This appears in the current issue of VOGUE....
I should have listened to my mother. I wonder how many women of a certain vintage are saying the same thing across the world right now. I reckon, countless. Most of us have finally found the courage to admit we screwed up. And screwed up bad.The bald truth is, we never ever did have it all. More fool us for thinking we could. That’s the old story. What of today? What now? I look at my daughters as they rush around most weekday mornings, hanging on to a half-drunk mug of strong coffee. Sometimes, they leave home without their faces fully on. Seeing my startled expression (of course, I don’t utter a word…. not at that hour) , they wave an efficient looking mini pouch at me. Aaha – the magic bag of tricks – make-up basics. Despite my better sense, I yell after them (retreating backs are so depressing for moms), “Be careful with the mascara wand….you could damage your eyes in a moving car.” They blow a quick kiss and rush away. I am told this is how it’s done. By zillions of working ladies across the world. They can take master classes in applying professional quality make-up (no smudging), in assorted modes of transport, from Mumbai’s autoriks and overcrowded trains, to cabs with maniacs behind the wheel. Some of these accomplished women can also use the rear view mirror to draw the perfect lip line as they self-drive.
Welcome to the world of Mad Women, where the only rule is to score ( not what you are thinking). And maximize every micro-second of one’s waking hours. Never mind the consequences. And the consequences are pretty scary.Ta
ke something as simple as eye contact. Is
there a law against it? If not, why doesn’t anybody make it any more? Has it
been declared politically incorrect to greet people by actually looking up from
the device gripped in one’s hand – from the i5 to the latest generation of something that
hits the market from somewhere – generally Taiwan? The dreaded ‘C’ word is no
longer ‘commitment’ but ‘communication’. There is no time for it. And when
there is no time for something…anything… it generally means there is no need
for it, either. Imagine. We are in an age in which we can reach even the man on
the moon via a smart gadget if we want to, thanks to the technological tsunami.And
yet, we refuse to reach the man in our bed! No amount of tecchie expertise can
replace the compelling power of a pair of eyes meeting another. Of a
‘no-agenda’ cuddle….or kiss.If that’s not happening, it is indeed a loss worth
mourning. Same goes for touch. We touch keys of keypads… but not one another.
We make love to our latest gizmos, but go to bed alone. What are we afraid of?
Or has ‘aloneness’ become the new ‘togetherness’? I see more single people (men
and women) in their forties than ever before.They insist they are doing just
fine. Are they, really? Then why aren’t they smiling? Dumb question.
Is an ‘island’ existence what we want? A life of isolation – even in a crowd? Young women I talk to sound confused, even worse, they sound hostile.They rave and rant against everything. Nothing is good enough.What are they seething over? Oh – does it matter? It’s about safety, they insist. Explaining emphatically, just as you can never be too rich or too thin, you can’t be too safe. Look at what happened to Pallavi, they point out. Pallavi Purkayastha being the bright, beautiful young lawyer who was brutally killed by the watchman of the building she occupied, in a flat she shared with her live-in partner.That ought to have been the wake-up call for urban women across India, for whom life has become a daily challenge of just staying alive! Rape, molestation,stalking, acid attacks, kidnapping, and several other forms of torture and harassment are the new realities that have become the ultimate barometres of a severely skewered and frighteningly dysfunctional society, unable to come to terms with a rapidly shifting social landscape in which women are the drivers of change. With all the other signs of emancipation and progress in place, we are still living in a country that does not factor in basics for women in the work force – enough toilets. Or any toilets at all! The corporate bladder has affected the health of more women than the dreaded dengue. Fact. Go check!
So, in a sad and resigned mommy-way, I do get the angst and permanent scowls I observe around me. But that doesn’t stop me from yearning for long forgotten smiles and twinkling eyes!Whichever way one looks at the problem, it boils down to safety. Physical and psychological safety. Women simply cannot take safety for granted any longer. It is an issue we are not comfortable talking about, since it seems ‘old fashioned’ and wimpish. Women who whinge about personal safety are mocked and worse, excluded. Shut up and put up, they are told. Or get left behind. I was talking to a sharp investment banker in her mid-thirties, who had deep worry lines between her brows. She looked harrowed and pre-occupied at her own dinner party, in her own ( heavily barricaded and cctv secured) home. I wondered why that was so. It was a great home with spectacular views. She had a staff of three full timers to look after her. She was dressed impeccably, perfectly groomed, with an enviable gym toned body. Add to that a cute boy friend who she said gave her the best foot massage ever. Then? She sighed, took a big swig of her Merlot, and confessed she was just tired all the time. Bone tired. Her day started at 6 a.m. with a personal trainer. After that it was boom,boom, boom, often till 11 p.m. when she got back to her fancy pad, only to crash in an exhausted heap…common story. Most of us hate admitting it, but what we need even more than love… is sleep! Something so basic and yet so under- valued. We have trained ourselves to keep going well after our poor bodies are crying out pathetically for nothing more exotic than a firm bed and a soft pillow.
Are we, as contemporary women, being a bit too hard on ourselves? The truthful answer is an unambiguous ‘Yes’. God knows which and whose idyll it is that we are chasing, but it’s simply not worth it, if the consequences are an alarmingly early burn out. It seems perfectly insane to be pushing ourselves this relentlessly in order to win some vague badge of approval – generally from other women caught in the same trap. We keep talking about the work-life balance. We attend seminars and lectures that provide advice on how to get it right. But nobody has cracked the formula so far. I watch young mothers who burst into tears at the smallest crisis. These same ladies are on top of the game in the office. They are described as ‘power women’ in opinion polls. But they become powerless in an instant when faced with a domestic situation, which is no more alarming than the baby’s maid taking a couple of extra days off. Instant panic! Meltdowns on an epic scale. It is eventually the approval of their female peers they crave for (“If she can do it all and have it all, why can’t I?”). The thing is, nobody has it all. Often everything comes apart overnight. And a crisis doesn’t always issue a warning. Our emotional resources are so damn depleted, we feel diminished if the ‘back present’ given to invitees after the toddler’s party, aren’t posh enough for some of the snooty moms present. We allow ourselves to feel rotten over being caught carrying last season’s ‘It’ bag. Or if our family holiday is to Coonoor and not Cambodia. The social pressure to host the classiest soirees and wear the chicest designer wear is destroying more relationships than we care to admit. Competition has become the new killer. Along with the desperate need to conform and be counted in a very crowded field.
So what should today’s woman do? What are the coping mechanisms that could help her to feel better about herself, her life, her choices?What does she have to give up in order to lead a more stable existence? Does she necessarily have to give up something in the first place? Do men? The answer might surprise you. If women have it bad, so do poor men. If women are struggling to make peace with the multiplicity of demands and expectations society imposes, so are men. One just has to take a look at some of the more evocative TV commercials that make a comment on changing attitudes within family. The ones that bring an instant smile to the face are those that evoke a charming sense of nostalgia. Ads in which women are projected as soft, caring, sensitive creatures looking after the needs of a family with love and tenderness. The men in such commercials are equally old world. They come home bearing surprise gifts ( solitaires, keys to a new car) for their dutiful wives , who smile and hug the husbands, their eyes brimming over with gratitude. I am a complete sucker for these shamelessly sentimental commercials myself. Who wants to be Superwoman?At least, in my book, the answer is pretty obvious. Given the choice, I’d rather be my mom. She was so much happier.