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In the Indian context, housework belongs to women. When at home, men merely loll in front of the television and give out orders for tea/coffee and also something to munch on while not moving an inch -well may be to retrieve the remote which slipped off your nerveless fingers while you dozed off for a moment – from where they have parked themselves on the sofa. This is nothing new. They are following the precedent set by their fathers and forefathers who lolled with newspaper in hand.

Unkind, you think? Perhaps. But it is still a fairly accurate description. Why else would leaders of more than a couple of states go on to publicly tell men that this enforced period of isolation in their homes, courtesy Covid-19, is not a holiday and that a little help at home would be a good thing.

A little help?

My eyebrows went up at the ‘little’. I do know something is better than nothing. But ‘little’ help. Really? I guess the leaders don’t want things to backfire, so are prudent in wording their requests. Rock the boat too much – in this case it can well be akin to a ship being tossed in rough weather – and they might end up having a minor revolution on their hands. Let’s vote this chap out in the coming elections. He wants us, the glorious creation of MEN, to do housework! Pah. No wonder then that they, the political leaders, try to make it palatable by requesting menfolk to do a ‘little’ something to ease the load of the women of their household.

Women too have always had their role in perpetuating housework as the sole field of women. Not that they have changed all that much in the present. Take the mothers-in-law. Their eyes roll out of their heads and pretend to swoon if they find their son so much as lifting a spoon. No kidding. I have seen it happening. If the man is a serial-doer-of-housework, his mother, instead of feeling proud and shouting from rooftops (My son! He is my son!), disowns responsibility altogether. It is all the daughter-in-law’s doing. Her fault. Oh my poor son. I never let you do any work growing up. What has SHE done to you! What has your life come to?!

Other women are no less. Perhaps it is jealousy getting the better of them. My husband does not even enter the kitchen, they say all pious like. What’s more, I don’t let him. Even those women who accept (or demand) help want the fact to be hidden from everyone else. I don’t want anyone to see you helping me, they say taking over the apron and sending him off to see who has rung the doorbell. Some of the other things these women attempt will be getting in the way when they see a man share housework, by shooing him off and offering to help the wife themselves. Never mind that they know jacksh*t about how things work in that house.

Now the men. They simply hate it when they see a man engaged in, and efficient, in housework. Unless of course it is a bachelors pad in which case a man is allowed to do the cooking and other stuff and also to brag about it till you are ready to shoot yourself in the head. If only you could find a gun. They empty the entire arsenal at their disposal to poke fun and mock the man who dares be different from them. Shaming him into joining their esteemed group of Those Who Loll becomes their obsession. You wouldn’t catch me making the beds, they say disdainfully. Why did we marry bro, to wash dishes ourselves? Mocking laughter follows. If the selfless-sharer-of-housework is not a strong one, he dies of shame by the end of the session and resolves to never do the dishes …at least not in front of his friends.

What’s worthy of attention here is the fact that a man who helps his mother/parents is never ever condemned by anyone, not the mother in law, not by women, not by male friends. Interesting, right? A wife though is different. No wonder a minister of a state had to come on television to request men to lend a helping hand to their womenfolk. And I say, shame on you, men (and also on you women who support such men).

My kudos to all the men, however few in number you are, who DO share in the housework equally, and also to the women who accept the involvement of their men.

© Shail Mohan 2020