Dialogues about the work - home relationship
On a Tuesday morning, Ma woke up as per her daily routine. Today, to prepare some sweets on the occasion of a regional festival, especially for Chhoti. Ma anxiously walks and sieves through the ingredients, as a faint voice breaks through the morning rays. “Planning to make something?” Ma turns back and answers, “No matter what I do I cannot wake up earlier than you.” Ma continued, “Or else on my normal days, I cannot prepare anything special for Chhoti or you”. The ‘you’ that Ma referred was Chhoti’s Ba, who was preoccupied wrapping her daily morning rituals.
Ma’s excitement was just not the preparation but also after a long time Ba, Chhoti and herself were under the same roof celebrating the festival. Chhoti, after her school had left the city for graduation and then after working few years abroad, had recently shifted to their old house in the city. “Today it gives me a feeling of those days. Chhoti and I would go to school carrying our lunchboxes’, sighed Ma. Ba, exercising her sense of humour said, “The food that I prepared for both of you” and giggled.
"You did what you could between your work and home... ...the evening board games, the Sunday shopping, the ways they spent the planned holidays - all governed around Ma’s school schedule."
Ma turned back and said, “School schedules... I just could not manage!” Ba continued giggling as Ma said, “Sometimes I do wish I could give some more time for Chhoti.”
“And what about me?”, Ba asked. “At least Chhoti and you would walk to school, get to see each other during the recess and even she would come back with you, though her classes got over early”, Ba spoke generously.
Ma nodded as she walked up to Ba and handed her a cup of coffee.
“So you think I ignored you?” Ma enquired softly. “You did what you could between your work and home! Do not be unnecessarily sentimental”, said Ba imposingly. As Ma and Ba sat through sipping the coffee, more memories unfolded about Chhoti - the evening board games, the Sunday shopping, the ways they spent the planned holidays - all governed around Ma’s school schedule.
While Ma and Ba joyed in discussion, a shuffling noise broke their conversation. “She has also woken up, as per her routine, just like you...", said Ba. Ma quickly left her sofa and walked up only to understand it was ‘not like her’ as Chhoti remarked “Can you pass me my lunchbox?” Chhoti had woken up to head to office. “Do you not have a holiday today?”, enquired Ma.
“It is an optional holiday Ma. I thought I will wrap up some work and then come back early.”
“So, everyone is coming to office today? Then I will send some sweets.”
“No, Ma. It is optional. I am not sure who all are attending office. And listen, do not send sweets!”
Ma did not reply. She shrunk back and turned around towards the kitchen now grappling what to make for Chhoti’s lunch. After all the house help had also taken the day off for the festival.
Chhoti realising Ma’s face turning slightly pale quickly retorted, “You know what? I will not go to office today. Will stay back”. “Is that Okay?”, Ma quickly asked. “I will manage. You make the sweets, I will make a few calls” Chhoti laid the order. Ma managed a smile, as Ba rocked on her chair and witnessed the negotiations unfold.
"It is not work or home Ba, it is work from home... I just need to inform... It is not a holiday Ma; I am technically working. This gives me the opportunity to be at home while I am still at work "
While Ba and Ma, organised themselves to prepare for the occasion, Chhoti got busy making phone calls, sending messages, readied her laptop and got busy over the emails. She locked herself in the room for a while and on different intervals, made a quick visit to the kitchen to catch up on the preparations, get cuddled by both Ma and Ba and then suddenly return, upon being ‘notified.’
“If she is not going to work, why does she look so busy?”, Ba enquired. ‘She is at home, is that not enough?”, responded Ma in Chhoti’s defence as they continued to work.
As the morning unfolded, Ba and Ma now settled around Chhoti who was still fidgeting with the gadgets at her disposal. “Did you like the sweet?”, asked Ba.
Focussing on her phone and rather engaged, she nodded in response and said, “Just give me a minute,” as she walked off to answer her phone. Ba sighed and Ma just stared.
“Done!” exclaimed Chhoti hopping back to the sofa, to glance through the week’s calendar. “Are you working or are you at home?” asked Ba. “It is not work or home Ba, it is work from home!”, replied Chhoti quirkily.
“What exactly is that?” Ma enquired.
“Say it is like how you used to bring examination papers back home to evaluate. Only you did it when there was extra work, and I do it whenever I wish to. I just need to inform.”, explained Chhoti.
“So, it is a holiday?” Ma peered.
“It is not a holiday Ma; I am technically working. This gives me the opportunity to be at home while I am still at work. Honestly, this was the primary criteria for me to choose a job when I planned to get back here. So that I can be with Ba and you and look after the house whenever required!” Chhoti emphasized this with a slight irritation.
“It is strange, Chhoti. For me it finding a work was about getting out of home. Those days, that was the notion of being independent. That has shaped me and made me who I am. And today, the criteria is about getting time at home!”, said Ma.
Chhoti, in defence remarked. “Well, independent has different meanings. We are also independent. We work independently. Each one works based on their own timings, takes these days off based on individual suitability. Today, flexibility and personal convenience is about being independent!”
As Ma heard, she laid back and stared outside the window. Both in happiness to be able to converse with Chhoti as an adult, and even in retrospection as to how times have unfolded in front of her. Chhoti, utilising the silence, opened her laptop, logged in and ran thorough check on today’s tasks.
Ba sat in the middle shuffling her legs and waited in anticipation for someone to speak. She waited but could not resist, and said, “You did not want to take sweets because you are not sure who will be coming to office or because you are ashamed?”
“Ba! We do not have the culture of doing things like a herd! Like Ma, used to - with her colleagues at school. We do not usually schedule to eat together and do these collective things. We keep in touch, do our bit efficiently and get back to life!” Chhoti responded.
“For us the hours spend in school was also life”, Ma passed a statement. Chhoti rolled her eyes and ignored as Ma intervened, “Ba, you are always worried about these homely things! Why would one be ashamed with sweets! This is one of the reasons I joined an office and to not be like you!”
"Yes, I never had to step out of the house to go to another place called office. So, do I qualify to speak or not? ...If you say work from home, your Ma says work and home, can I then say work at home?"
Chhoti started giggling at the statement, momentarily forgetting her work. Ma joined in the laugh. The festive flavour of the house now come alive amidst the tense morning conversations. Ba watched them laugh and stayed quiet with a beaming smirk across her face. She absorbed the joy of the house and then spoke, “Just because I do not have a concept about office, does not mean I did not work!”
And Ba continued, without a care of the laughter, “When you said you did not want to be like me, you referred to me being all the time at home. But Chhoti, your Ma does not realise that I also worked. When our garment factory started, I used to sit at home, stitch and assist. At time I even kept accounts of the office, and even trained other women in the front room, while my mother in law would be resting in the back room. The early morning was doing household chores, the mid-morning to afternoon for work, then back again looking after the house, evening was work again and the night for family. Will you both call this flexibility or schedule, I don’t know!”
The laughter seized as both Chhoti and Ma fell silent and concentrated of what Ba was stating. Both attempted to say something, but Ba continued, “Yes, I never had to step out of the house to go to another place called office. So do I qualify to speak or not?” Ba left the question unanswered as she continued to give anecdotes of days and times of how she managed work, how she attended customers, cooked for the family and at days if there would have been a domestic fight, they would simply shut the shop. She iterated even about the time when the shop was shifted out of the house premises into the city market and how things changed.
As she concluded Ma got up to set the table for lunch, and Chhoti requested for another ten minutes of time to answer an urgent call that just could not be avoided. Ma sighed and returned to her seat and switched on the television. Chhoti got up from her sofa, only to be interrupted by one last question from Ba, “If you say work from home, your Ma says work and home, can I then say work at home?”
What would be Chhoti’s reply? What would Ma say? Well, that depends at what conjunction you - the reader - fill in the gap between home – work. What appears today as a perk is an ingrained cultural working pattern of the yesteryear. What seems to be comfort today was probably a sign of dependence in the near past. And, what was a required distinction in society is today’s gap to bridge.
There are endless possibilities to correlate the terms 'home' and 'work'. Such as those who (we should not forget) continue to ‘work for home’. Comparisons are mere deterrents to prove the superiority of one over the other. The truth is that they are just mere choices, conditions and circumstances. The only question therefore remains is, how are you completing your homework?