Inside a gated community in Greater Noida West, mellifluous tunes of Frank Sinatra’s I love You Baby emanated from an apartment. The evening sun was beginning to set; an eerie silence lingered in the air, punctuated by the occasional tweeting of birds. Not a human in sight, stray animals wandered the streets, scouting for food. And then, a shriek emerged — more like a war cry: “Chhilka kyun nahi phenka?” (“why did you not throw away the peel?”)
Frank Sinatra disappeared quickly. It was replaced by muffled explanations. The husband had barely begun to scratch the surface, but the wife would have none of it: “Jo bhi ho (whatever it may be)”. And that was the end of the conversation.
When the Prime Minister of India announced the lockdown, in the wake of the deadly outbreak of COVID-19, most people scrambled for last-minute food and ration, not paying enough attention as to who they were going to be spending the next 21 days in quarantine with. And that’s the thing about crisis – when it strikes, you are not left with too many choices.
Most, if not all, women – working or non-working, married or unmarried – now have to spend their quarantine hours with male members of the family, who may or may not be presenting themselves as useful at home.
To find out how working men are dealing with staying at home, if they are helping around much to take some of the burden off their partners, and what their experience has been so far, indianexpress.com reached out to some of them, and here’s what they had to say.
“I have started doing my own dishes, only mine. It is a start for me. I water the plants every day, make the bed. I made coffee, too; it was bad to taste. I have to get the groceries. But more than anything else, I have had to motivate my wife. She had begun to panic because we have never been in this situation before, and she was worried about her parents in Kolkata, so I had to distract her, make her laugh,” Gurugram-based commercial real-estate agent Vishal Pandey (35), said.
Pandey said this period has been about adjustments. But he gets by without a conflict by “being conscious”. “I never used to do household chores. But, now I have realised there are so many things in the house I never noticed before – I feel I didn’t know my own house properly until now. And I think I will continue to do this, even after all of this is over,” he said.
Pandey’s thoughts are echoed by Bengaluru-based Abhijeet Banerji (36), who works with a leading broadcast company. Now, having to work from home, Banerji said he is comfortable with household chores, since it is “necessary at times to feel grounded”. “My wife and I are both working from home. So, I help around with washing some utensils and cooking at times, since both the cook and the house help are not available anymore,” he said, adding that while he didn’t help around as much before the outbreak since they had helping hands, he does not feel it is that big of an adjustment. “We have been asked to stay home for our own safety, so I do not mind doing it,” he said.
Earlier this year, a survey conducted by Today found that many women think their husbands add more stress to their daily lives than their children. Most of the respondents said they feel their better half is a ‘big kid’ and not an equal partner with whom they can share their workload.
Now, this global health crisis has put the ‘big kid’ in a Catch-22 situation. What once seemed inconsequential has now started to look pressing.
In another continent, 31-year-old Raman Shridhar has been facing a great predicament. Shridhar, who works as a senior branch manager in a food and agri-business company in Nigeria, said that while his ‘work from home’ experience has been great so far, his ‘work for home’ experience has not been so.
“I would rather be in bed, watching movies and playing games. I also tell my wife to relax more and not worry much about chores and be unnecessarily burdened. On my part, I am trying to assist by watering the plants, drawing the curtains, making the bed, doing some heavy lifting, and cooking light snacks. Mostly, I am trying not to create any additional mess,” he said, adding:”my contribution has been pretty basic, but I am always willing to help my wife with whatever household chores she may ask me to do”.
For 29-year-old Vinayak Nambiar from Bengaluru, household chores — especially dishwashing — have always been therapeutic and fun. Nambiar, an environmental manager with a Maldives-based hotel chain, however, said that while he is helping out more with tasks at home, the difference is going to be felt more keenly as the days go by. “I do think working from home for days at a time can be quite isolating, though. I miss the little interactions with my colleagues at the office,” he said.
A McKinsey report had recently suggested that even though men and women both have their own careers today, and that more women are stepping out to work than they did a decade ago, gender parity is still a distant dream. Women are expected to take on more responsibilities at home, despite having work commitments of their own. This puts a great dent on the very concept of gender parity. And the current lockdown situation sometimes makes the said dent more apparent.
But Adarsh Jain (28) of Pune, who works for a corporate company, said that while he and his wife have always divided household chores, the lockdown has given them a chance to spend some time together. “My wife and I have come up with the idea of dividing our chores. So, while she does the dishes or sweeps the house, I work, and then when she has to get to work, I begin to cook. This way, we both get tasks done in an orderly and uninterrupted fashion,” he said.
The country-wide lockdown has barely begun. We are all in for a long haul. And as Jain said, while we can use this period to get close to our family and loved ones, we can also learn a lesson or two in gender equality and equity. So that when we emerge, we emerge wiser.