I, the Domestic Tyrant

I have always wondered why women opted for marriage. After all, post the saat phere, it is as if the script writer had suffered a quick change of heart while everyone was engrossed in the mantras being read. Then came days spent talking to the washing machine (who else would talk to a wife?), evenings spent watching Cartoon Network (by the time the baby graduates to Nickelodeon, you’re hooked), seeing your future in a pan of boiling tindas (they seem destined for a more interesting end – at least they’ll get to know the inside of a man) and studying the future of the world in the dust mites making a home on your sofa. All this for the dubious pleasure of sex when you don’t want it? Nope, it seemed like a bad deal. So, I opted for what I thought was the quick and easy way out – the career woman’s role. Living with either my mother-in-law or my mother and letting them rule the dust, while I meandered on the fringes of housewifery, stoutly resisting any attempts to enrol in the club, but offering my advice whenever I could see it was urgently required.

And so life rolled by. Till recently, when my mother went off on a long, seven-week holiday and left me – for the first time in my life – in charge of my own house! I was a little overwhelmed by the responsibility and she, very patently worried, was shouting instructions even as the train pulled out of the station.

But four of the seven weeks later, things are beginning to fall into place. And I am beginning to see why women get married and, more specifically, why my mother was so worried about leaving me to my own devices.

Let me explain this simply: A housewife’s job is like that of the CEO of a really big company – power without responsibility, well too much anyway. As a housewife, you wield power – huge amounts of it. And over the years (weeks in my case), as you discover more and more ways to wield that power and make it grow, you get addicted to it.

The power lies in the simpler things of life. Like rules. “No burgers unless you finish off that milk,” I told the husband and son – aka the Deadly Duo – one day soon after my mother left. And to my eternal surprise, the milk was meekly polished off.

The Deadly Duo are willing to do anything – almost – for an unvaried fare of ice cream, burgers, Tandoori chicken and pizzas, I found. And once I’d discovered the magic karela could work, I was even enjoying my new role. “If you don’t get your clothes cleared, I’ll make karela for dinner” was enough to make the son’s room look like land where no man had been before.

There are problems, but not without compensations. The cook, or princess as the son calls her in a rather feeble attempt at wit because her name is Rajkumari, is rapidly getting miffed. Used as she is to my mother’s two sabzis-one dal-twelve rotis, twice daily, prescription, these long bouts of just rotis or just dal or, even worse, no cooking at all are beginning to sting her professional pride. She has cleaned up my entire kitchen twice to her satisfaction. And a dust-storm last week had her in raptures, practically cooing at the dish-cloth, as she brandished it energetically all over again.

When my mother comes back, she’s going to be astounded at how my, oops!, her kitchen shines. Another round to me!

But last week came the piece de resistance. I came home from work to find the parathas, made for the Deadly Duo’s lunch, wilting in the summer heat. The husband wriggled his way out, saying he’d had appointments all day, and the son, saying it had been too hot to eat.

I entered the bedroom to find the bed littered with chocolate wrappers, an empty one-litre bottle of Coke, plus an empty tiffin box with the remnants of the egg sandwich the son had taken to school that day. It didn’t need Sherlock Holmes to decipher why it had been too hot for him to eat his legitimate lunch. In addition, I’d had a bad day in office, and the prospect of eating stale parathas for dinner was not even remotely tempting. So I did what all CEOs do when the subordinates act up: let loose.

For a whole week since, the whole house has been spick and span, the Deadly Duo jumping to attention whenever I even turn their way. The son, who’s normally a major fan of Maneka Gandhi, has not offered one reason why he should not drink two glasses of milk a day. Tiffin box is punctually in the sink before I enter the house. He even comes shopping for veggies so he can carry the basket for me. As for the husband, he got up at 6.30 am two days in a row to pack the brat off to school. “You sleep,” he murmured solicitously. And, miracle of miracles, the day after the great outburst, he was home on time and didn’t touch the printed word all evening.

No wonder my mother was worried. So much power cannot be handed over carelessly. In fact, I’m fairly certain that now, when she gets back, I am not handing back the reins to her. This is one trip I’m hooked on!

First published in The Financial Express.

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