The film titled 12 Years a Slave won several awards at the Oscars in March 2014, including the best picture award. Someone cracked a joke and said, Manmohan Singh should get an award for being ten years a slave (of Sonia Gandhi under the UPA government). Whatever it may be, everyone has forgotten about the housewife, a slave for the entire duration of her life.
Decades ago, on the day of the marriage when the son used to get ready to leave for the marriage venue, the custom was to take his mother's approval by saying, “Ma, tomar jonyo dashi aantey jachhi.” (Ma, I am going to get a slave woman for you.) It was said in a different context – because, the new bride was meant to be the new commander-in-chief of ‘domestic services’. She was there to take over the bunch of keys from her new mother-in-law. She was supposed to relive her from her daily chores, take over the household chores, and run the household (as the next slave, perhaps?).
After having been chained to the domestic routine for decades, the lady of the house was supposed to get some relief. But that was yesterday. Today, things are different. Even after the sons get married and bring home a daughter-in-law, even after the daughters get married and relocate, the aged parents’ duties never end.
The daughter-in-law goes out for work, pursuing her professional career. Who should run the domestic operations? The mom-in-law, of course! By and by, a ‘bundle of joy’ is added to the family. But the daughter-in-law can’t stay at home for ever. She must go to work some day. Who is to take care of her children? Why… the mother-in-law cum granny, of course. As for the ‘senior citizen’ father, he runs around outdoors, arranging for routine maintenance and repairs, payment of the bills and taxes, visiting the banks and the post offices. Trying his best to cope up (comply) with the deluge of new regulations imposed every other day by the authorities. The sons and daughters-in-law are too busy throughout the week, not to talk about how they spend their week-ends. Aw, come on,,,,,folks, give us a break!
Where the daughters get married and move out, the aged parents still have duties to perform. I know of a very sweet, engaging, aged couple whose children are all married. This couple (75 to 80 year old) are forced to spend the major parts of their retirement time in alien surroundings – in Singapore, Bangalore, or the US – where their sons and daughters live. This aged couple, as well as their counterpart (in laws), take turns to visit their wards – not to enjoy their holidays, but only to take care of the grandchildren while the parents of these ‘bundles of joy’ go at work (abroad, the nannies are very expensive, you know!). These 75 plus senior citizens intensely dislike upsetting their domestic routine and leave their comfort zone so frequently, making these tedious trips every so often. Yet, they hardly have a choice, do they?
The men-folk are entitled to ‘retire’ after serving a period of time at their work place. But a housewife turned mother-in-law turned granny (nanny?) has no such luck, no retirement age. She must remain enslaved to the ‘family’ till she is too old or too frail, till she can enjoy nothin’ no more.