Who will pick up the dishes after the meal?

My maternal aunt recently moved to a new house. She decided to invite everyone over for dinner. My aunt hadn’t moved all her utensils and crockery to her new house. They had brought the stuffs which they thought were just necessary for their everyday chores. Hence, she affirmed that inviting one couple with their children every weekend would be fair since she would have just enough plates to serve everyone and cooking for one family wouldn’t be hectic for her either.

My father was working late that night so he couldn’t make it. Me, my mom and my sibling however were obliged to go since it was her new home. Mom and sibling left sooner because there was a possibility of raining heavily that night. I was the last one to reach because my mom had asked me to buy sweets on my way there. Although we were past the time she had invited us, but everything wasn’t ready. She had prepared curry, pulao and a sabzi. She hadn’t prepared rotis (flatbreads) and bhaji which some people also refer to as pakore (a type of fritter) saying that they don’t taste good if they’re not hot. I insisted that I’ll make the rotis while she prepares the bhajis so it wouldn’t be as time consuming. Just before we started preparing, aunt asked uncle to get srikhand (type of sweetened yoghurt) from a shop. We averred that it won’t be necessary since I had brought sweets which we could have as dessert but she paid no heed.

Before uncle came back, everything was ready to be served on the table. Helping aunt was no big deal. I still remember her doing chores while I used to visit nana during our school summer vacations. As I grew up, I started helping everyone including her with the chores since I used to spend most of my holidays at my grandparents’. Never had I ever thought that this is not my house so I should behave myself or I’m entitled to not do something only because I’m at my nana’s place. Although nobody asked me to do so, I took it upon myself. Perhaps that’s how everyone in my family was raised. Helping with menial tasks like sweeping the room after all you kids have finished playing so as to not bother adults in the house, offering water when guests arrive, helping in the kitchen, rushing to a nearby grocery store to buy something if it isn’t available in the house was a norm for the kids in my family. Irony is that these chores weren’t limited to one gender. I grew up thinking that it was the standard until I started discussing these things with my friends and was surprised to know that this isn’t the case at everyone’s house and that tasks are distributed amongst kids with respect to their gender viz. household and kitchen chores were limited to only women and girls of the family. It was satisfying to think that I was born in a family where gender differences don’t prevail. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was comparatively more privileged than most girls my age and more responsible than most boys my age.

We had the dinner. It was fun. We chatted about a lot of things. It was our first time where we got to talk to uncle with nobody to interrupt the conversation. He’s fun to talk with. Finally, everyone finished their dinner. I got up, took my plate, my mom’s plate and started going to the kitchen to keep the plates. My aunt was forbidding but I reasoned with her asking, “Why are you treating me like an outsider? Am I not your daughter?” As I was discussing this with her, I noticed from the corner of my eye that uncle got up, washed his hands, went and sat on the sofa. I personally found that behavior strange. If my dad would’ve joined us for the dinner, things would’ve been different. Neither would I be comfortable if I invite someone over for dinner and they are doing menial chores while I just sit there indolently. I don’t remember my dad ever just sitting idle after dinner while my mom did all the cleaning. If he ever had a tiresome day, he would talk about it at the dinner table and least he would do is pick up his own plate if not the casseroles. Although my mom is a homemaker, I don’t remember her asking my dad for help. I grew up watching that and so did my sibling. Dad’s attitude didn’t even change when guests were over. Perhaps he was just habitual. It was after my mom used to obligate him to spend time with the guests while she did the cleaning, he used to realize. My memory of discussing these types of incidents with my friends is them asking if my parents had a love marriage. They had an arranged marriage but distribution of chores or even doing one’s own simple tasks like getting a glass of water for yourself, drying your own towel after taking a shower; in my opinion it has nothing to do with the type of marriage you had. These habits need to be inculcated since childhood.  While I helped my aunt with all the cleaning, my mind wouldn’t stop thinking. My father has two siblings and I’m close to them too. I have seen my uncles helping my aunts with cleaning up after dinner whenever I visit them. Although I don’t exactly remember what they do when guests are over.

It’s so unfortunate to see chores linked to gender stereotypes today. When human species was evolving, males used to hunt for food during the day while women were left to nurse the family. As times changed, humans managed to make their lives better. Some things went downhill, though. Not much changed in the lives of women. Nature bestowed women with this beautiful characteristic of bearing a child. Bringing another life into this world is no less than a miracle. Unfortunately, some individuals decided to use that for their personal gains and confided women to their houses in the guise of culture and traditions. Change is the only constant on this planet. Millions of years of evolution, tremendous progress made for the betterment of mankind, most of us today live a comfortable life yet some people choose to stick to stereotypes. Don’t they ever think to themselves that it’s us humans who created these rules and these stereotypes of women belonging to the kitchen? Many women work today. We are living in fortunate times where women can do almost all the tasks which men do. Indeed, physiologically men and women are built different and nobody can change that. Isn’t that the beauty of the nature? It’s just beautiful the way it is. We are nobody to change that. We aren’t any smarter to impose the household responsibilities on gender and earning responsibilities on another one either. Basic life skills should be a part of normal upbringing is no rocket science to understand. Just because your ancestors lived in a certain way doesn’t mean you have to. We are living a different life so we need to be a part of the change. Why do we tend to look at a couple from a ‘male’ or ‘female’ perspective? They are a family. They are a unit. If one cooks, another one can do the dishes. If one cleans, another one can do the laundry. One member doesn’t have to act like ‘the entitled one’. I was so busy thinking that I hardly noticed, I had finished everything and aunt had cleaned the table while uncle was still sitting on the sofa scrolling through his phone.

Finally we all were sitting with uncle. I didn’t know what to say to him anymore. I wasn’t looking down on him. I cannot blame him entirely for the way he is today. I was fortunate enough to have an unbiased upbringing, he wasn’t. I cannot blame his parents either. Unfortunately, the stereotype is very deep rooted and that cannot change overnight. Since aunt works as a nurse, her shift timings always change. She had deliberately decided to not hire a house-help since it was just them both and chores weren’t a big deal for her. My mom sensed that my aunt will have to clean the dishes all by herself and proposed to help aunt with them while I and my sibling continued chatting with uncle. While I was still busy with my thoughts, I perceived that they both were showing each other pictures from their phones respectively so I decided to sneak into the kitchen where my mom and my aunt were scrubbing the dishes. I’m habitual of clicking everyone’s candid pictures while they are just doing their business and save that as a memory in my device. I show that folder to everyone when we gather at occasions and everyone seems to enjoy it. As I was just clicking a picture I overheard my aunt amusingly complaining about uncle saying that, “he hardly knows any chores because he never did them. Although he is learning, but very slowly.” ‘He is learning slowly’ I was contented. Being a part of change instead of claiming that I never did it so I won’t hereafter is important.

Few minutes later, we left for home. I freshened up and called up my boyfriend. After telling me how his day was, he inquired about how I spent mine. After narrating him about the incident, he told me that I was overthinking things and that’s how society functions. When I expressed my disappointment he stated, “That’s how I want us to be one day. I promise to help you with the chores but what do you expect me to do when guests come over? So let’s make a fair deal right now. When guests are over, I am not doing a single chore until they leave. That’s how my family has been living. That’s how things work at our house and since you are going to be a part of it, you will have to oblige.”

“But I thought we were going to start a family in a year. Just as I was going to be a part of your family, you would become a part of my family too. I don’t have unrealistic expectations from you. I am perfectly capable of doing all the chores but you cannot just impose everything on me. I wouldn’t ask you to leave the guests alone and help me in the kitchen but least we could do is finish cooking before they come over. And what if they will be staying over for a while? You expect me to do all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, serving all by myself without you lending me a hand and show everyone that I just an unpaid servant of this house?” I reverted.

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“But that’s how my family has always been. We can hire a help.” He cut me while speaking.

“My family has been living a certain way too, my love. I am of the point of view that I don’t need a house-help if I am healthy and can manage everything. It also proves to be a form of exercise. I’m sure we’ll have to settle for a lot of changes when we move in together. I’m sure you must’ve adjusted chores with your flat-mates too, right?” I asked.

“Listen girl, I am already settling for a lot in this relationship. My parents wouldn’t be easily convinced for an inter-faith marriage. Your parents may be open minded, mine aren’t. I don’t want to hear their taunts about you not being a ‘good wife’ after I have hardly convinced them for our marriage.” His reply struck my heart like an arrow.

“Fair enough! How about you get a ‘good wife’ from your faith? It’s okay if you don’t want to be a part of the change. I am nobody for asking you to change either. I understand you come from a different place and not everyone can rebel against their family even though they know their family is going wrong somewhere.” I replied, trying to hold myself together.

“Just because you’re pretty you get away by triggering me multiple times. Is that really what you want?” he asked angrily.

“I’m not sure if this is what I want but I am pretty sure about what I don’t want in my life and if that counts ending things with you, I will placidly do it.” I replied with a heavy heart.

“Okay” he hung up.

Albeit heartbroken, I felt liberated. That’s the best part about being an adult. You can choose to not lead a dramatic life.

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Aishwarya A

Cardiac Perfusionist by profession Strongly opinionated. Love to make people laugh Giving my share in making this world a better place for everyone. read more...

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