(As told to Anupama Kondayya)
Who doesn’t love vacations?
But when they are streaked with unnecessary worry, or preparation involving cooking and freezing meals for all the days of your vacation, or phone calls asking where a regular item in the house is kept, it stops sounding like that much of a vacation.
It happened to me when I was newly married and had been living with my husband for about three months. And then I had to be away. For three weeks. To go for my graduation in India.
Until we got married, my husband had been living in hostels and with roommates for nearly 10 years and was very comfortable eating outside. Every day. He loves food. So his food outside can get sumptuous often. Add to that the stress of his job and self-created odd long hours. It’s no surprise that he had been freshly diagnosed with high cholesterol. At 29.
Naturally, I was worried about going away. I repeatedly told him to cook at home for the three weeks and eat well. Avoid outside food. Who knows what oil they use? Right? To his credit, he did eat at home at least for a few days.
So it was just a worry about his food and health but that led to the question – why should it be so difficult and worrisome for wives to take a vacation for a few days when husbands have been gifted with all the faculties that are needed to be engaged in cooking and taking care of themselves?
Or doing the laundry for that matter. Dusting. Cleaning the bathrooms. Choosing furniture and upholstery. Deciding the décor. None of these activities that are essential to running a household is dependent on gender-specific faculties. And yet, most of these are usually gender-divided by social definition. Women are the queens of most households in India. They organize the meals, the feasts. They decorate the house. They may give out instructions and the men may ‘help’ them. But it’s women that run the house, right? They’re in charge.
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We decided to consciously change this in our marriage after my worry-filled trip to India about whether my husband was eating well, and many other realizations about how a gender-divided household might fall apart if one of us was away even for a little while. Missing socks/ties/keys/screwdrivers/bulbs anyone? It debilitates both partners to have a hard gender-divide in the house, we felt. So we decided to try and build an equal household.
An equal household where no one is responsible for anything but everyone is responsible for everything. A household where no one has to give out instructions but everyone does their part.
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Whatever needs to be done gets done by the person who notices it. No hang-ups about something being feminine or masculine. As far as our household is concerned, we are its two owners and we do whatever is needed to keep it in good shape. More than upkeep, it is critical that both partners know the workings of everything in their life together – at home or outside. No one is helping anyone. Because that automatically excludes one person from being a complete part of the household. We are being two equal partners in an equal household. The winds of change are surely blowing in many quarters, driven by need. We are hoping to be the drivers of change in our marriage instead of having it be forced on us.
So now we pick the décor together, something that resonates with both of us. When we move, we set the house together, every drawer in the kitchen, every shelf in the house, so that each of us knows what is where. It surely takes time in the beginning but it works like a charm afterwards. We cook together but it is not uncommon to see my husband cook for the whole day frequently if I am working on something, and now when he cooks he is never hollering for me to ask where the spice/ladle/can-opener/anything else is. Similarly, I don’t wait for him if a piece of furniture needs fixing. Sometimes I sweep and mop, sometimes my husband does. I don’t feel overwhelmed at all the things that need to go into keeping the house running like a well-oiled machine. Making life effortless takes some effort in the beginning. By doing things as needed by whoever notices them, we hope to get to a stage where no one feels the pain of it. We also hope that it gets us to a stage where one of us will gladly and capably take over everything when needed because our partner does so much for us at other times by just being a complete equal.