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The burdens that patriarchy places on women to be the 'good Indian woman' are heavy... time to deep clean them away from our lives?
Diwali was not just a festival of lights in my family; it was the Olympic Games of cleaning. This year, though, as I wielded my broom like a valiant knight facing a dragon, I couldn’t help but think there was more I wanted to sweep out of my life than just the cobwebs adorning the corners of my ceiling.
As the festival of lights approached, I found myself armed with a bucket of soapy water in one hand and a long-overdue epiphany in the other. My name is Sharda, and while my neighbors were busy scrubbing their floors, I was preparing to scour away the dusty layers of expectations that clung to my life like cobwebs in an abandoned attic.
“Aha,” I muttered to myself, “Let’s start with the ‘A woman needs a man to fix the light bulb’ myth.” I chuckled as I clambered onto a stool, armed with a new LED bulb.
“I think not!” I exclaimed, twisting it in place, the light flooding the room as if agreeing with my newfound epiphany.
“Sharda, make sure you clean behind the fridge. Last year, we found a society of dust bunnies plotting a coup,” my Kaki’s voice echoed from the kitchen.
I chuckled, “I’ll make sure their revolution remains untelevised, Kaki.”
But as I knelt to the ground, moving the fridge with the finesse of a cat wriggling out of a tight spot, it struck me — I was about to do more than displace dust bunnies.
There, in the corner, was the heavy trunk of tradition. It was like one of those old televisions from the ’90s — bulky, unnecessarily complicated, and not good for the eyes. This trunk was filled with all the “shoulds” and “musts” of being a “good Indian woman.” I heaved it open, the rusty hinges protesting like a gossiping auntie interrupted mid-scandal.
The first thing I pulled out was a sari, not just any sari, but the nine yards of “settling down” my mother draped around my shoulders every time a prospective groom came to visit. “You’ll catch more flies with honey,” she would say. But I wasn’t interested in flies or honey; I was after a career that didn’t confine me to the kitchen unless I was experimenting with fusion cuisine.
I folded them neatly, deciding to donate them to someone who would wear them with the joy and pride that I couldn’t muster. “You’re like the ‘best before’ label on packaged food,” I told the sarees. “Great for a time, but eventually, we all have to make room for fresh stock.”
I found the old salwar-Kurti of self-doubt, which clung to me like a wet cloth on a rainy day. The Kurti of ‘I need a man to protect me’ was so tight, it was almost suffocating. I stripped them off and tried on the new Kurti of self-reliance, which fit me like a dream.
“Ah, breathable fabric!” I exclaimed to the mirror, which reflected a twinkle in my eye for the first time in years.
I then turned to my bookshelf, where among the classics and bestsellers, nestled a book on ‘Being the Perfect Wife’. It was a wedding gift from my well-meaning but slightly misguided neighbor. I flipped through it, snorting with laughter at the chapter titled ‘How to let him win an argument.’
“That’s going straight to the recycle bin,” I said. “The only winning happening in my arguments will be done by the best logic.”
Then came the stainless steel thali of guilt, served up every time I put my needs above others. “A woman thinks of herself last,” they said, as if self-sacrifice was a buffet and I had to load up my plate until it bent like the truth in a family rumor.
“Oh, and don’t forget to scrub those regrets away,” quipped my best friend Vidya over the phone, the background hum of her own Diwali preparations audible. “You know, those stains of ‘what will people say’ can be tough to remove.”
Vidya was right. Those were the oil stains of societal norms that refused to budge, no matter how much ‘elbow grease’ you applied. “I’m working on it,” I told her, smiling at the sponge in my hand as if it held magical powers.
Next was the weighty almanac of auspicious dates. Oh, how it loomed over my calendar like a nosy relative, dictating when I could make important life decisions. “Not a good time to start a new venture,” they would warn, shaking their heads with a tsk-tsk that could drown out the sound of bursting crackers. “Shaniwar ko to yatra karna ekdam sahi nahi hai,” they would say, even if it was my job interview.
I sifted through more: the faded jeans of independence I was told to exchange for the comfortable pajamas of marital reliance, the brittle bangles of fragility I was supposed to wear with pride, and the high heels of expectations — so tall they made my dreams of equality look like ants at a picnic.
“Who knew deep cleaning could be so… liberating,” I mused aloud, the pile of discarded norms growing higher than my pile of actual dust.
My next-door neighbor, Auntie Kiran, popped her head over the balcony, her eyes sharp as the knives she no doubt wielded against stains.
“Sharda, are you talking to yourself? People will think you’re mad. What are you up to?” Auntie Kiran inquired, her voice carrying the weight of impending gossip.
“Just some festive cleaning, Auntie Kiran,” I replied with a twinkle in my eye, “starting with the cobwebs in my life.”
She clucked her tongue, “Are you sure that’s wise? What will people say?”
I laughed, “Oh, I’m vacuuming out the ‘what will people say’ part too. It’s quite liberating!”
Her eyes widened, as if I’d just suggested we deep fry the Diwali sweets in diet water.
I grinned, adding the ‘fear of gossip’ to the mental bonfire I was stoking, “Just consulting the experts, Auntie!”
By evening, my house was spotless, and my soul felt lighter. The trunk of tradition was now empty, save for a few keepsakes — the heirlooms of strength and resilience passed down from my grandmother, the warrior queen of our family. I looked around, my heart filled with an odd sense of satisfaction. It wasn’t just the clean home; it was the weightlessness of shedding old skin, the detox of dogma from my domestic life.
I lit a diya, its flame casting a gentle glow on the walls of my home. The diyas twinkled as if in approval, and somewhere in the distance, the sound of fireworks began to fill the air, like a celebration of the little rebellions that spark revolutions, one clean sweep at a time. And as the night sky outside erupted with fireworks, my heart, too, celebrated its newfound space — ready to be filled with laughter, ambition, and a festival of fresh beginnings.
Image source: a still from the film English Vinglish
I am a photographer and an avid reader. I am not a writer but I like to give words to my emotions. I love to cook and hike. I believe in humor and its impact read more...
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