HAUSFRAU STRIKES BACK
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.
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.
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'."
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).