‘So, what do you do?” the man asked in a very matter-of-fact manner. We had met for the first time and were exchanging pleasantries. “I work for a bank,” he had announced earlier and probably decided to direct this question to wriggle out of an uncomfortable silence.
Picture this. A woman, lounging on the sofa, drinking piping hot tea, flipping the pages of the latest best-seller while soothing music plays in the background. This is what I would love to do. Except I don’t. The image frolics in my imagination. And I have been dreaming this ever since I learnt to read.
I gave up a high-paying job 20 years ago when I realised that we may not be the couple who can juggle two jobs and a family. Some call it my anger, some others say that I never made peace with my past and therefore I come up with weird responses to “what do you do”, questions like “unemployed”, “home-manager” or “cleaner”.
“You work?” a few others have asked over the years. Like hell I do. Who do you think unclogged the drains, hit a nail nice and firm to steady the wobbly drawer in the wardrobe or managed to fix the puncture in the bicycle tyre?
Oh! I especially love the bicycle tyre story because it defies all gender norms.
Whenever there is a flat tyre Sid, my teenage son, usually calls out, “Ma. Don’t know if it is flat tyre or less air.”
Husband is flicking TV channels and I rise to the occasion — grab the little tool kit I need, use an air pump, check for air-leaks and voila, I fix it.
“How hard is it?” I ask with a smirk. Well, it is not nuclear physics, but heck, I love that adrenalin nonetheless. But I digress of course. I always respond to “work” queries with a smile and say “no” while my head shouts, “Yup. Had to clean up the messy toilet twice today!”
I have not been like this always. I was happy to be a student, typist (yes, there was such a thing), teacher, traveller. But then, a few years ago, when lil Sid enrolled in school the man at the counter who took Sid’s application asked me if I worked. I said, “Yes. At home.”
Call me a homemaker or a ‘WhatsApper’
The man smiled, grabbed a pen and scrawled out the word ‘homemaker’ against mother’s profession. Naturally, when I saw the word against my name I laughed in my head. Imagine going to college to become one! Problem making a home? Call 800 something? I pictured myself answering phone calls about homemaking problems. Although my home looks like it has been in a hurricane, it would be fun to give free counsel to others. But that day I realised I needed a name for my profession.
It is so much simpler to have a title role that you play out — actor, golfer, teacher — something that you do for most part of the day and you get to pick that as your title.
Given the latest screen time analysis that my phone gives me every week, I am actually a ‘WhatsApper’, although in my defence I have not really timed my other activities that I believe take a good part of the day — like asking the teenager to study and not waste time or arguing with the teenager about everyday things!
Well, the man was still waiting for me to respond. I think the man intended to know “if I hold a job that pays” and I was in no mood to prolong the conversation.
I heaved an unconvincing smile. I went through all the emotions inside my head, I took a deep breath and told him what he needed to hear. “I am a housewife.”
Sudha Subramanian is an author and freelance writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @sudhasubraman