Friday, December 28, 2007

the labours of sisyphus

“what are you doing these days?” they ask me.
“just house work, nothing much”, i find myself mumbling.
“ah! lucky you, chilling huh”?
“oh so you are taking a break, good for you!” some more well meaning friends say.
sometimes i find myself making a joke out of the whole thing, “i am just a housewife these days!”
“aah! but you know, you must stay active, don’t get too cushy at home, take a break, but you must do something…eventually… you know,” say some others.

here’s something for all you guys.
housework is a bloody awful lot of work.

there is nothing about it that is chilling. the only blasted thing about it is, it is not paid for. and if i were to be getting paid for what i do, i’d probably be able to buy that fancy bungalow i see in the by lanes of where i live, pretty soon.
and it gets my hackles up to realize that because of some blasted pre-conditioning, i see it as trivial and undervalue it myself.

so the buck really starts right here.
just a housewife. can we shoot that phrase down?
what is it about the nature of housework that it is seen in a light that is trivializing and even disparaging? for starters… it is not paid for. since it is not work that is economically, tangibly productive, it is not seen as work at all.

here is something that simone de beauvoir says that has stayed with me for a while, “few tasks are more like the torture of sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition; the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day. the housewife wears herself out marking time: she makes nothing, simply perpetuates the present”.

(in greek mythology, sisyphus was a king punished in the tartarus by being cursed to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll down again, and repeat this throughout eternity. today, sisyphean can be used as an adjective meaning that an activity is unending and/or repetitive. it could also be used to refer to tasks that are pointless and unrewarding… from wikipedia)

maintaining status quo and not creating anything that survives or lasts is the bane of housework. food that is cooked is consumed. order that is created out of clutter and chaos goes back to disorder and chaos. a cyclical, continuous perpetuation of the present.
couple this with the fact that our societal conditioning has dinned it into our heads in a bizarre pavlovian way that a woman is expected to do housework, and you have the perfect stepfordian system.

this is what i have been taught as a child. this is what i saw as a child.
at home, the men (my father and brother) did help around the house in more ways than one, but the onus of the housework lay largely with my mother.
my mother juggled a full time job, two kids and the housework. she did have some help, but the lion’s share of the work was hers.
and i continue to be amazed at how she did it. day after day, for scores and scores of years, she would cook all three meals, wash the dishes herself, clean and clear, wash and rinse, and also excel at her job.

women like me are at a rather uncomfortable crossroad. we combine all that is traditional as well as several notions of independence and equality. we are expected to be super women who effortlessly span the distance between the conference room and the kitchen with a dazzling smile and a new checkered apron.
we help bring the bread home and also cook it.
the men are utterly clueless. they have no idea how to confront this new hybrid mutant.
the men still subscribe to modes and conventions and yet are slowly emerging from the haze and confusion of gender roles and identities, but i can’t say if they are any wiser.

as a result of all this unbridled change i see relationships that are more fragile, diminishing self worth that is uncalled for and a fake sense of wellness bought by amassing material things.

it is time that we transcend these long held definitions of what and who we should be. it would be a good idea for starters to just be. not succumb to noise and popular opinion but get comfortable in the skin that we walk in.

easy as it may be to dismiss something and put a label of non-productiveness on it, it would be fair to give a thought to the countless women who strive for permanence and continuity, living half of their lives in the kitchen, raising children, sustaining entire households.

the nameless faces, calloused hands and futile labours of just a housewife.

Monday, December 17, 2007

round that bend...

i have gone and bought paints, brushes and paper. now they are sitting on my table.
i sat and painted yesterday. my hand wobbled as i put the pencil to paper. i have grown rusty. i had to use the eraser several times. this is sacrilege... at design school we are taught to use the eraser as little as possible. in fact we start with learning how to sharpen pencils!

i couldn't find a palette, so i emptied the ice tray from the fridge.
i love drawing and painting. and i have this notion in my head, that if i put my mind to it i could do a good job at this...
i rummaged around the premiere bookstore (a little cove on the street corner stuffed with towers and towers of tottering books, the smell is just divine...) and dug out some lovely old children's books. they say that writing and drawing for children is not easy... and i couldn't agree more.
as a child i had the good fortune to have my hands on some lovely russian books (thanks to my discerning parents) and i remember gazing and gazing at the pictures.
as a child the smallest and strangest of things hold your attention... i remember looking at squiggles at little corners, pictures of leaves, i loved looking at the lines, colours and textures.

i want to write and illustrate children's books. thats what i want to do.
over the next month or so, i need to sit and draw and paint.
and then hopefully i will tote my drawings around and look for work... well thats the plan really...
and insha allah... i will have found the right bend in the road.

Friday, December 14, 2007

essence and fluff

essence and fluff.
sometimes it takes time to make any discernable difference between the two.
but i have noticed that where there is considerable essence there is hardly any fluff.
what is fluff?
fluff is bright, cheerful and oh so pleasant!
fluff is the thick layer of cottony candy floss that chatters incessantly. fluff is all the artifice and false cheer pumped with three bushels of air. fluff is all conversations that we pretend to listen to. fluff is all the smart two bits that we casually let drop, so we are believed to have any essence or intelligence or both.
fluff is all the lovely looking drawing rooms with matching throws and drapes while the john in the bedroom is leaky and stained.
do you indulge in fluff?
i do. sometimes. but i like to believe i don’t.
is essence then the diametric opposite of fluff?
what does essence look like? what does it feel like?
for me it sounds like silence. it sounds like listening. it feels solid, and deep brown, like the earth i walk on… or the bark of that tree that i let my hand brush against. essence is knobbly and knotty and it has deep recesses that are not for public consumption.

i don’t know if essence is popular. i don’t know if you will take essence to a party.
fluff makes so much more an easier companion. but would you want to come back home to it? i really don’t think so.

i went to a calligraphy workshop today.
and the calligraphy maestro (which he is undoubtedly) sat back while his monkey troupe of sycophants hustled around. they showed two long presentations, the presentations were all about the man, his work and all the celebrities he had worked with.
there was an entire section on ‘celebrity credentials’, with slow dissolves, pictures of the maestro rubbing shoulders with bigwigs…
i stole a look at this man (infact, several), while everyone watched the presentations. he is a diminutive man; he was beating his fingers to the music in the presentation.
i have always wondered how one really feels when someone praises you to high heaven and falls short of kissing your feet. do they believe that they are really that good or is there a nagging little voice inside which says, “is this guy gassed? what does he really want? does he know what a @#$% i really am?”

the maestro then began to wield his brushes. and the truth is the man does not need any of this shit. he is really that good. he can but a toothbrush to toilet paper and make that look beautiful. with every line his brush marked, his stooges went, “ahhhh…” and the cameras went clicking non-stop.
what happens to essence when it is steeped in fluff?
is one better than the other?
do they need each other to exist?
i don’t know… all i am saying is that the earth beneath my toes feels good and the champa smells beautiful.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

a quick call

i quit my job in three weeks…
yes. just like that. that’s the time it took me to figure that this is not what i wanted to be doing. and there is really no point in doing something that your soul does not feel good about, is there?
i discovered some interesting things about myself over these 3 weeks.
i can’t do something that I don’t feel truly passionate about.
i cannot take orders easily.
artifice of any kind gives me ulcers.
my priorities are very simply my home and my loved ones.
i cannot, simply cannot sell/work for anything/anyone who endorses fairness creams and alcohol, dependency and dreams.
i need to write, write, write.
i am too old to unlearn.
i don’t want to chase after money.

i want the simpler things of life. a cheerful countenance, a happy home, time to linger, time to listen and contemplate…
and that’s where I am going.
again I am reminded of this quote by buckminster fuller “how often i found where i should be going only by setting out for somewhere else.”