Dirty Dishes in the Sink: Of Mundane Chores and Muffled Cries

I wake up to a kitchen sink full of dirty dishes. I know they didn’t magically sprout overnight, nor did they slowly creep in as they do during the day – one coffee mug, one spoon, one plate at a time. Rather they have been lying there since last night – abandoned, unloved and untouched.

Every day, since the lockdown was imposed, I have been cooking three meals a day (okay, realistically it’s mostly two meals), washing and drying clothes, and sweeping and mopping floors. In addition, I am being micromanaged into clocking in 10 hours of work from home.

So at the end of the day, late at night, I am not my mother, nor my aunt nor any other women over 60. For these women wouldn’t leave those dirty dishes in the sink. My mom would wash them, wait for them to dry, wipe them down and put them back in the cupboard. No matter how much work she had done all day, it wouldn’t be an excuse to leave those dirty dishes in the kitchen sink.

I am consumed with the guilt of not being the woman she would expect of her daughter. I live in constant anxiety of not measuring up to the standards drawn up by the women in my family.  So when I wake up, I don’t wake up grateful, thankful or even happy. I don’t kiss my husband for the beautiful ginger tea that he has been religiously brewing every morning for the past three weeks.

I just wake up to a kitchen sink full of dirty dishes.

My mother ardently raised me with ambition, dreamed of me being an engineer, while my father went ahead and financed my MBA in the hopes of making me a CEO. On the other hand, in everyday actions, our mothers imbibe – by example – in us the rightful duties of a good wife.  She cooks, she cleans, she sweeps, she mops and never ever leaves the dirty dishes in the sink.

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It would be a blatant lie if I said I didn’t endeavour to be a ‘befitting wife’. Right after my wedding, I set out to create a home that looked like it was straight out of an IKEA store. I sheepishly created a Pinterest board for every room in my house; spent a couple of months worth of salary on matching the curtains to the sheets, the carpets to the side desk; hosted dinners and cooked gourmet meals; and, yes, I even tried the Konmari method of folding clothes.

I had wanted my new family to know I have been raised well. Yet in hindsight, it was indeed, a feeble attempt to be as adequate and efficient as my mother; in her eyes, and in mine.

Time heals everything, even insecurities. Over the years, I had unwittingly grown accustomed to Lakshmi’s 30 minute dusting-jhadoopocha routine. Swiggy deliveries, that had been reserved for the monthly get-together, had become a persistent indulgence. The sheets were a shade of blue that garishly contrasted with the orange carpets and green curtains. I had conveniently discounted my imperfections to juggling a full-time job, a three-hour daily commute and the new addition to our family, a white golden retriever.

However, in the wake of the lockdown, as we begin to live our lives as if the tape got rewinded to the 90s, my life is simulated to resemble my mother’s. I am endlessly cooking and cleaning, amidst working and working out. I have even baked the banana bread and whipped up Dalgona coffee. It would therefore be unfounded and rather unfortunate, at an established age of 34, to question the adequacy of my wife-hood.

Yet, the dirty dishes in the sink seemed to effortlessly do that exact thing; the sole purpose of their miserable existence seems to be to illustrate my inability to be the woman many of our mothers are – an ideal wife.

As the insecurity plagued my mind, like a smoky fog, I felt the urge to fix the broken pieces. And what do daughters do when they are dejected and lost? They call up their mothers.

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My mother ever so gingerly reminded me that her life had been confined to being a mother and wife, cooking, cleaning and caring; she neither had a paying job nor had she ever gotten around to reading a book on a leisurely afternoon. While she holds no regrets over her life spent caring for us, she made me promise never to choose a life of prioritising the dishes.

I felt relieved but also a bit ashamed; how dogmatic had I been in idolising an archetype, which failed to account for the new roles the modern women handles with ease. A modern woman is a daughter. She is a wife. She is a house wife. She is also a business manager, she is a calligraphy artist, she can whip up  French macarons in her sleep, and she unfailingly asserts her opinion on topics ‘inherently male’.

My mom’s words also left me wondering – did my mother also feel dejected that she doesn’t grind her own masala, something that my grandmother painstakingly did till her last years? Does she consider the washing machine an unrequited luxury for I still remember my grandmother walking with a bucket of washed clothes after her bath. And she always dried her clothes in the terrace, unlike me who crowds her clothesline in the balcony.

Maybe the guilt had coursed through generations, trying to live up to the ideals of womanhood; ideals that nobody dictated, yet staunchly imbibed. Ideals that are nothing more but a demon in our heads, a figment of our imagination.

If we can’t shatter the constrict of our minds, how are we to stand up against those who impose upon us. If we cannot shed the patriarchy imbued in our minds, we will just be our mothers – sacrificing our dreams in lieu of dirty dishes. But remember, the dreams and opportunities that we forfeit now aren’t just ours, rather they are the distant dreams of ours mothers too.

Let us not marinate in our inadequacies, let us not be our own gatekeepers, let us not be defined by the tidiness of our homes or the number of dishes we serve for lunch.

Let us be more than what we allow ourselves to be.

Archana Raja is a copy writer, academic instructor and an aspiring writer.

Featured image credit: Scott Umstattd/Unsplash