The woes of wealthyhousewifery

midlife musings

Photo for representation.

A few years ago, my school batch completed 25 years in the real world. There was the usual party—billboards with yearbook photos, imbecilic placards with inane slogans like ‘I’m too sexy’ so infantile pictures can show up like bile on the unclassy class WhatsApp group. But I showed up, for old times’ sake.

At the end of it all, the one ‘takeaway’ I took back, besides some tat, was that the boys, even those who had done well, looked a bit unwell. Leathery-skinned, paunchy in their pre-diabetic prosperity, dull in their demeanour, boring in their brags, the boys were a stark contrast to the women, almost all of whom stood oozing a sophisticated agelessness. If you were an outsider looking in, you might have mistaken this for a mix-up of dates, in all meanings of the word. I speculated about this with a longtime leathery friend, who explained it all away in just one sentence: “The burden of bread-winning wastes men before the cruelty of the clock does.” I knew then what I had witnessed that night—the shine of the rise of the wealthy housewife.

Of course, the wealthy housewife is part of book-clubs and kitty parties, but what she shies at being slotted into is the whopping 76% of women recorded as unemployed in Chapter 7 of the Ministry of Finance’s Economic Survey 2017-18. For me, a longstanding member of the ‘harvarding’ club, she has often been the target of my evil eye, and many a voodoo doll has been destroyed. As I make an ungainly clamber into my car -- handbag, laptop bag, tiffin bag, gym bag, and undereye bags -- for my hour-and-half long commute, she walks briskly by me with her gaggle of girlfriends, nary a nod nor a smile. The ticker of her ‘ten thousand steps’ has begun as my ‘Type A’ ticker is already feeling a bit wrung.

Obviously, the wealthy housewife is not even a percentage point of a percentage point of the expanding wasteland of India’s unemployed, but she is there, counted because she never allows herself not to be. If I discount those women who live in the proverbial ‘village’ of our developer-driven unsmart cities, parenting children, providing free domestics and complimentary sex to adult men, and caring for elders, and those whose vote matters but labour is unaccounted, this sliver becomes slimmer, as she does. But this lot maintains a high decibel level about the hardships of housewifery. After all, to ensure that the army of driver, cleaning woman, chopper-cum-cook, kitchen maid, gardener, press-waala, Milk Basket-waala, A2 cow-milk delivery man, tuition teacher, dog walker, yoga teacher, masseuse, home salon girl, gate guard, tower guard, personal trainer, contribute diligently to the depressed GDP and the comfort quotient of the household’s harried housewife is harvard, sorry, hard work. Happiness, however, remains elusive.

Stepping up in support of the wealthy housewife’s plight are the recently published findings of the Status of Women in India, a 43,255 respondent-research by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Drishti Stree Adhyayan Prabodhan Kendra, during 2017-18, across 29 states, five union territories, covering 465 districts, including 70 in border areas. This, too, disconnects income and happiness amongst women, stating that happiness “is almost the same in the women in all categories of employment”, and that family income has no such influence on the level of happiness and well-being. The survey does go on to disprove itself with the ‘discovery’ that poverty does not grant or guarantee happiness. The lowest levels of happiness, it reports, are still amongst women with family incomes below Rs 10,000.

As I wrap my climate-controlled ‘kaftan’ around the ‘covfefe’ of contradictions contained in this research, I know only one thing for sure -- that almost two of every five Indian women are unhappy, and that no amount of money or education can buy them the RSS-approved version of happiness. But even in the circuitous confusion of this ‘state-of-the-art’ research, there is hope and one hidden happy woman. She, the survey says, is 51 to 60 years old, single but also married, she is of course ‘spiritual’, she is a post-graduate and may even boast a PhD, but almost miraculously, she has zero family and zero income, presumably living on fresh air and fierce prayer.

Predictably, prominent amongst the unhappy women are the 29 ‘live-ins’ that the research’s 7,000 surveyors somehow found.

But what of us, the wealthy housewives? Well, given that Drishti sheds no light on our very special plight, I reckon my chances at happiness are the same percentage as the survey’s representation of this minuscule minority.

0.06 per cent.

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