Then and now

My 90-year-old mother and I have frequent conversations about how things were during her mother’s time and her childhood and then my own early and forgotten childhood. My mother was married when she was just 15 years old and those were the difficult times for a housewife. Since my father was the eldest in the family, my mother along with a few other women had to cook for the large family of brothers and their wives and kids.

Her day started at 5 am, with the lugging of water out of the backyard well for the entire household to wash and bathe. Then she would work on two or three pots of curds and separate the butter from butter milk. She would then bathe and again get some more water from the well for pooja and ‘madi adige’ (cooking after a bath and without coming in contact with anyone who hadn’t had a bath). The cooking would start at 8 am and wouldn’t cease until 4 pm, not only because the family was large but also on account of the generosity and good-heartedness of my grandfather, who would invite friends and visitors over for lunch every other day.

Those days the fuel used for cooking was firewood and dry cow-dung which filled the kitchen with smoke hurting everyone’s eyes and lungs. By the time my poor mother finished cooking late in the afternoon, her eyes would’ve given up and she’d have to be helped to her room. Everyday, she would put cotton soaked in curds or butter to cool her eyes until she felt strong enough to eat lunch late in the afternoon. And then her ordeal would resume for a few more hours into the night while making dinner. And the whole thing would repeat day after day.

Times have changed now and the old woman sees her grandchildren and greatgrandchildren and their daily routines in the middle of an array of conveniences like cooking gas, microwave, water-pumps, exhaust-fans, etc. Although science and education have ensured that women needn’t spend as many hours cooking as they used to say, a 100 years ago, far fewer women cook these days than they used to back then. Those hours are spent at work, in front of the TV or shopping. My mother wonders if people earlier lived to eat and if it were the other way around now.

Many problems arise due to lack of conveniences for living.  Despite the hard life, the old lady says, “The values of life were quite high then; joint families never broke and divorces were rare. But now having all the comforts and facilities there are only nuclear families.  When children grow up, they get married and abandon their old parents. Divorces have become quite common. They say men make houses and women make homes. I say women even break homes.” Why and how values have changed in modern times, she wonders: Is it because of westernisation or any other reason?

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