“Are you working anywhere?”
“No, I am at home only; I am just a housewife”
An apologetic answer we have been hearing for decades now from different mouths. An answer that equates ‘work’ with any paid activity and undermines the mammoth contribution of home-makers and other non-paid workers down the years to our lives and smooth functioning of society. Above all, an answer that is erroneous.
Ask the modern God, Google. You will find ‘work’ defined as any activity that requires effort and that is intended to produce a desired result. Unfortunately, as a nation, and particularly we urbanites, have increasingly labelled only paid activities as work, extolling them; by implication, downgraded all other activities, especially housework that make the fabric of our daily lives.
Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary is a good time to reclaim and firmly establish the meaning of ‘work’ in our urban psyches – vital to our sense of wellness. For our self-esteem draws largely from the ‘work’ we do and are also perceived to do.
Every action or series of actions that adds to human well-being is valid, respectable and deserving of approval – this is the great lesson that the Mahatma taught through his life – wielding the charkha like any manual labourer and even cleaning his own toilet, a job oft branded as ‘lowly.’ Speaking of toilets, I am reminded of an experience during my visit to Italy a few years back.
I was staying at an Italian friend’s house. One morning, his live-in girlfriend (Italian) knocked on my room door and asked me if she could clean the toilet attached to my room. I was dumbfounded predictably.
While we Indians have been quick to adopt many western values and other features of western lifestyle like clothes and food, we are still to imbibe the western attitude to work – to regard every work contributing to human wellness as dignified and worthy, and not just paid work.
Housework unfortunately has been the biggest casualty of industrialisation, in terms of value loss. While any salaried job, even if it does not involve any serious effort and may actually subsume hours of mere sitting and surfing in office (between projects) or chatting with colleagues/ on the phone (while waiting for assignments to come in) is tacitly or openly commended, housework, be it cooking, cleaning, stocking the kitchen, washing clothes, ironing, etc. is regarded condescendingly, chiefly because it is unpaid labour.
To execute any bit of housework perfectly also requires skill, intelligence and effort – and leads to a desirable result – a house in order, providing the base for all other activities. Also, while most office jobs afford some idle time to office goers, housework offers none, as any engaged in it would know.
You have to steal a respite for yourself like an afternoon nap. In essence, to work is to concentrate on something; to relax, to let the mind loose – to meander, while listening to some soothing music. Thus, respecting housework and all involved in executing the same is of primary importance.
Of course, almost each of us performs some chores at home. Instead of lavishing attention on that one job alone that brings us monetary compensation and treating all other chores, grudgingly, let’s accord care and respect to every bit of housework we do, in the true spirit of ‘work is worship’. (Housework has the additional benefit of keeping our bodies moving and thus fitter).
If you are a home-maker, take pride in being a home-maker, because you are creating a well-functioning house and a stable household is the basic and first unit of a stable society.
When we respect housework, we will also involve our children, both male and female, in the same, teaching them how to go about different tasks, and delegating chores to them, and encouraging them to perform these joyfully, through generous praise.
However, if we think housework is mundane and of little value–measuring it in monetary terms–we will pass on this negative messaging to our children and distance them from the same.
The result would be a society increasingly reliant on paid labour to meet most needs, and thus prone to all attendant worries like the paid labour not turning up for work on one day.
Finally, our attitude to different aspects of life largely makes for our happiness or unhappiness. By cultivating a positive attitude to work--taking joy and pride in all that we do—we stand to strengthen our own self-esteem and that of others, thus enhancing collective well-being of society. This Gandhi Jayanti, let’s worship, above all, ‘work’.