Some friends and I were joking around the other day and I called myself a behenji. To a non-Indian, that means a housewife whose life is pretty much caught up in tv soaps and boring cooking and usually such a woman chooses not to think beyond the kids and the daily chores. Oh and such a woman would probably be fat and frumpy to boot.
So, not unexpectedly, there were some jeers at that, the idea of me being a behenji.
But I am, I think. When I think of the fun career I had planned, all the travelling, all the mad hours, the interesting people I was to meet, well, minding a household wasn't really the highlight of those plans. On the other hand, what do I do now? I don't like filling in "Housewife" in the forms so I call myself a writer (actress sounds pretentious somehow), but honestly, my days are filled with the household chores and my life is centred around my husband and son. My worries are to do with catching up on the mending, making sure we're stocked up on groceries and figuring out the best way to cut another corner somewhere. I may not watch a lot of TV but I do a lot of mindless surfing.
So in my own way, I think I am a behenji, compared to what I planned to be.
On the other hand, I'm making behenjiism look cool like never before. Behenjis like me wear Next jeans and sexy tops and occasionally down a shot at Roxy. We drive (to use the term loosely) and we write and we keep up with what's happening around the world (or at least as much as interests us, anyhow). When we plan a party we are quite likely to order out or at least not cook all day to prepare one meal. Oh and some of us even buy our spices as pastes.
We carry our kids on our hips the way Indian women have carried their children for millennia but the lullabies we sing may be in languages from across the world. Our husbands do like a well-run home and food when hungry but they take equal pride in our college degrees and our ability to carry off a strategically cut minidress. Best yet, our parents and parents-in-law take pride in our esoteric career choices, even though they really do not understand them.
It's not so easy some days, when you're the one running after a toddler and you've got marks on your best silk saree that'll probably never come out and you see the gang of pretty girls giggling amongst themselves and checking out the men and you suddenly realise they are the same age as you and you could be standing there, with immaculate hair and an expensive saree you could afford to splurge on. You could spend several thousands on a pair of sunglasses and not count the number of diapers the same sum would buy.
And then you smile to yourself. You're the one who gets all the help when she walks into a store with her arms full of Bhablet. You don't worry about your saree getting messed up because you've been wearing sarees long enough to know that you've worn yours very prettily in the first place, and in the second, so long as you're halfway presentable everybody will admire you for managing to look presentable while coping with Bhablets. You don't have to play long distance games with unknown men because you're happily out of the race.
It's a great time to be a behenji right now, getting the best of both worlds. Freelancing is opening up as are work-from-home career opportunities. The money may not be much but it's an option my mother never had so I'm not about to diss it. If you're young and in love with life, there's very little you cannot do, if, like me, you have a husband who understands your need for a little time off now and then to do your own thing.
Am I saying there are no frustrated Indian home-makers any more? Hardly. What I am saying is that staying at home -- the quintessential mark of a behenji -- is no longer as limiting as it used to be. With any luck, the next generation will never know how small the world used to be. With any luck at all, they'll be able to choose for themselves what they want to be and be more comfortable with their choices. And when that happens, you'll know that the Indian behenji is the coolest critter going.
While you think that over, you may like to check this out and ask yourself where the roots of your prejudices lie.