(Names changed to protect identities)
I am the quintessential Indian male who is conditioned to be a provider at any cost. My value system does not let me be otherwise. In the bargain I have become a ‘Kolu Ka Bail’ or an ATM card for my family.
It was an arranged marriage and I had chosen Sita after meeting 120 prospective brides. The main reason besides the chemistry was that she belonged to a middle-class family that assured me of her not turning into a typical ‘babe-of-the-society’. But alas, as we began our married life in a posh apartment in an elite locality, reality began to surface. “Darling, can I buy this designer dress for the get-together planned with the family?” she would ask in our shopping spree and I would readily agree. However, the frequent trips where I turned into a porter soon became a nightmare. This is because on refusal she would sulk for days and hold it against me by withdrawing sex in the bedroom. So I started giving in, which has cost me a lifetime of punishment.
It has been 20 years now and I have been fulfilling all the demands of my family, however unreasonable.
“Papa, how can we have fruits, as there is no kiwi and mangosteen, today,” said my elder son often in a chirpy voice as I smiled at the apple of my eye. “I like the T-shirt but it is not a ‘Leeeeevis’,” my younger son would go, throwing a tantrum as his mother coaxed me to buy only branded stuff for him. My love for them made me go to any length, as I could afford it all.
It was also the only way of emotional fulfilment for me, as care, concern and affection came my way only when I fulfilled the demand list. Otherwise, the scenario at home would change. Sometimes I would not get meals on time even with servants around. At other times the customary welcoming glass of water on arrival at home started doing the disappearing act. Eventually, I started helping myself with this and a lot of other chores, besides being the provider, as nothing seemed organised at the home front. Why do Indian housewives while away their time gossiping on the phone, attending kitty parties and making a list of ‘wants’ for the sake of one-upmanship? I started wondering.
“Hitu, this summer holidays it has to be an exotic foreign destination, as all our children’s friends are talking about theirs.” Or “Come on Hitesh, how can you even think about not throwing a birthday bash for our own child!” my wife would say time and again in her falsely soothing tone as she gauged me shrewdly. Such emotional blackmail made me resentful. Is this what is prescribed for a ‘dependent’ in Indian culture manuals?? Be it wives, children or girlfriends; all just want to sponge the men dry. Why? The parasites thrive if the man happens to be a gentleman. Why don’t they understand how much we stretch ourselves to fulfil their wish list? To maintain my mental stability I always used humour and joked often about whether Ekta Kapoor was inspired by Indian housewives or vice versa!
Suddenly recession struck and I had a downward financial journey after losing a chunk on the share market. High blood pressure now became my constant companion as my life partner resented the change in life style and viewed my curbing as cribbing.
Related reading: 10 reasons why Indian couples fight
Bickering and arguing has become the new way of life with us, as we all remain wired into our own world. My sons, who are no longer teenagers, think it is my duty to fulfil all their whims, like buying them the latest cars and fulfilling their fantasy of a fashionable wedding.
I live in disillusionment and pray that simple values loaded with genuine emotions return and my house at least once becomes a ‘home’. I hope like I have fulfilled my duty of a provider, my wife too fulfils her wedding vows and stands by me in the real sense. Last but not the least I wish our society does not succumb to consumerism and status consciousness and instead gets real and lives by values that will nurture relationships.
Related reading: Empowering women: Are we doing it right?
(As told to Darshana Doshi)
Deepak Kashyap says,
This is a textbook example of how patriarchy is bad for men as well.
If one is to look at it without the gendered glasses, it is quite apparent that any social system, whether matriarchy or patriarchy, that functions on oppression by the means of infantilising, patronising or any other way that takes away the individual’s agency to choose their own lives with a reasonable degree of independence, will create dependents. Different people choose to deal with the burden of their dependents differently. It’s a classic case of Karma, not in a supernatural sense of retribution for a past life, but in the sense that every action has a consequence and inaction has a consequence too.
I would suggest that you actively help your wife find a job, while you learn how to be assertive without the fear of losing affection from the family. That is borderline emotional abuse, anyway, and needs to be addressed through communication and not commodities you buy.
Financial independence is important for every adult to feel a sense of control and security in their life. Often, when people do not earn for themselves, they can develop an unsustainable view of and relationship with money. That’s largely corrected when we earn money by the sweat of our own brow.
Polite assertiveness on your part and active encouragement for people (wife and kids) to reasonably fend for themselves is what will work for you.
Deepak Kashyap is a counselling psychologist and a certified life-skills trainer with a private practice in Mumbai, India. He is also a published columnist in national newspapers and magazines, writing about issues related to sex, mental health, relationships, and emotional disturbances. He also serves as a counselling expert with Bonobology.