Vidya Murlidhar experienced inner turmoil for not having a professional career but ultimately realised that her heart belonged to full-time motherhood and homemaking
A recent chance encounter with an acquaintance led me to do a soul search and think deeply about my life’s purpose. One of my favourite things to do when I visit my hometown in Mumbai is to go for a walk to the nearby grocery store—Glory Center. The walk is pure nostalgia and brings back memories of the joyful times when my teenaged buddies and I ceremoniously gathered together every evening and trudged to the store. Often, there was not much to buy, yet we walked to the store and back, cheerfully conversing with each other about the happenings of the day. After all, it is the journey that matters, not the destination. On our way back we would sit on a small stony structure, which we called ‘The Rock’, and speak to our heart’s content about things that truly mattered to us then—boys, college, dreams, food, and movies.
On one of my recent visits to Mumbai, a day before I was to return to the US, I was on my nostalgic walk, and that’s when I met her—Mamta Singh. I was alone, humming a happy tune and wishing for some more time in this city that I loved so much. Suddenly, I heard a shrill, nasal voice call out to me. That voice could have only belonged to her.
“Mamta?” I enquired.
“Hi!” she said, grinning.
“Wow! So nice to see you. You haven’t changed a bit and are just like I saw you the last time we met!” I said.
“Thank you,” she replied.
The last time we met was 25 years ago. Images of a skinny 15-year old me in two oily braids and clothes picked up from ‘Fashion Street’ came to mind. Fortunately, braces were not common then, or else I would have had them too. I shuddered at the image, hoping I had changed for the better and aged gracefully. She, on the other hand, looked ravishing. Was this the same anxiety ridden Mamta who spent every night before an English or Math paper at my place, crying and worrying that she would fail? Now, she oozed confidence and grace in her stylish blouse, snugly fit trousers, and chunky bracelets.
“Mamta, you look gorgeous!” I said as I wrapped my plumpish arms around her slender frame to give her a hug. She looked at me adoringly for a minute. Her expression quickly changed to one of surprise.
“What happened to your hair, Vidya? It used to be so lustrous and thick—Dimple Kapadia and Crowning Glory types!” she said. Oh no! Was I balding? The last time I looked into the mirror, which was not too long ago, I wasn’t. “Childbirth,” I grinned. “I lost a lot of hair after my son was born and they never really grew back.”
“You need to take better care of yourself,” she admonished, hinting at the muffin top peeking over the belted trousers. Che! I should not have worn these old, low waist jeans today.
“So, what do you do? You live in the States, right?” she went on to ask me. “I am a stay-at-home mum,” I replied. “You stay at home? But you were such a good student! I always came to you for help.” she smirked. I remember that.
“I stayed home for a bit after my son was born,” she shared. “The cooking and cleaning really got to me. Household chores never end, and everyone takes you for granted. It seemed like such a waste of time, and I realised a maid would gladly do all that work for just an extra 2000 bucks. So, I went back to office and now head the design department at M&S.”
And just like that, she dismissed my life. Three Cs—cooking, cleaning, and chauffeuring were the story of my life. Was my story worth just a few thousand bucks? There had to be something more than this.
“Er…I write sometimes…” I murmured, as an afterthought. “Really? Have you published anything?”
“Not yet, but I have been working on a children’s picture book series.”
“Oh!” she said, not very impressed. “You remember Leena Patel from class XA? She is in California. She’s a doctor and has a nanny to take care of her home. You should do that too.”
She gave me a quick hug. “Chalo, I’ve got to run. I had some time, so I dropped by my mum’s place to say hello. My son has a swimming lesson, and the driver has to drop me home before he takes him to the class. It was so nice seeing you. You take care. Let me know if your book gets published. And get a nanny,” she said, wiggling her finger.
The search within
As I trudged back home, I wondered if I’d wasted my talent, abilities, and time in the past 18 years by not pursuing a career. Mamta was right when she spoke of the never-ending chores and being taken for granted. What had I based my life choices on? Did I stay at home because I did not have a choice, or was it because I had grown up in a culture where motherhood was the embodiment of sacrifice, and I believed that it was what a good mother did? Had I become complacent, and lost myself and the drive to succeed? What was I doing with my life?’ I sighed, as I walked up to The Rock, hoping to sit on it to ponder further. I realised to my dismay that the space where our beautiful rock used to be, had been converted into a parking space. I trudged along some more and sat on the stairs outside the apartment I grew up in.
As I dwelled on the subject, it dawned on me that the problem was with measuring self-worth by how successful we are. While jobs, promotions, and perks define a woman’s success outside home, there are no tangible standards to measure successful homemaking and motherhood, which is why we often base a woman’s worth on how well her children do. We often hear mothers say, “I must have done something right,” when their child wins an award, and we see them flog themselves up if their children fumble in life or make mistakes. It is wrong to measure self-worth by how another’s life turns out. Every child comes into this world with his or her own karma and purpose to carve his or her own destiny. There is no correlation between the child’s destiny and whether his or her mother stays home or chooses to pursue a career. What does matter though is how happy the mother is with the choices she makes. A mother who is fulfilled will be better equipped to address her child’s needs. If she chooses to stay home because it is the noble thing to do but is frustrated because it does not fulfil her enough, her choice will feel like a huge sacrifice. She may even end up pushing her kids to achieve her own dreams, just to make herself feel worthy. On the other hand, if a mother chooses to work but feels guilty, she exhausts herself trying to find a balance and does more than is necessary for the kids, just to overcome the guilt. Both are unfavourable scenarios.
Making the right choice
A woman then needs to choose a path that feels right to her and not the one that is defined by societal expectations. You see, the essence of every moment is the same. Every moment is a divine gift. Life is truly worthy if these divine moments are used to bring joy to oneself. What you do with your time does not matter; how you do it and your attitude is what makes it worthy. Mamta was right in pursuing a career she loved and outsourcing the chores she detested if that is what she truly wanted to do. But would that choice have worked for me? I asked myself what drove me every morning to wake up and go about my day? There was silence for a minute, and then came a clear reply—I simply loved the way I spent my time! I loved cooking for the people who mattered to me—the spices, flavours, colours and aromas coming together, filled my heart with joy. I experimented adventurously in the kitchen and explored different cuisines; I enjoyed it thoroughly. Would I then be happy as a chef in a Michelin-starred restaurant? Absolutely not! Cooking for my loved ones was joy, but cooking for strangers seemed like a chore.
As I thought of other activities that filled my day, it dawned on me that I enjoyed most of them. I meditated every day, baked frequently, read on topics that fascinated me, penned words from my heart, did a little gardening, took dancing lessons with a bunch of wonderful people, and spent a lot of time talking to my teenaged kids. The monetary benefit of these activities equalled zilch, but the happiness they brought me was incomparable. Though, of course, investing so much time at home truly did not translate to my family being perfect. We were just as flawed as any other family. They did take me for granted at times, but that did not change the fact that I loved what I did. There were no world changing or life saving inventions to my credit, but my contribution was invaluable. I had certainly not lost myself raising a family. In fact, I had found myself; so, this path was right for me.
I was also fortunate that I had the choice to stay at home because we were financially sound. If not, I would have definitely decided to work. Someday, the kids will leave the nest, and I will have more time on my hands. Someday, my book will get published and maybe, even feature in Oprah’s book club! Someday… but for now, things are just perfect.
Having pondered over my feelings, I went home happy, to the warmth of childhood memories and my parents’ and elder brother’s
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