An entire generation of confused women.

Each passing day, makes me realize how hard it must have been for my Mum. To be a homemaker. Day in, day out. Every single day. Without a break.

On Sundays, when the kids wanted their favorite fried treats, and Pappaa wanted to lie in and watch cricket and read the news.

On Eid and holidays when we’d entertain guests and she’d cook up elaborate, lavish spreads of authentic albeit incredibly time and energy sapping Malabari delicacies. At the end of it, we’d be almost thankless, and would instead nit- pick over dessert choices or the table-ware.

She’s always up at the crack of dawn. Cleaning, organizing, clearing away our mess, cooking, washing, ironing; she was perennially busy. And I wondered why she was always occupied. How utterly foolish of me, I now realize!

Eating out was an uncommon affair, one reserved for special occasions and for times when out of town relatives were visiting. I never once wondered how incredibly hard it must have been to put together three (or four!) ‘full- on’ meals a day, and have it piping hot for people who strolled into the home at different times of the day. Somebody comes in after hockey practice, someone comes in even later because they had their debate club meet; and another person walks in close to midnight because it’s audit season. All want hot, comforting food, on clean, dry, homey plates. And yes, most Indian dishes involve a lot of soaking, kneading, mixing, blending, grinding, cutting; in short they can be complicated and arduous. And this was a time, when mixes and pre- packed, frozen or “short- cut” (e.g.store- bought batter) foods were just coming into the market and were generally looked- down or frowned upon.

She did it all, with hardly a sour face. With no aspirations of a high- flying career (which she laments about now) or wishes for freedom from the chores and mores of domestic life; she lived out her young adult life dedicated to her family.

And here I am. Every time I do the dishes at night, I’m squeamish to admit, I feel a twinge of resentment. A smidgen of self- importance creeps in, and I feel “above” doing dishes. That I’m too qualified, too refined; that doing measly domestic chores is beneath my high and mighty self!  I quickly clamp the feeling down and seal them shut. After all, I do it out of love, and not force or coercion I tell myself.

Why does an otherwise family- oriented, well- rounded (hopefully!) family girl/ woman have such feelings of resentment toward homely duties and obligations? When did washing one’s own bathroom, or doing the family dishes become lowly. When does one become too lofty to fold their own underwear?

The fault, probably lies in our upbringing. Equal opportunities and equal treatment of male and female children, in a society where gender stereotypes are rife and real creates a whole generation of well- meaning but confused young adults. The woman wonders if it’s demeaning to be so educated and yet lead the the life of a stay-at- home homemaker. The man wonders if he will be judged by his family, relatives and peers if he decides to take a year off and be a hands on daddy at home.

In our current generation, we like to believe that there are no clear- cut gender definitions or gender- determined roles. We’d like to believe that there are perfectly content and happy families out there with stay- at-home dads and mothers who despise the stove. My generation of Indian women, not all, but at least my friends, acquaintances and peers, growing up, hardly ever spent a moment in the kitchen. We were never really taught to cook, sew, or fold laundry. I never washed a single item of clothing until I moved out of the home to pursue my residency in another city. I never cooked a meal, until I married, and moved to another country.

We’d like to believe that we have truly evolved into a gender- neutral family system and have left our “woman equals gatherer/ nurturer and men equals hunter/ provider” days behind.  Yet, ask any man and he will tell you that he feels obliged to bring in the dough every month, to be the primary bread- winner/ provider. And most women I speak to (including myself) admit to feeling the pressure to put some food on the table everyday.

No matter how much I try, every time we eat out or order take away, I feel a sense of failure. Failure to nurture my little family with lovely, home- cooked meals; meals that provide a warmth and homey comfort that no pricey, gourmet meal or cheap, tasty take- away can provide.

And there is this other aspect of gender stereotypes that we cannot seem to be rid off. Even if the woman slogs outside the home and brings in a big, fat paycheck, she is still obligated almost to make sure the home is tidy and organized. That the laundry is sorted, washed, folded and put away. That the sheets are fresh. The surfaces and kitchen counters are clean. That the fridge is stocked. The toys put away. A man doing these chores is a requested exception; most likely a one- off, emergency- dictated occurrence. At best they would make the effort but still leave enough for the woman to re-do or undo and at worst it would lead to a silly tiff!

Maybe the men are not to blame. Mostly likely, they are not inherently programmed to do all of the above. Maybe they do not perceive the mess and chaos as women do. Maybe perceived gender- roles are more ingrained in our psyche than we realize or care to admit.

Even with all the juggling and multi- tasking we do, we are not the superstars. The true superstars are the women before us. Who sacrificed their dreams, aspirations, desires and lives. Who devoted their lives to our upbringing and well being. Who were selfless and giving. Who have worked tirelessly for us to be where we are. We can never be them, sadly, but we can learn great lessons from them. Of patience. Of kindness. Of contentment. Of life.

I have no idea, where we women are heading to. We are not sure what we want from life. We are humans who were no different from our male- peers and competed with them in all aspects, and had similar aspirations; all until the day we got married of course. Thrown blind into the deep end of the new- age family structure, we are unsure of our role and place in this society and its family systems. Our dreams often collide with the future of our families’ and we almost always have to scale back the proportions of the vision our own selfish- future, to accommodate all the new entrants into our life. No matter how differently we think and behave as opposed to the women before us, we still have to do many of the same things they did. Most important of those- bear and nurture progeny. It is a fate we can neither fight nor change, for the continuation of the human race dictates we perform that role. And therefore, we are lost and confused.

Marital roles and motherly feelings are not often conducive to worldly conquests and scientific pursuit. The harsh truth is that, women will always have to work harder, faster, better, smarter; mainly because we just have more to do. And we almost certainly will have to step back a few times, slow down and then rejoin the race and run harder than ever before. We just have to. Or we could opt out and hope to flourish in roles that have been traditionally set out for us. It is a choice, one no more better than the other. Both hard. Both fulfilling.

Amidst all the inner- conflicts, mood- swings, decision swaps and womanly chaos, we must also thank our long- suffering, ever- supportive, eternally understanding partners. After all they are the other wheel of the proverbial bicycle of life, whether we like to admit it or not!

Till next time.

Dr J.

The world is my oyster.

Why, then the world’s mine oyster.
Which I with sword will open.

William Shakespeare

The Merry Wives Of Windsor Act 2, scene 2, 2–5

Women seem to be perpetually swamped. With words, thoughts, wishes, wants, desires, chores, work…

For long, I believed this to be an unique and peculiar endowment of mine. The gift of multitasking.

I’m told, it is not. It is neither uncommon, nor a talent. It is a banally common affliction of the female mind apparently. A curse. A malady that we, the females species, must endure and make do with all our lives.

We are constantly juggling, and shuffling, and balancing. The Man does one thing at a time, and focuses on doing it well. As well as he can. He has one ball (no crass, snide remarks and jokes on this please!) in the air; he throws it as high as possible and then puts in all his effort to catch it safe and sound. Meanwhile, The Woman has about half a million balls in the air at a time. To top it off, she juggles it whilst standing one- legged (working out possibly?) and makes do with one hand, as the other is busy applying mascara!

The Mister is constantly complaining about my scatter- brainedness. I’m all over the place apparently. Really? I’m known to be hyper- charged but cool and composed. I’m supposed to be someone that gets things done. Not really, apparently. At least, not to someone who knows me from close quarters.

No matter what I seem to the outside world, close up I’m a confused, procrastinating, inefficient mess. How I get anything done is beyond His comprehension, he tells me. I dilly- dally. I stall. I shillyshally.

But I get it done. Whatever it is. And well too. Does it really matter how much energy I “wasted” because of my female- mindedness? Maybe it is the female- mindedness that makes me “brilliant”…

I’m all over the place. With thoughts running a mile a second, and never sitting down to do one thing at a time; my actions and thoughts are fine examples of why the human- female- mind is a thing of marvel. A complex, hard- to unravel, undecipherable mesh of tangled and mangled thoughts and wishes.

If someone asks us what WE WANT, truly want; we have no clue. We meander along, with feigned purpose and will, while our mind drags it’s feet trying to decide and make mundane everyday choices and decisions. From what to have for breakfast, to the color of our socks or underclothes; the choices we have to make are infinite, the ramifications hard to predict or comprehend.

Still, we work. We function. Excel even. We honestly do things, that men can’t even begin to imagine. This is not a feminist rant folks. I have my own thoughts on gender “equality” and matters in that regard, this post isn’t about that. This is about gender differences. About how inherently different we are. We can never be the same. Men and women are poles apart in how they think and function. In modern parlance,we run on drastically different software.

Aah! How I wish I had The Mister’s software installed. It is a highly power efficient system. Hardly any energy is wasted on the unimportant (or so it seems). It never runs more than a few programs at a time, and all unnecessary (read “those that are not essential to existence and sustenance”) applications are uninstalled.

To a man, the world is his oyster. And he has a fine, fabulous, gilded sword to open it with.

The world IS my oyster too. The only problem is – I HAVE TOO MANY SWORDS ON HAND TO TRY AND OPEN IT!

Darned choices I say!

Till next time..

Dr J.

Back to work? Hang on, my “feminist” buddies. And thanks for the free advice!

I am on an extended maternity break. Not advisable for someone in a male dominated domain with high career aspirations, I’m told.

But the choice has already been made.

Now I face the consequences.

Of lagging behind my peers. Of being judged as not being “hard-core” enough. Of being a “low-aimer”. Of not being ambitious enough.

Blah blah blah….

I go from being the ‘one-with-great-promise’ to the ‘one-that-got-way led’. Ha.

Years ago, I was also told I wouldn’t land a residency spot. That marrying when I did  (a long, long time ago), was akin to career suicide. That long distance relationships do not work. That a non- Doctor husband would never understand the hours and demands. That taking a year off (to enjoy marital- bliss) before getting into a post-graduate program was stupidity.

More blah…

Sure…..Bite me!

I will not lie to you, my dear detractor cum envious discouraging “well-wisher”…My hands itch to wield a scalpel again. To palpate a mass…To explain a procedure to a befuddled, unsuspecting patient. I would even love to do the things that I once thought I disliked- empty surgical drains and urobags, pass urinary catheters, deal with a nagging post- op patient….

Do not worry my feminist fellow womankind, I have not traded in my scrubs or my aspirations. I’m still the hardest, craziest,  most ambitious nut on the block. The nut’s on time-out, that’s all.

The nut almost cracked a few months ago, it needs to recoup and replenish itself.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Running full throttle for a few metres will get one nowhere.

Except maybe collapsed on the ground.

Feminism and career do not mean neglect of family or giving up on family altogether. No. I chose to not travel that path.

I have no illusions of “having it all”. I do not dream of being a superwoman. A super- mom or a super- surgeon or a super- anything.

Superlatives are not my goal. A full and happy life is.

A life where I can tire myself in an OR and then come home at a decent hour.

Home to a loving family, not to a flat- screen and take-out food. Okay…maybe a giant flat-screen would be a nice addition to the family…

A life which involves travel and reading and music and books and all things I love…

A life of meaning and purpose…

A life of doing the best that I possibly can…

A life of moderate yet balancing sacrifices….

A life in pursuit of passion and perfection…knowing full well that perfection is an unattainable mirage.

A life of few regrets…

A life of my own…

Not dictated or foretold by anyone.

Do not tell me what should be or can be…

Do not mock, judge, criticise or  vilify my choices if they do not match yours…

My life is mine to live, friend…

So kindly, just let me be!

The fun lies in doing what no one else has done before….

Of bucking the trend…

Of breaking the mould,….

Of defying the norm….

Of forging a new path.

So please, let me just forge mine.

And thank you!

For the unnecessary, unwarranted, unsolicited advice my friend…

Till the next rant…

Dr J.