In earlier times, women, generally, did not take to working nine to five and were happy to employ their talents at home. Maintaining the house, taking care of the children and cooking meals pretty much occupied their time and yes, it was not an eight-hour workload.
Living with the in-laws, in extended family setups called a joint family, had its fair share of responsibilities but the arrangement also came with some liberties. Then evolutionary forces introduced the concept of independent lifestyles. This helped subside the usual ‘saas bahu’ rifts and the distances helped reduce the tension in this relationship.
However, it was the children who bore the brunt of this development as it deprived them of the affection, warmth and attention showered by their grandparents. ‘Asal se zyada sood bhala’ (interest is more valuable than principle) meant grandparents spoiling children with treats, gifts and games. This facilitated the parents, as with children engaged, they had more time for themselves.
Once the Pandora box of consumerism opened, irrespective of the resources one had, they never seemed enough. The rising consumerism made life a living hell as it eroded the foundations of an oriental lifestyle, i.e. being content and grateful. Also, inflationary pressures made the situation more complicated.
Suddenly, having a big house, a new car, fancy clothes and giving expensive gifts became more important than actually living, driving, wearing and sharing them. The race to out-do others took sibling rivalries to new levels, which created new lows in families. Instead of fighting for parents’ affection and attention, new battle lines drew at procuring wealth, seizing assets and showing off.
Success was now being measured by which locality you resided in, the make and model of your car and the school your children attended. Parents started lining up outside some institutions for hours and hours just to get registration forms. Earnings grew but brought in lesser to the table.
The money had never talked this loud. It became the primary, in fact the only, mode of communication, the only parameter of success. So now, to make ends meet, both partners had to employ themselves into careers. This further aided the cycle of consumerism as more money translated into more needs, more wants and more demands, resulting in increased spending.
This meant lesser interaction between not only the immediate families, in-laws and other relations but also amongst the working parents and partners. The conservations shifted from,
“How was your day?” to,
“Did you buy this or that” or,
“We need this and this and this.”
While pursuing the newly defined KPIs (key performance indicators) of success we almost forgot about our obligations towards each other, our parents and most importantly, our children. The term ‘liability’ found currency for unemployed spouses.
Ask any young professional about their plan to settle and marry and they’ll retort,
“Abhi to kamana shuro kiya hai, abhi se liability nahi palni”
(I have recently started earning; don’t want to undertake any liability)
The term later widened to include parents and the latest addition to the list is children. Keeping their numbers low means lesser liability and once they are seen as a burden, we start sending them off to day-care centres or employed caretakers. Voila! Another KPI identified: having a professional Filipino, Sri Lankan or desi nanny in the household.
The irony of this cycle is that every solution leads to further problems, so much so that the amount of resources spent on these solutions has offset, both in terms of material/utility and value, the contribution of one of the two partners. The web of consumerism has entangled us so strongly that we don’t even do simple mathematics anymore. We only know the price of everything; it’s the value which is unknown to us.