My grandmother or Amma as I called her is a fiery matriarch. As a child, I’d wake up on Sunday mornings, to the sound of crashing pots and pans that she flung around, out of anger. This was the time when children like us still loved the idea of spending idyllic weekends away at our grandparents’, and run around in sun-bathed terraces, tightly tucked away in North Kolkata’s many by lanes.
If one paid attention, they could hear her mumbling away the various problems that the absence of a domestic help on a lazy Sunday morning could bring. But then, there was always Dadu to the rescue. Dadu with his quiet socialism and ardent love of books. Dadu of the sparse lines of poetry he’d occasionally recite, from a little yellowed notebook he always carried around with him. Dadu, a refreshingly feminist Bengali man, the only one our family had.
Dadu was the better chef amongst the two and when the mutton stew didn’t come out that well, Amma could always fall back on him to save the day. So when, on particular Sunday mornings, I’d wake up to Amma’s seething anger, I’d be quietly surprised. Wasn’t Dadu around to help her with the things at home?
As the new year slowly crept in, and I found myself at the edge of yet another decade, I quietly wondered, do men like my Dadu still exist?
In his heydays, my Dadu was a Communist, and when Bengal was still in the livid grasp of the CPM, Dadu could often be found in meetings and in club-ghors where politics and literature frothed in a heavy mix of ideas. But at the beginning of the 21st Century, major upheavals came up in Bengal’s politics, and with it, a gradual decline of Dadu’s health.
His age of rest and relaxation gradually led to Dadu spending more time in what he loved best: cooking and reading. And so there followed endless multitudes of recipe books and grocery lists and stained utensils, and the occasional Christmas cake he’d bake, only for me, his favourite.
Men like my uncle and father would often smirk in amusement. Watching a 65-year-old man tottering about the kitchen while my Amma practiced on her harmonium, without a care in the world, must have felt extraordinary. For, men like them couldn’t fathom the idea of cooking and cleaning the house while their wives engaged in other delicate matters. It was simply unheard of!
Today when I observe my mother and her sisters slowly adjusting to the gender roles that society has subjected them to, I’m saddened, heartbroken and disappointed. For my Dadu had brought them up differently, had taught them to reject roles and stereotypes, to pursue what their heart wanted and to only do what they thought best: even if it meant making sacrifices and leaving the comforts of home.
What changed? Nothing did. It has all been the same. It was only my Dadu and Amma who had, for a little while, shown me what liberty and equality truly meant. What having a voice meant. What dissent meant. What harmony meant. And I’m all the richer for it.
Aindrila is a 23-year-old Bengali who lives in Delhi.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty