<%-- Page Title--%> A Roman Column <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 149 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

April 9, 2004

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Neeman A Sobhan

The other day, in Dhaka, I went to open a bank account for myself, having previously only joint accounts with my husband. My residual schoolgirl memories of Stephen Leacock's famous humorous article about opening a bank account, 'My Financial Career,' surfaced but failed to cheer me up. Filling forms, even the innocuous airline disembarkation card, always fills me with formless anxiety ---- a carry-over from exam taking nerves. Now, faced with the forms at the bank, some of my neck muscles tightened involuntarily. As it is, the last time my husband and I filled out forms at the bank, I was made acutely aware of my mortality. We were brusquely asked whom we would nominate in case of the d-d-d-demise of either or b-o-t-h of us, and I was left with a trembling lip, tearfully imagining my poor sons left to face a world where I wouldn't exist! What a bleak and apocalyptic world it would be… Oh! Bankers are cruel, ungentle people.

Yet the gentleman helping me fill the form was actually quite gentle as he patiently led me through the maze of Present Address ("Yes, Apa, your address here in Dhaka, and not in Rome!" Sorry, just asking in case it was a trick question.); Permanent address (he deftly skirted my metaphysical mumblings about who-on-this-earthly-abode-could-claim-a-permanent-address with a quick "Just put down your present address."); Father's or Husband's name (I chewed the end of his ball pen wondering why either? "Take your time," he yawned and I thought he meant depending on who your role model of the moment is: the former or the present Head of State); Mother's name ("We want your husband's mother's name, not yours." I'm crestfallen.); Mother's Father's name ("Your mother's father's name." My crest fails to rise.); Father's mother's maiden name etc.

I forgot to mention that the electricity had fled while we were metaphorically sweating over the forms and now we were sweating earnestly. By the time it came down to filling the line demanding my profession, my gentleman had been reduced to losing not only his tie but also his prefix. Given my snail's pace of form filling and the heat, the man rather un-gently tried to rush me by telling me "And here just put down 'Housewife'."

Now, under normal and air-conditioned form-filling circumstances I would not have given a second thought to putting down exactly that noble profession, but coerced by a member of the tick mark box 'M', I rose to the full flower of my tick mark box 'F' and seized my pen to write with a flourish 'Journalist/Columnist.' "Oh! Sorry Apa, I didn't realise." He gushed straightening up, while respect snapped back into his bored eyes like a stretched rubber band as if I had just stated my profession as 'Prime Minister.'

His reaction gave me pause to think. I wanted to ask him: in what way is my identity as a woman perceived as less when seen as a homemaker, yet grander and more deserving of respectful apologies when seen as a professional? Is the job of, lets say, a Prime Minister more deserving of respect than that of a homemaker? Shouldn't the bottom line in both be how successfully and professionally they performed their jobs?

Hey, I know some pretty useless so-called 'professional women' holding the highest public offices whom I would try to respect if they ran the country as well as I, a mere housewife, ran my household. I can say with confidence that given just the shell of a house with the barest minimum of furniture and infra-structure, and a tight budget, I'd still be able to create out of it a simple but well-ordered, functioning, aesthetically pleasing and happy household. With political authority I could do the same for my country.

What do you mean, oh! Yeah? Listen, in my home every member eats at least one square meal a day and no one goes hungry. In my house there is always pure, non-arsenic tainted drinking water for everyone. There are no potholes, manholes and over-flowing garbage in my living room floors. At my residence, no one is brutalized, not even the dogs much less the underdogs, even if they bark and strain at the leash. The plumbing and electricity under my roof work efficiently.

I drive my own car, both the metaphoric one of destiny and the real one, and do not get driven around to avoid the traffic jammed streets of my country or my life (and I certainly don't cause traffic jams by addressing crowds in the streets!). In fact, I face the ground realities face-on and solve problems everyday.

I don't act like one but I am nevertheless the queen of my household and my home reflects my pride in it, thus the rooms of my house are not dirty and shabby while I pretend not to be a part of the mess around me but a privileged guest in my own home!

I keep the discipline in my house and don't just live on the top floor turning a blind eye to my unsupervised staff looting the pantry and embroiling in kitchen politics. If there are loud voices and backtalk among my employees or other family members, I listen to them and impose rules of justice, law and order with a view to creating a peaceful and liveable environment.

I know of at least two women executives, who at the pinnacles of National Managerial Positions, could have learnt to deal with their domestic crises with the wisdom, charm and tact that many shrewd house wives employ with their staff, in-laws, neighbours, husbands, ex-husbands, tailors, ex-tailors, shop-keepers, service providers and other members of the opposition.

I know some little housewives who, with less power than that invested in some influential women with high public profiles, are able with the dint of their intelligence, commitment and compassion to improve the lives of the people dependent on them; to beautify the part of the world lent to them as their sacred responsibility; and to inspire hope among those who come within their sphere of influence.

Friends and guests at my home bask in the comfort of my hospitality, and my children eagerly wait for holidays to come home, never wanting to leave except because they have to. I would like to see the head of a country say that about her emigrating people and about her visitors.

These days a woman has many roles, but the nurturing one of a homemaker is the most unique and challenging one as well as the one with the most direct repercussions. Well-run households can be models for a well-run society: a housewife's professional skills should be emulated at the highest levels.

I have done many fulfilling things but what gives me most satisfaction is to have been a successful housewife. Yes, better to be a prime hausfrau of an efficient establishment than say, an ineffectual Prime Minister of an unkempt and messy country. If someone would run the country the way sensible and house-proud women run their homes, Housewifery would not be a profession but a form of government.

Ahem! I intended to say all this to the poor sweat drenched bank manager sitting across from me. I decided not to. And that's the end of My Political Career.

(The writer’s book of collected columns 'An Abiding City: Ruminations from Rome' is available at OMNI BOOK's new location: House 4G, Rd. 104, Gulshan, Dhaka).




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