s cabin before knocking on a door hesitantly and walking in.

“Yes, Meenakshi.” The thirty-six-year-old Shalini, Meenakshi’s manager, smiled at her.

“I need to leave for home now, Shalini, for a medical emergency,” Meenakshi explained, even as Shalini’s smile turned to a frown.

“Again, Meenakshi? This is the fifth time you have cited an emergency in two weeks. Before that, you were on leave for your father-in-law’s surgery. I understand that emergencies can happen, but if it recurs at such frequency, they can’t be an emergency. What is happening here?” she asked.

“Shalini, I have to take extra care of my ailing father-in-law. The nurse hasn’t turned up, and someone has to clean and change his bandages. You are a woman, so I am sure you will understand,” Meenakshi pleaded, trying to stop the tears threatening to come out of her eyes.

Shalini looked at her with concern. Meenakshi was one of the oldest members of her team, having joined the company even before her six years ago. She was an excellent performer and a fast tracker who was once growing fast in the organisation. Till she got married.

Marriage had put the brakes on her rise. Even though Meenakshi’s work was top-notch, Shalini couldn’t rely on her for critical assignments due to her sudden and frequent absences.

“I understand too well, Meenakshi. We, women, find it difficult to say no, but still end up saying no at work to take care of sometimes trivial matters at home. How will you be able to work if you leave the office midway for home matters? How will I be able to give you work?”

“I know, Shalini. This is the last time, I promise. I will do something about it.”

“You had said the last time two days ago too, and the previous week before that. There would be no last time, Meenakshi, don’t you understand? Until you make it clear to your husband that the last time was yesterday.”

Meenakshi blinked.

“You love your job, don’t you, Meenakshi? Or are you working just for the sake of it?” Shalini probed.

“You know I love my work, Shalini. It matters a lot to me.”

“Then you must display as much dedication for it as you feel. Where is the marketing report you were working on?”

“It’s almost done. I would have sent it to you in half an hour, but for this. I will work on it in the Metro and send it to you,” Meenakshi said.

“We also had to discuss it afterwards, Meenakshi! Think about what is happening here, time and again. You are aware we are facing headwinds due to the impending recession in western countries. In fact, I have been asked to right-size my team. Now, if your absences continue, what choice do I have?”

Meenakshi gaped at her manager. She had always got along well with Shalini.

Shalini maintained a poker face. Despite all the challenges, Meenakshi was a solid team member, and she didn’t want to lose her too to home and family care-related tasks like some of the other members of her team.* She had given her this false warning with a heavy heart. Perhaps the threat of losing the job she loved will spur Meenakshi to take better control of her work and life.

An awkward silence ensued for some time.

Meenakshi shifted her legs and said, “The marketing report will be in your inbox within half an hour. And I will come to discuss the same with you after that and will close the changes today,” she said.

“Thank you.” Shalini smiled. “And you may leave for home after we discuss the marketing report. Appreciate your understanding.”

Meenakshi nodded and turned back. It was a long walk back to her workstation. She had gone to Shalini’s cabin ten minutes ago, but it seemed like ages.

Meenakshi had worked with Shalini for many years and looked up to her. She felt hurt by her mentor’s words but knew the latter was right— she would have to say no to some things and people. Starting with her spouse.

She picked dialled her husband’s number with trembling fingers.

“Yes, Meenakshi. Have you started from the office?”

“No, I haven’t. I didn’t get leave.”

“What? Didn’t you tell your manager that you have a medical emergency?”

“She didn’t believe me. I had cited the same reason three days ago when your father suddenly felt unwell and needed someone at home. I had again pleaded an emergency last week. Who will believe me if I keep having emergencies at home every day?”

“Meenu, I want you here. Who will change Papa’s dressing if you don’t come?”

“You. If you expect me to leave the office and travel one hour to reach home to take care of your father, you can certainly take ten minutes when you are working from home to attend to your father. I know your work is important, but so is mine.”

“Uhh… But this is a woman’s job.”

“What is a woman’s job, Ramesh? Taking care of parents-in-law, husband, children, home and things at work—all at the same time? She isn’t God or a superhuman. And why can’t a woman decide her job herself instead of adhering to the responsibilities society lays out for her? Hospitals and clinics do have male attendants, too, don’t they? So, what makes you think that changing your father’s dressing is only my prerogative?”

“Well, I don’t know how to do it!”

Meenakshi smiled despite herself. Her husband wasn’t used to getting a glass of water by himself, so changing an adhesive was out of the question.

“Then take him to a clinic where some professional would do this better. Or search for another nurse to come home now, as I did a few days ago. If nothing else, tell your father that he will have to wait till I come home in the evening because you don’t know how to do it. You have multiple options.”

“My father is important to me, Meenu,” Ramesh blustered.

“He is important to me too. So are you. And so is my work. There’s a time for everything. This is time for me to work. I love my job, Ramesh, and I want you to understand that I don’t want to lose it because of some temporary household situation you can very capably handle. I will leave the office as soon as I get done with my current deliverable. The more we speak now, the more I will get delayed. So, can we continue this discussion after I reach home, please?” Meenakshi sat down while speaking these words to keep her legs from shaking further.

The prolonged silence made her wonder if the line was dead until Ramesh mumbled, “Very well, I will see what I can do,” and disconnected the call.

Meenakshi let out a long breath and completely drained the half-filled glass on her table. If only she had stood up for herself sooner! The story of lucrative travel assignments forgone, promotions missed, and progress chequered would have been different. Well, she can only try for a future better than her past.

She looked at her laptop, reviewing the almost finished document she was working on before the call. After rereading the last few paragraphs, her fingers furiously tapped the keyboard keys. There was work to be done.

*Author’s Note: As per an Indeed survey of 410 businesses and 1,207 women respondents held in February 2022, 58 per cent of women employees in India quit their jobs due to more family responsibilities in the last two years during the pandemic. These figures reveal one side of the story. The picture becomes complete when 41 per cent of women in the same survey said that lack of family support was the main reason behind their resignations.

We often blame the lack of diversity of inclusion measures by India Inc for the skewed gender-balance ratio of the workforce but need to recognise that family and society are equally to blame. If we want these statistics to change, then the change needs to start with us. 

Image source: YouTube/ short film Sabak

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About the Author

Smita Das Jain

Smita Das Jain is a writer by passion who writes every day. Samples of her writing are visible in the surroundings around her — her home office, her sunny terrace garden, her husband’s car and read more...

41 Posts | 50,023 Views

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