I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men, they are far superior and always have been.
- Sir William Golding
Bengalis, with the exception of a few, will tend to agree with the above. Right from Sharatchandra’s women protagonists to Bankimchandra’s Debi Choudhurani, we see a whole gamut of emotions and virtues that the female characters display. Many of them were the epitome of beauty, compassion, patience and courage in the face of adversity. The authors celebrated their triumphs and tribulations. But even the most depraved women characters had some redeeming quality about them.
An average Bengali kid is raised with the stories and displays of a ten-armed goddess year after year – a different weapon in each hand, each serving a different purpose. The sight of a woman in power mounting on a ferocious animal like lion and slaying a demon at her feet – what kind of feelings do they evoke in a child’s tender heart? Reverence, fear, awe, shock? May be. Definitely, it makes a lasting impression! At such a sight, while a boy may learn not to evoke the fury of womenfolk in general, a little girl may think of the power she can have and the many ways to wield that.
The purpose of this article is however, not to extol Bengali literature heroines, nor to sing paeans to the mother goddess,. That we have been doing since eons. To be absolutely honest, the purpose of this one is to give myself a pat on the back. That’s right! I have written an entire article just to give myself and others like me a little credit for trying to measure up to such ideals. I’m a mere mortal. I don’t have the strength of a goddess. Yet I, along with countless of my counterparts, try to fight the demons of modern life.
Women like me are racing against time from the moment they get up and till the time they retire to bed. Especially in a country like the USA, where there are no domestic help available and where help in the form of extended family is limited, if at all available. জুতো সেলাই থেকে চন্ডী পুজো – (A Bengali idiom: From mending a shoe to performing Chandi Puja) – everything has to be taken care of under the discerning eyes of the mistress of the household! Surely, the master of the household does his share. But fortunately or unfortunately, we are not all married to Mr. Perfectionist! Moreover, the volume of tasks ensures that it will overwhelm even Mr. and Mrs. Perfect.
Let’s start with the basics. Globalization and increasing financial prosperity has ensured that we are exposed to many facets of life unimaginable even a few years ago. Our tastes have expanded, so have our demands and items in our wishlists and hence, so have our day-to-day tasks and To-do lists! Cuisines, wardrobe, vacations, forms of entertainment – we see more, we know more, we crave more. If a trip to Puri or Goa used to be talked about fondly even many years later; nowadays we feel our life would be in vain without that trip to Europe or Egypt! If a few sarees once a year during the Pujas delighted our Ma-Mashis, today we are not satisfied unless we have the best of Paithanis, Jamdaanis, Kanjeevarams and designerwear from all parts of India, not to forget branded westernwear from top stores.
We don’t consider ourselves to be cooks at all unless we have tried our hands at making 10 types of Dosas, 12 types of Biryanis and 20 types of cupcakes – not to mention Chinese, Italian and Mexican dishes! Advertisements and promotions bombarded every minute have made sure that we keep watching out – both online and offline – for the latest apparel sales, grocery coupons, discounted cruises. As if it was not enough to be glued to Ipad and smartphones 24/7, we have a new demon to face in the form of social media. Balancing the art of Likes and Comments will put to shame even the most competent tightrope walker. If you forget to Like for the umpteenth time your best friend’s daughter’s piano recital, who knows what she might make out of this act, er, inaction of yours?! Holding on to a job is not enough any more for a woman; role models of the ilk of Sandberg, Hillary Clinton, Indra Nooyi beckon us to climb yet one rung up the corporate ladder, to break yet one more glass ceiling.
If you are a mom on top of this, it is a different ballgame altogether! We become a doctor, a nurse, a counselor, a teacher all rolled into one, caring for our kids’ physical, mental and intellectual health. Every mom can negotiate like an astute diplomat for every lollipop her toddler daughter wants, every video-game her teenager son fancies. We are ready to chaperone our kids for their Bharatnatyam or Bollywood dance classes; for karate or swimming lessons; for birthday and sleepover parties; for Kumon or Mathnesium classes. Every non-resident Bengali mom worth her frozen-Hilsa-from-Bangladeshi-stores eyes for the best of schools and colleges for the apples of her eyes.
Did I forget to mention about the wellness aspect? Yoga, Art of Living, mind-body balance, meditation – we are not ‘in’ unless we are in one of these. Whereas an inability to fatten up and continuing a slim figure post-marriage indicated unmistakeable marriage-troubles in a bygone era, today’s mom-of-two-kids gives Bollywood actresses a run for their money. After all, যে রাঁধে, সে চুল’ও বাঁধে । (A Bengali adage: One who cooks, also ties her hair)
If you ran out of breath just by reading all the aforementioned tasks, just imagine how multitasking and full of abundant energy the Devis of modern times have to be in order to actually accomplish them! That’s why, I say, for the Dashabhuja Devis around me -
Ya Devi Sarva Bhuteshu Shaktirupena Sansthita,
Namastasyayi, Namastasyayi, Namastasyayi, Namo Namah.