He the Homemaker

ByMihir Srivastava

Jun 19, 2020

The lockdown forced many husbands to attend to household chores — which led some to acknowledge that their wives are better managers 

The work done by homemakers is excluded from the calculation of National Income on the pretext that it’s “provided out of love and affection” by a mother, wife or sister. Also, there’s no cash payout — which some husbands admit but with a rider — that no salary is given but there are perks.

Thanks to Covid-19, many husbands with high-profile, demanding jobs were forced to stay at home and in the absence of house help had to attend to domestic chores. They found that sweeping floors is a task that requires reasonable skill, so does keeping the surroundings dust free. To organise food three times a day, every day, is a daunting task, along with the plethora of other fairly complex operations carried out on a daily basis to keep the house running.

Many husbands now understand their life partners are actually “better managers as well” and admire them for multitasking, keeping an eye on the minutest details. They almost intuitively know if something is not right, and keep the household running smoothly.

So should the running of a household be part of management courses? “It is. That’s what they call housekeeping,” retorts the wife of a senior IAS officer who resides not far from Khan Market. Her husband holds a sensitive position in the government and doesn’t want to be identified, so let’s address him by his childhood name, Ballu.

Ballu is in his early fifties and lives with his wife in large government accommodation. Both of their children are grown up and work abroad. Ballu’s wife is “paranoid about the pandemic”, more so because he’s a diabetic. So she decided to keep just one help, a 20-year-old man who lives in the servant quarters attached to the house. Ballu took up the responsibility of helping his wife run the house, which “My wife tells me is not of much of a help.”

But Ballu is insistent. He cleans and sweeps the floor — using a mop stick attached to a bucket — of the living room, dining room, and their bedroom; the rest of the house is locked. “Sweeping the floor requires a certain skill, especially cleaning the nooks and corners,” he says. He really likes to do it.

On his insistence, all the carpets have been folded and removed. One of his popular pastimes is to research cleaning technologies that are effective and require minimal efforts. “Mechanisation is not the solution in the Indian context — we generate so much filth, to clean it requires application of the human mind.” He’s not joking.

K B Singh with his wife Leena

He talks of various kinds of mops with the authority of a pro—steel sponge roller is his favourite, though he has ordered a stringless, flat mop as well. Ballu’s wife calls it a waste of money while he insists that “A man is nothing without his tools,” and bursts out laughing.

He plans to continue cleaning three rooms even when the lockdown is over and his wife’s embargo on the domestic helps is over. “It’s good exercise,” he says and almost gets emotional adding, “I feel a tactile connection to my dwelling, even though it’s a government accommodation.”

Siddhartha Upadhyay, founder and general secretary of STAIRS, is a member of the Governing Council of Sports Authority of India. He co-chairs the sports division of FICCI,and is leading a host of other activities. Needless to say, he is a busy man. 

During the lockdown, he attended meetings online, which meant that he was working from home most of the time. His wife works from home as well. To a casual observer, his house looks spic and span, just as before.

Siddhartha is a home bird, likes to spend free time with family and participates in domestic chores. His wife Chhavi, an entrepreneur, is skilled at running the household. The two of them have detailed systems in place, which passed the test of Covid-19 disruption fairly smoothly.

For Siddhartha, a disciplinarian, all the members in the family, including him, have “their set of duties to perform to keep the house running,” as he puts it. “If everyone attends to what they are supposed to do, then there’s nothing much left to be done.”

He shares the old Hindi saying, “Sau ki lathi, ekk ka bhojha” or a hundred sticks support a hundred people, but if all of those sticks were to be carried by one person, it’ll be donkey’s work.

KB Singh, a former Navy officer and now a corporate leader, stays in a 26th floor apartment in Gurugram. He has been working from home for nearly three months from 9 am to 9 pm, five days a week. One of the bedrooms in his house has been converted into his office.

Being at home means that he takes his tea breaks and steps out of the office to have a meal with his wife Leena and daughter Pia, who by then has finished her online school classes. KB, as he’s popularly known, finds it efficient to work from home as he doesn’t waste time commuting to work.

Despite his busy schedule, he has certain domestic chores to perform. He makes bed tea, prepares breakfast sometimes and brings back groceries when he goes for an evening walk. They have a domestic help staying at home, which makes life simpler. “It’s not a big deal. To be able to cook and take care of yourself is an essential life skill,” he says.

Clearly, the Indian mindset that doing laundry or keeping the house clean is something demeaning (read ‘not to be done by the master of the house’) is changing.

That’s not the case in the West. As Rogers Smith, a native of Colon currently living in Berlin, feels. He and his wife are both academics and they have two teenaged sons. For the family, nothing much has changed as far as running of the house is concerned, apart from the fact that he had more time to do things. Though the stereotype that men don’t do domestic chores is less prevalent in Europe, it still lingers in some pockets. “Homemakers end up doing the bulk of the work, while men sit and watch soccer on television — the story of many households.” But things are changing. “Covid-19 has had brought families closer by running the household together,” he sums up with a smile. “I have to go, today is my turn to do the dishes.”

(Cover: Siddhartha and his wife Chhavi)