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They ask me the same question all the time, every single time without fail, “Do you work??” Sometimes I wonder if it is a conspiracy. Hey let’s ask Shail whether she works. Its fun!! She might just explode into a million colorful bits one of these days and its not even Diwali yet. Sweet-natured woman that I am, I haven’t as yet fulfilled these wishes of the conspirators much to their dismay. I solemnly assure you that I am no lotophagi who I gather resided (or do they still??) somewhere in North Africa and gorged themselves silly on lotus fruits and flowers and then slumbered in total apathy. Ugh! Who wants such a life anyway?!! Not me, thank you. Goodness knows what lotus flowers and fruits taste like. Besides who wants to sleep their life away and that too in apathy when there is, ummm… music to listen to, nature in all its splendor to feast your eyes on, books to read and yummy ice-creams to eat?!

This ‘Do you work??’ is a question I handle from people in droves as it were on a day to day basis. Initially it used to amuse me no end. Then it made me wonder and now finally I am resigned to my fate. I must have ‘idler’ stamped on my countenance, though I have to admit I am no eager beaver type either as lazing around comes naturally to me. But then the other question puts this doubt to rest and throws up an entirely different line of thinking. There are those who give, ‘Do you work??’ the go-bye and directly go to ‘Where do you work??’ with so much of confidence that I am indeed a career woman. Am I supposed to feel flattered, the humble homemaker forever being mistaken for the ‘Working’ Woman??!! If I am in an expansive mood, which I generally am at all times, I reply naughtily, “At home!” leaving the questioner flustered and going ‘Oh ahh’ finding their assumption lying flat on its face on the sidewalk having slipped on that unseen banana skin.

Just the other day, I was traveling by train and this gentleman, who was my co-passenger, asked me where I worked. I did not dare joke with him, he being a senior lecturer and all that. Hence in accordance with the ways of the present world, I replied that I was not. “But… but…” he said, “You speak English!” Pardon me if I roll my eyes at this point. The ideas people seem to have about career women or homemakers for that matter amaze me no end. Or maybe he left some things unsaid, the fact that I was traveling on my own in spite of err… umm….. ahem… my advanced age!! So according to his convoluted logic, I simply had to be a working woman.

There are those suited and booted sales persons who come by wanting to talk you into buying all sorts of things the usefulness of which depends entirely on whether you are the seller or buyer. I hate clutter and don’t want to pile up unnecessary things in my house. So before they can even start off on their spiel I give my unequivocal “Onnum venda!” (Don’t need anything) They on their part ignore it and go on and on about this product and that, the memorized lines in English spilling out parrot-like, while they try to impress me, the lowly homemaker (who else would be home in the middle of the day??), while I interject a ‘venda’ here and there. When I have had enough of being polite, I firmly interrupt and tell them in no uncertain terms and in English, how they are wasting their time and mine and how I didn’t want the book or the steamer or non-stick cookware or whatever gobbledygook they were selling and why. They stop in their tracks, the sales talk forgotten for the moment. The lady speaks English! There is a new look in their eyes and then the inevitable question follows, ‘Do you work Madam??’ Shhhh, don’t tell anyone!! It’s a guilty secret that I hide as best as I can!!

Once I went to the paint shop. I got the varnish, different color paints and other things I needed to complete an art work I was working on. While paying the bill, the shopkeeper who has often seen me driving to the vegetable shop next door asked me, ‘Where do you work Madam??’ A couple of days back I was at the annual function of the Residents Association. I am new to this locality. Most everyone I was introduced to asked me, ‘Do you work??’ or ‘Where do you work??’ I stepped into Bank of India yesterday and the Manager asked me ‘Do you work??’ making my Lord and Master glance hurriedly at me and laugh a little indiscreetly. At these times, I merely smile, shake my head and say ‘No.’ The smile is optional, but gracious that I am, I throw it in for free.

This do you work question puzzles me no end. I mean, what the heck, is it not work if I cook, clean or whatever it is a homemaker does?? An esteemed blogger once nearly jumped at my throat for wondering out loud in The Non-Workers?? albeit in a tongue in cheek manner, why people insist on asking homemakers, ‘Do you work??’ when what they do obviously is work too. Housework is housework and everyone has to do it, whether a homemaker or a working woman, she pompously pointed out to me. Point noted humbly and taken in the right spirit. However it fails to answer my question. Why ask someone, ‘Do you work??’ when what she does is house-work?? Isn’t that politically and technically incorrect question?? The lady in question, obviously one of the champions of the ‘Working’ Women of the World, against whom let me hasten to add I have no complaints (so all those ‘Working’ Women who even now have silently and in unison lifted those paper weights with intent to harm may relax and get back to reading), my firm belief being to each his or her own, went on to say that people asked this question as a way of opening a conversation. Oh really?? Hmmm….. And then came an uncalled for clincher from the same esteemed blogger. “Unfortunately once you find out the person does not work somewhere I think most people simply run out of things to ask after that.”

Billions of Bilious Blue Blistering Barnacles!! Pestilential Pachyderm! Cushion Footed Quadrupeds! ” I exclaimed on reading it, borrowing liberally from Captain Haddock without permission though I am sure under the trying circumstances I was in, he would have commiserated and gladly helped me out with more of his colorful vocabulary were he present. I went so far as to accompany it with a little war dance after suitably painting myself in a suffusion of reds and oranges, all the fiery colors, with an imaginary spear in hand. “Great Flat-footed Grizzly Bear! Bald-headed Budgerigar! The lady means that homemakers are empty-headed and don’t make good conversationalists!!” I muttered to myself through clenched teeth, slowly beginning to resemble an aubergine in color. Fortunately for me, before I could die of apoplexy, I took a second look at what she had written and started laughing helplessly. If like she says, most people run out of things to say, doesn’t it reflect on their poor conversational abilities?? I mean, be fair. Should I morph into a Career Woman just so you can find something to talk to me, especially after a stupid opening like, ‘Do you work??’ How about a simple, ‘What do you do??’ instead, with a cheerful smile plastered on, if you please!!