My grandmother was a pleasantly lean, tall woman; my earliest memories of her are in an elegant deep purple kosha-podavai*, treading lightly around the house and praying silently in the black-floored pooja room. I have not known her as anything but demure and soft; she expressed excitement and anxiety in the same mellow tone. It is for the same reason, I never believed that she had once upon a time, spent hours grinding dosa batter in the antediluvian aatukallu**, now safely fallow in the backyard of my paternal home.
I have always pictured the women, handling the aatukallu, ammi# and antique air-blowing firewood stove, to be loud and brawny. These instruments need all the endearment, patience and physical power a woman can possess; and it only seemed to further my belief by the fact that my grandmother had suffered from chronic asthma worsened by the years spent under the firewood stove. It makes me wonder if women forget to take care of themselves when they are taking care of their family?
My aunt used to travel 6 hours by train one way to go to work and come back, just so that she could cook food for her family the next day. It didn’t matter that she might reach home when her child was fast asleep and she was gone before he wakes up the next day. As long as he had her hand-cooked food for support he knew that she loved him. In the toiling, sweltering pune-bombay and Bombay locals, how many times have we not witnessed women cutting vegetables and preparing half the meals, just so that when they reach home after a tired day, they can do everything for the same families, they are out earning to feed!
Have you ever stopped to think for a second before commenting on how much she (whoever she is) has put on weight/lost all her hair/turned pallid after her marriage, on why it is so? She must have stopped caring for herself, she might not be finding time to gym, she might be swarmed with familial interests to find it too selfish to think for herself! And yet we conveniently blame her for not being proactive enough to lay the dinner table for her husband, for not pulling a Paula Deen for her kids and yet expect her to look like a stunner.
I am talking about women who have taken pride in being a mother and wife, who have and are fulfilling their filial, wife’s and bread-winner’s duties to near-perfection, losing themselves in the bargain; losing themselves with pleasure! For isn’t she always caught in the unstoppable wheel? Be it my grandmother, who toiled at the obdurate aatukallu, my mother whose hands have turned callously hard with years of washing and waning, my aunt who endures knee aches due to all the train travel… and I who want to find an outlet to this ironic circle of pain for love, not having realized what it means being a mother yet! And someday I will be part of the sacrificial legacy too… Won’t we all??
* nine yard saree worn by women from Brahmin families.
** hand powered stone grinder used to mix rice and lentils into a dosa batter
# hand powered stone smoother used to grind chutneys and spices