Tag Archives: working women

The Hell In Our Mind

The Hell In Our Mind
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“Did you look at her ****? Asked my classmate.
We were in college. I felt blood rushing to my ears. What if my mother or father heard this? I thought.
“No, I didn’t. Why?” and there followed unnecessary volumes of gyaan.
This girl from a rich business class minority in India was one of the most meritorious in our college. She was also supposed to be very beautiful, and (now that my classmates had too much talk about it, I couldn’t ignore), also had a nice figure. There were fan clubs after her. Some were also jealous of me as she often talked to me and my friend Shafi after the college. She had a heart more beautiful than her smile!
Everything changed one day. She had a bad accident. Without helmet, she suffered many injuries to her face and had multiple fractures. She recovered well, but had a totally scarred face, a twisted arm and a limp as remaining deficit.
Like magic, all the fans disappeared. Her worth as a female in their eyes was suddenly reduced, thanks to her exterior. The attention shifted elsewhere.
Once, while walking back after college under a wet evening, she asked me “Do you think I am beautiful? Answer the truth, what you feel”.
Just as I paused for a second for the right words to say “Yes” without sounding artificial, she added : “Say no. Because I hate the word ‘beautiful’ now”.
From books to scriptures, from Hollywood to Bollywood, from cultures to parents, men and women have insisted that the only woman worthy of being a woman, the only woman worthy of living a life full of love, attention and praise is the beautiful, young woman with a great body who can bear children. Women who are not physically endowed, who cannot bear children or compensate for it by different methods, who are not earning for the family are considered equivalent of ‘useless’ in our so called civilised world. Rarely do marital ads desire “Honest, Truthful and Caring” people, we know what they all demand.
Where do others go, those who are not physically attractive? How do they accommodate to men or even women drooling over physically attractive bodies?
A lot of Zen taught me: “Everyone is beautiful but still think they are not”. 
But it did not answer why the humans evolved to love only the exterior. By no means that is any sign of intelligent evolution. A beautiful young lady gets a lift faster, a phenomenon amplified in movies, with her showing off more skin to stop traffic. Aren’t we missing the obvious?
Recently, in my OPD.
“Doctor, I am not considered to be alive. My being is useless. I have stopped eating now. Suicide is my only relief” she said, amidst unending sobs. “This world is made only for useful women, I am supposed to be useless”.
Very intelligent. Elegantly dressed, sharp in her grasp of the situation. Well behaved.
Last week she had had a blackout.
Her examination being normal, I had asked her carefully if she had any stress. The answer came out in the form of an ocean of tears as she choked, she still wanted to defend the secret that hurt her.
After a cup of water, she made up her mind. “Doctor, please never tell anyone, that I told this to you. I cannot have children. The doctors who treat for fertility are trying their best. There are issues on both sides, but my husband does not want to talk about it to his parents. They presume it is all my fault. Although my hubby is well educated, his parents are quite orthodox. It is four years since marriage, and now I have become the target in my own home. When my husband is out, I am left to bear innumerable taunts.. I tried telling my mother in law in confidence, but she declined to believe that her son had any fault. Now they want me to leave, but they cannot openly say so. Where will I go now?”
“My husband talks to me now as if I am some unwanted burden. He just snaps or shouts and prefers to stay away from me even when at home. We have a purely mechanical relationship now, where I serve as his robot. I never imagined such a loveless life”. She paused till another bout of humiliating thoughts were swallowed. “I was working when I married. I quit my job in anticipation of pregnancy. Now he says I should not join till I have at least one child. Work will increase stress, the doctor says it may affect my becoming pregnant”.
“You need to meet a counsellor together” I advised her.
“We did. My husband refused to see her again. My in laws use many bad words from different socio-religious contexts, so humiliating! My self esteem is all gone. Is a woman useless if she can’t have a child, Doctor? Do I become a lesser human if I don’t become a mother? I desperately want to have a child, I had so many dreams of motherhood, I am suffering this myself, but now I feel like an orphan with no one in the whole universe”.
I reassured her and sent her to a fertility specialist who was also an excellent counsellor herself.
With so many excellent facilities and experts now available for assisting fertility, treating infertility and aiding child bearing in every possible way, India is at the forefront in this field. Add to this the cheapest treatments compared to the developed world, and best trained doctors. Still, there are cases where couples cannot have children. All the blame is automatically placed upon the woman. Leave aside the inability to have children, the woman suffers “denial of human being” status with this fault of nature.
There are so many laws against discrimination. Yet, one of the worst open discrimination in the world is against people who are physically unattractive, especially women, more so if they cannot have children. The change has to start from within each of us. How we think, what we say and how we behave must all change to eliminate this discrimination, worse than racism, because it comes from one’s own!
Yo mama cannot be ugly, hence no other woman can be.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Housewife, or Outwife?”

“Housewife, or Outwife?”
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Isn’t your wife working? She must not waste her education.. She has such good opportunity..” he asked.
“Yes, she is planning to, but after the baby is at least three months old. We have taken alternate leaves. What about your wife?” I asked. I knew his wife was a qualified postgraduate doctor.
“Oh she wants to stay at home and look after the kids. There is no one else at our home to take care of the kids. My mom has knee pain. She feels that once the kids grow up to 10 years, then my wife should join duty. I said okay, anyways I am earning enough!” he replied.
“Then why did you ask about the waste of my wife’s education?” I thought, but didn’t ask. I was used to these questions.

Although a single now, I was once married. My parents had gracefully lived like friends till my father passed away, so there always was a culture of true equality without any “culturally sweetened” excuses at our home. “If at all there has to be a preference, and you two disagree, prefer what your wife wants” my father always insisted. So naturally she studied and worked as she wanted, made her choices. There were no discussions about superiority, neither any hidden rules of dominance at our place. This has a compromise: when both are equal, and there is no “dominance”, fights/ arguments over differences increase. Still this was any day better than a traditionally hidden slavery system.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

But there were these friends, relatives and strangers, who kept on continuing the evergreen Indian business of “frankly poking their noses” in our affairs. From advice about what to eat to when to have children, they all had individualised suggestions for us, notwithstanding the knowledge that we were both qualified doctors!

One of my uncles was famous for spending his whole life at home before and after work reclining in a sofa. His day started with shifting himself from his bed to the sofa, ordering his wife to ‘paste his brush’, make tea, heat up water for his bath, keep his towel in the bathroom (all this while he read newspapers or watched TV), keep his office clothes ready, make his favourite dishes for breakfast, tiffin and dinner every day, and telling her and everyone else how much he loved her. Although she was an art graduate and sung well, she didn’t get any time for herself beyond his chores and raising the four kids. As aunty herself smilingly said she enjoyed doing all this, other working women in the family kept on speaking about her in ‘belittling’ words, of her being lucky to be ‘just a housewife’. Every other day, uncle’s friends came home for dinner / drinks / card games etc., and aunty kept serving their culinary wishes.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

This very uncle was once chatting with me at a marriage ceremony. My grandma sent some tea with my wife to the room where I sat with this uncle and many guests, most strangers. As she handed over the tea to me, my uncle, in a ‘classified diplomatic high volume” voice, started: “Rajas, she is a doctor. She is equally educated as you. How can you ask her to make tea for you and bring it? Is she your slave? You must treat her as your equal”. As the whole room and over 40 eyes stared derogatory at me, I expected her to reply, but someone called her and she left.

I was reluctant, but one must never give up the wars for dignity.
“Why should she be a slave even if she is less educated or even uneducated?” I asked him. “Do you mean to say that a differently educated woman is doomed to be a slave? Why must your wife cook for you? Why must she be responsible for everything from your clothes to cleaning of the house to raising the kids, while you order her like a personal assistant? I have never even seen you getting a glass of water for yourself” I retorted. The ‘seniors’ in the room interfered, reminding me that this was not the way to ‘answer back’ an uncle.

Years passed by. We divorced. Kids with me, and an ever demanding career of a specialist doctor, I realised further more how difficult it is to attend to the house chores alone. From handling groceries, maids to schooling, how insufficient it is to have only two hands and only 24 hours. God helped, and I have survived.

This caused one definite change in my practice. While asking women the history, we were trained to ask “Are you working or not”? (and the usual answer used to be “No, I don’t work, I’m just a housewife”). Now I ask “Do you work only at home or also outside?” . Because I know the housewife works far more than the workwife, but without any remuneration or respect. The job of successfully growing up children is any day over and above any other!© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Someone has to look after the family. I can earn and provide as much as she wants. I give her whatever she wants. She has to choose a career with lesser responsibility, so someone is available for kids. She loves taking care of me and the children. This is our tradition, our culture. Men hunt, women nest”. There are so many sweet excuses of murdering a woman’s career! Well what most men hunt are women’s dreams and where most women nest are prisons with golden walls. The immense clever deceptive wordplay that goes into hiding the simple truth “I think women should look after home and live a secondary life while men have a free will” is amazingly accepted by even the best talented men in our society!

Be it doctors or any other profession, a “lesser career” for a woman is taken for granted by those who claim to love her.

“She should be happy about it: she has to just sit at home and enjoy, while I do all the hard work” said the national level director of a telecom project.

The second side: “I like doing it for my family” some women say, and if they do, how perfect it must feel!© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

It is not my business what others decide among themselves. But when people who “encage” their wives in the confines of a home start talking diplomatically about gender equality or why other people’s beautiful and able wives must start working etc., when they flirt with their officemates / colleagues while expecting wifey dear to keep dinner ready when they “return tired”, I cannot stop reacting without a sizzle in my words.

There are no easy answers for the ritualistic mindsets though.

One of my patients suffered with a very bad form of Parkinsonism, and was bed-bound for over five years. His perfectly healthy wife once broke down. “I have taken care of this man since the first day of our marriage, done everything he wanted. He was always busy, day and even many a night, outside the house, I have always been lonely all through so many years. I used to pray to God that I get some good time with him. The thought of making any friends, some other man never touched me. But he never talked to me about love. Never realised I was burning inside for true friendship with him. Now he is home all the time and wants me never to leave his bedside. But now I am tired. Now I clean him, feed him and just think: what had I done wrong to deserve this kind of a punishment?”.
When he passed away, we heard two reactions: “He is now relieved of his pain” and “She is now relieved of having to take his care”. What no one spoke was about the loveless, friendless 50 years of a woman’s life.

“You are so brilliant, hard working and yes, beautiful ,” said a senior professor, to a bombesque colleague friend of mine, gently patting upon her back, “you must make a great career.. Do let me know if you have any problems, I have many connections”. “Yes, Sir, may I ask what madam (your wife) does? Is she a doctor too?” asked my friend. “No, she stopped after MBBS. We married early, you see!” he replied.

Later that evening, as we sat at Nariman Point watching the sea, I asked her opinion about what the professor had said.
The breezes were noisy, and so was the sea, but the single word that she used for him made a hundred red faces turn towards us.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande