My family of four was gearing up for the second wave of the virus. When we decided to ask our domestic help to not come for a while, we also discussed the breakdown of daily chores. My father, quite unexpectedly suggested that half the kitchen work would be done if we all just washed our own dishes after every meal.
My father has usually been a typical patriarch in such matters – these were the words of a man who would hardly ever get up to put dishes in the sink after eating.
I smiled, feeling happy over this positive change.
At around 4 pm, after everyone had had lunch, he came to the kitchen and did the rare act of putting his plates in the sink. He then began to walk away. I reminded him of the previous day’s discussion. In the name of ‘cleaning his leftovers’, he just turned on the tap and let the water flow into his bowls. Instinctively, I rushed to stop the water and in keeping with my daughterly-manners, I said, “If you’re going to do this, you better do this properly.”
We argued for a while and the short, somewhat funny exchange ended with him declaring that if we wanted him to help with the chores, we better overlook the little nooks – and that would be the “one condition”.
My first instinct was to take the scrub from him and do it myself. The cleanliness freak in me couldn’t bear to see him make a mess out of the kitchen. But more importantly, seeing my father standing above the sink, with his sleeves rolled up – it was a sight I wasn’t accustomed to. And like any other new and unusual thing in life, I treated it with primary rejection.
But the moment I took the scrub from him, I had a succession of epiphanies – one that I knew I would remember for a long time. It led to my writing this essay, after all.
My first instinct was something that came from a place of nurture; our upbringing in a society that treats the women of the house as domestic help, and the help as slaves. It is a place buried deep beneath layers of our education, even for an aware member of the present-day community who refuses to comply with wrongs and fights for the rights of those subdued by those wrongs.
What I did next was a result of the memories of seeing my mother being buried under so much household work that she, once a highly qualified lecturer, couldn’t possibly think of doing much else – let alone a personal life or dreams and ambitions. It came from a place that knew of stories of men who demand a slave’s submission from their wives.
From that place of knowing erupted a wake-up call that provoked me to let my father do his share.
His words – “I’ll help only if…” – were nothing new, but they were new in my infant literary mind. They struck a chord with my intolerance towards silent acceptance, which had only emerged this fiercely after beginning to study the discipline of English literature. Then it hit me, like a rock from a mile above, that what I choose to do at this moment – let him do the work, however menial, or take over and allow him to smirk in his patriarchal triumph – will, by a minuscule, yet heaps, shape my daughter’s upbringing and my own place in my future household.
I love my father, for none of this can ever make me ignore the absolutely amazing father that he is – unlike so many others. He has never made a distinction between my higher education and my brother’s; he has always put the same pressure on me for a good career and self-sufficiency like he has on my brother. I’ve never been refused any sum of money for anything at school. Not once have I been told to cut down the ‘lofty ambitions’ that pompous men think girls have, and do something that will allow me to ‘remain a woman’. And that is the kind of father we need more of today.
But in that moment, both the logic and far-sightedness of science, and analytical curiosity of literature took over me. Perhaps I knew that this tiny, almost insignificant moment would remain with me for a long time.
It would be one of the many stories I’d tell my girl as she grows up. Like my mother did.
Only with better decisions, and the same lessons. Freedom. Fire. Faith.
That even the smallest decisions can be the bravest choices. Every step matters.
Thanks to my mom and dad for making me the young woman who knew when to reject rejection of a sight previously unsighted.
Aditi Jain is a first-year undergraduate student of English Literature at IPCW, DU. An avid reader, she is deeply interested in poetry and british literature (not a colonial hangover). In March 2021, she published her debut collection of poetry ‘Chaotic Cosmos Volume 1’ with Olympia Publishers, London.