Every women’s forum in which I participate has been inundated with praise for this ‘open letter to Indian women’ by Chetan Bhagat.
Many women have been raving about Bhagat for ‘being a man, yet giving such exemplary advice to women’. They cannot stop admiring Bhagat, who rose to fame by writing mediocre quality books that based themselves on IIT / IIM life for mass-appeal.
So, what exactly is all the fuss about? Apparently, the latest study done by Nielsen reveals that Indian women are the most stressed in the world today. An overwhelming 87% of Indian women said they felt stressed most of the time, and 82% had no time to relax’.
Now that is not too difficult to understand, given that the average Indian woman (or man for that matter) is entrenched in the daily grind of work, office, home and family, needless to say EMIs and bills. Also, we Indians believe in a culture that puts work above all else, and that leaves little time for leisure activities, usually considered a waste of time - especially for an Indian woman.
While men are allowed (encouraged or sometimes even expected) to enjoy life by unwinding (playing sports, watching TV, etc), the average middle-class or poor-class Indian woman is not often seen chilling out, because she would rather finish her chores than read a book and sip a cup of coffee.
In his letter, Chetan Bhagat advises Indian women to not be so stressed, that they should give it back to that ‘mother in law’ or ‘that annoying boss’ and hold their head high. The email is addressed TO Indian women, asking them to change their mindset in order to feel less stressed. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?
Now let us see how much sense it makes.
‘Even in workaholic America, only 53% women feel stressed.’
Well, in ‘workaholic America’, the culture is for men to share the burden of housework. Read this link to know more: ‘In the U.S. men's absolute and proportionate contributions to household tasks increased substantially over the past three decades, dramatically lessening the burden on women’.
Compare this with a typical middle-class Indian household, where the woman (not the man) is expected to wake up early, cook breakfast and lunch for the entire family, go to work, return tired, teach the children, cook dinner again, and amidst all this, tolerate nagging in-laws and an unsupportive husband.
In poorer families, the situation is even worse, with women being the sole breadwinner of the family, supporting a drunkard and abusive husband. Is it any wonder then, that ‘workaholic’ American women are less stressed?!
To quote Bhagat, ‘..Without women, ‘There would be body odour, socks on the floor and nothing in the fridge to eat..’
Now, I have a HUGE – huge - problem with this statement. To me, this is EXACTLY where the problem arises. Mr. Bhagat, can’t the average Indian man just pick up his own smelly socks? Or simply learn to cook a meal? Why do you relegate such ‘mentally stimulating’ work to women?
So the basic premise that we operate on is that Indian women should continue to perform their role of superwoman – household cleaner, cook, mother, wife, entertainer, chauffeur, teacher, assistant, and 24*7 maid, and YET, not be stressed out. If an educated man like Bhagat (IIT-IIM, mind it ;-) ) talks like this, then what can we expect out of the average Indian?
Now, let’s take a look at Bhagat’s ‘sensible’ advice:
1. ‘Give it back to that mother-in-law’.
Ever seen an Indian women returning home tired, and putting her feet up on the sofa, while the husband serves her tea in the presence of his mother? Even such a thought will result in a collective gasp from Indian society.
Open question to Mr. Bhagat: If your wife ‘gives it back to your mother’, will you clap and cheer her? Or will you immediately remove her (your wife I mean) from the scene and diffuse the situation? Let’s face it - Indian families idolise ‘boys’, and boy’s mothers are veritable Goddesses. A woman can ‘give it back’ ONLY if her husband is supportive and rational. Now until that miracle occurs in Indian society, such aberrations are absolutely taboo.
2. ‘Your boss doesn't value you - tell him that, or quit’.
Well, Mr.Bhagat, the average woman (and man, for that matter) has EMIs to pay, families to support, fees and bills to settle. We don’t live in a country where the government subsidises and provides outstanding education and healthcare. We have to support ourselves. We cannot just quit if our boss does not value us! Is that really so difficult to understand?
3. Do not ever feel stressed about having a dual responsibility of family and work.... The trick is not to expect an A+ in every aspect of your life.
Wow, we really did not know that the trick was THAT simple! Kudos to you, Mr.Bhagat for this revelation!!
Now, take it from me - a very average Indian woman – I DO NOT WANT an A+ in cooking, cleaning, doing the dishes, pampering the frail ego of people around me, and also managing my career. The average woman – is happy just the way she is – imperfect and flawed. It is high time the men around her, along with his family, stop expecting her to excel in everything!
4. ‘It is okay if you don't make four dishes for lunch, one can fill their stomach with one’.
Oh, dear Mr Bhagat. I wish your advice would read: ‘Dear Indian male – don’t expect your tired wife to cook four dishes a day, instead help her out with doing just one dish, and don’t crib about it, and certainly don’t let your mother pass comments about it’.
This is the typical Indian mindset (that the woman is the cook of the house) that simply HAS to change. The moment men begin to pitch in and share responsibility, the average Indian woman’s stress levels will certainly drop a notch. Why don’t we all try this at home today?
5. Don't get competitive with other women.
Now, I cannot stop laughing at this one. By choosing the term ‘..Other women..’ you have clearly absolved men from the responsibility of causing stress. You make this seem like some Ekta Kapoor soap – an inane ‘woman vs woman quarrel’. You seek to conveniently ignore the bigger picture of ‘woman vs society’s expectations’. On another note, I wonder if there is ANYONE at all in the world who is NOT competitive! Are you not, Mr.Bhagat? Don’t you compete to be in the bestseller’s list? Doesn’t every single person compete for something or the other? It could be cooking a dish, it could be getting that coveted promotion, it could be buying the same or better car than your colleague or neighbour. Being competitive is inherent in EVERY human being. Don’t make this a ‘woman’-centric issue. ‘Your neighbour may make a six-dabba tiffin for her husband, you don't - big deal’. Again, please remind me - Why is this being addressed to women? The expectation is from men, from society - not from women themselves.
6. And if the above was not enough, the last sentence by Bhagat takes the cake. ‘Now smile, before your mother-in-law shouts at you for wasting your time reading the newspaper’
Mr.Bhagat, with all due respect, I could never consider you a serious author. In fact the only thing I actually appreciated about your ‘open letter’ was where you advocate women to build a social network and become financially independent. That is by far, the ONLY sensible piece of advice in your letter. But this closing line from you – it makes your entire post seem frivolous! Smile, before your mother-in-law shouts at you? What were you thinking?? Or is that another of your mediocre attempts at smug humour, so characteristic of your writing?
I find Bhagat’s letter has been written for mass appeal. It seemingly tries to embolden women, but in reality, does nothing to help. It has been written to fill a column. It has been written to elicit ‘oohs and aahs’ from the audience. Chetan Bhagat’s letter does not ever dare to touch the core issue – which is, the role of men and society in general, on the expectations out of the average Indian woman! Mr.Bhagat, if you truly want to make a difference, write this letter to the average Indian male! And if they actually implement any of your wonderful suggestions, Indian women will certainly not top the ‘stressed women’ rankings the next time around.
Photo credit: Britney Bush Bollay