[In this exclusive interview with The Male Factor (TMF), Vedic Philosopher and Author of “A Happiness Guide to Modern Women“, Indira Meshram explains various principles of women rights and safety issues in Vedic India. In this part of the interview, she explains women’s role in her family and outside in Vedic India. This interview is a part of the series Vedic India.
This is the third part of the original interview.
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TMF – In a society where children get influenced by multiple factors beyond our control, child-rearing has become a thankless job. Why should women take full responsibility of that?
Indira – Women are not expected to take full responsibility of child-rearing. The father’s involvement is equally important. But yes, a mother is more hands-on when raising children is concerned, particularly when the children are younger. This is true that raising children has become a thankless task. The society looks down on stay-at-home Moms. Also, children themselves are often ungrateful to their parents and do not bother about them much once they leave home, since the current ethos is to primarily focus on one’s own needs.
But this is a recent phenomenon. While we can blame the society for feeding our children the wrong values, as parents we also have to take responsibility. If we think that fulfilling our duty means delivering to our children all kinds of luxuries and expensive toys like i-pads, for which both mother and father have to work outside for long hours, we should not be surprised if the children end up adhering to a belief system that values material things over meaningful relationships. If instead, we spend enough time and effort in teaching our children, and showing by our personal example, that it is more important to live a simple and honest life, full of service towards others and devotion towards the Supreme Lord, it is more than likely that our children will be grateful to their parents for helping them build the one thing that will sustain them for their entire life – a strong character.
Also, while contemplating our children’s behavior towards us, it would be prudent to reflect whether we ourselves are expressing adequate gratitude towards our parents. Actions speak louder than words and our children will develop attitudes towards us based on our behavior towards their grandparents.
Still, despite sincere efforts sometimes children do go astray and one may wonder whether all the sacrifices made for them were worth it. But there is no need to feel discouraged. Being a mother is a joyful experience. Even if we do not receive appreciation from the outside world, or even from our own children, we should feel satisfied in our heart that we have done our best.
TMF – In an economy where both parents need to work, even for leading a normal life, how can we have the safety net for our children?
Indira – I’m sorry, I do not accept that both parents need to work, even for leading a normal life. I didn’t. Several women around the world don’t. And many of us are leading perfectly normal, happy lives. It may involve making some adjustments with one’s lifestyle but it’s not impossible. Your question is about providing a safety net for children when both parents are working.
I assume the question you are asking is: “How does one ensure that children are safe when their care is entrusted to someone other than their parents?” In India this used to be tackled by enlisting the help of grandparents, but the current trend is to mostly depend on nannies and day care centers. This is because these days by the time people marry and have children, often their parents are too old to help with bringing up their grandchildren. Also, because of work many people do not live in the same city as their parents and the parents are reluctant to leave their familiar surroundings and relocate.
In the absence of grandparents to overlook the care of the children, the best suggestion that I can give for working parents is that at least one parent should work from home when the children are younger and then work part-time once they are school-going. Apart from the very real risk of children being mistreated by the hired help, children need the time (‘quality time’ as well as ‘quantity time’) and attention from their parents to develop into secure and balanced individuals.
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TMF – Modern day job skills are ever evolving and changing very fast. How can Vedic approach of skill development even work?
Indira – The Vedic approach of skill development was quite scientific – one learns that which one needs to. It is not required that every child is in school and college for fifteen to twenty years of their life before they begin to learn what they will actually be using in their professional life. Extensive academic studies were only pursued by those with an intellectual bent of mind. Others may learn some basic reading, writing and math and then immediately begin to learn the trade which will help them to learn their living. Even if their work environment changes, the people who have extensive knowledge of their field can easily adapt to that change.
Consider a scenario where a child is identified as having the potential to do well in the finance field. After he learns to read and write, he should be taught subjects such as math and accounting, instead of the entire gamut of English, History, Biology, et cetra. Such a person will not find it hard to keep up with, say, the fluctuations in the stock market because he would have gained a thorough understanding of the financial sector. That’s how the Vedic approach of skill development can work in a modern day evolving work place. But in general, the Vedic approach is to lead a simple life and not engage in work that requires constant skill updation.
TMF – I agree that motherhood is a full-time work, but when one doesn’t have children, household work is nothing. It’s even easy when we lead a simple Vedic lifestyle. I myself manage all my personal work besides managing my highly demanding job and creative work. Then how is keeping women inside home and not letting them participate in workforce outside justified?
Indira – Your claim that ‘household work is nothing’ is based on the modern way of life in which we outsource most of the work and use ready-made products while cooking. Ask a woman who is dedicated to giving the best care to her family and you may find that she works the hardest of them all. Consider her morning routine – waking up early, taking a shower, cleaning the temple area, waking up her children and helping them get dressed, performing aarti, cooking, offering the food at the altar, serving breakfast to her husband and children, packing a snack for the children to eat at school, dropping them off to school or the pickup location where the school bus will collect them, ensuring her husband has everything he needs before he leaves for his office – wallet, car keys, packed lunch, etc., offering tea and breakfast to the in-laws, and ensuring they take their medicines, before finally eating her breakfast, and sitting down to chant the holy names of the Lord and reading scriptures. This is just the morning routine. The rest of the day will involve other equally time-consuming activities.
You may say that this is only in the case of people who are staying with their in-laws and who have children, which is rare these days because most people live in small, nuclear families. My response to that is that’s exactly what I’m proposing must change. A married couple must be prepared to take care of their elderly parents as well as their children. This idea that a man and woman get married and then either don’t have children, or have only one very late in life, is an unnatural way of life and causes problems in the long run. As for taking care of the parents, at least in India most people are committed to it, but they wait till the parents are too old to stay by themselves. At that point the parents may move in with them, and to ensure that the wife can continue to go to work a caregiver may be hired. But a paid nurse for the elderly, or a nanny for the children, can hardly give the same care and attention that a dedicated daughter-in-law or mother can. If we want to have a normal family life, we must have at least three generations living under one roof. One’s home should have the laughter of children and the wisdom of the elderly. But to maintain this without undue stress, it is best if the wife remains at home. Otherwise husband and wife will always be quibbling about who goes to the children’s school to attend the parents-and-teachers meeting and who takes grandma for the doctor’s appointment.
Nowadays people believe that all the housework can be done by hiring maids and consider it unnecessary for women to remain at home. But actually, it is the woman who makes the house a home. She does this by taking care of everyone with love and paying attention to details. It is not just a question of getting the work done at home. Research shows us that given their physical and mental characteristics, women are more comfortable in a protected environment. If women understand how critical their contribution to the family is, they will get far more satisfaction from catering to the needs of their near and dear ones, than they would from working for a salary in an office that requires them to remain away for most of the day.
TMF – When we make men the provider of the house, one can be overburdened with responsibility. Similarly, when there is no child or they are grown up, a woman can equally take part in work force to help her husband. Then how is the gender-based roles justified?
Indira – You are suggesting that it is unfair that men take the entire responsibility of providing for the family. I agree that stress levels at the workplace are perhaps at an all-time high these days. With profit being the main goal, unless one performs one will find oneself jobless. So how is it justified that the wife stays at home while the husband is working very hard? Firstly, just as the husband has the responsibility of earning the money, the wife has an equally important responsibility of utilizing the money wisely – by spending it frugally and saving the rest. Furthermore, the idea is not that the wife sits at home watching TV while the husband is at work. She does her part in making sure that the husband’s stress level is minimized by handling everything efficiently at the home front, so that at least on that account he is comfortable. For that the wife also has to work very hard.
I will give you my personal example. My husband had a very demanding job, which also involved traveling. Since he was working in the financial sector and dealing with huge sums of money, it was both physically and mentally exhausting. But at least at the end of the day, once he reached home, he could completely unwind. He would be welcomed into a clean house and served steaming hot food of his liking. He would not have to worry about paying the bills, getting the weekly provisions, taking care of repairs needed in the house, or even helping the children with their homework. We had only one car, so I would often drop him to office and the children to school, and then also pick them up. On my part I tried my best to reduce his stress. Also, we had the understanding that we would manage on whatever income he would be able to bring in.
Instead, we could have decided that I too should take up a job to bring in more money. Would that have resulted in my husband having less stress at work? Would he then have passed up important projects and been laid-back and complacent at work, thinking that it doesn’t matter whether or not he performs at work, since his wife also has a job? Of course not. Whether I had a job or not would not have reduced the pressure he faced individually at his workplace. If anything, it would have increased the stress he would face at home.
You have stated that particularly if the couple doesn’t have children or the children are grown up, then there isn’t that much work for the woman at home. I disagree. Even a simple set-up needs to be regularly tidied and cleaned. Food has to cooked, even if it is just the husband and wife living by themselves. Also, as I mentioned earlier, they may not have children to take care of, but eventually they will have the responsibility to taking care of their parents. Life, in general, has become more complicated, both at the work and domestic front. As such, it is beneficial for everyone in the family if the wife doesn’t have a full-time job outside and instead remains at home and maintains a serene, spiritual atmosphere.
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TMF – I feel Housework is hugely glorified in Vedic Culture. If one lives a simple Vedic life, why is the need of any expertise? I am not a culinary expert, but I am happy in whatever I prepare for myself. Without children in a family, how is a full-time housewife role even justified?
Indira – I have already addressed various other aspects of a woman’s role in the house (even when there are no children), such as taking care of the sick and elderly, managing the personal finances, buying provisions, and so on. Let’s talk particularly about cooking. In traditional households, food preparations vary according to the needs of an individual’s body type as well as the external circumstances such as the weather and the time of the day. One needs expertise in this because according to Ayurveda majority of diseases can be avoided with the proper diet. The kind of flours, oils, spices and sweeteners that we use in our food all have an impact on our long-term health. Cooking right and cooking in such a way that everyone in the family is satisfied and nourished is not a simple process. It is scientific and complex, and requires a lot of time and effort. At the same time, it can be pleasurable if done with the right consciousness and attitude.
Moreover, in a Vedic household cooking is a very significant activity because everything cooked is first offered to the Lord at the altar. In this way, cooking is not just a mechanical activity, but an act of worship. It must be done with a good consciousness. One should procure good quality ingredients and the food should be prepared fresh. The kitchen is considered to be an extension of the temple and must be kept spic and span. Also, since we are cooking for the Supreme Lord, there is a need of expertise because we are aiming to please Him. We would like to serve a variety of dishes. Consider this – if we were expecting an important person to come home as our guest would we not like to put our best foot forward? So what to say of serving the Supreme Lord of the entire creation.
Now, non-believers may say that this is just sentimental thinking – even if God exists, he doesn’t need to come and take food served by individuals at their home. But Lord Krsna Himself states in Bhagavad-gita 9.26 that He accepts the offerings made with love. He doesn’t need it because He is completely self-satisfied. Nevertheless, He likes it because it is an exchange of affection between Him and His devotee, just as a father is pleased when the child buys him a gift on his birthday from the pocket-money given by the father himself. One not only receives spiritual benefit by preparing food in this way, the food is also healthy and therapeutic. Other than cooking, for a woman who is house proud there are many other things that require her attention. Apart from general tidying-up, dusting and cleaning, she may spend her time in making rangolis or arranging fresh flowers. According to one’s interest one could create paintings or hand-embroidered linen. Previously, women would remain busy at home and had the satisfaction of producing things that were not only cheaper than those available in the market but were aesthetically far more pleasing. Many women had skills such as sewing, knitting and crocheting, and routinely produced beautiful creations which today can only be found in boutiques and cost the earth. Recently my mother embroidered a set of three table mats and one of her friends posted the picture on a Facebook group called ‘Gurgaon Moms.’ Within hours she had hundreds of ‘likes’ and positive comments. She was taken aback because for her it is nothing extraordinary. But for our generation who have probably never even threaded a needle, it is a complete novelty.
….to be continued
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