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If you have guilts, I don't know how the rest of us should feel

This essay is dedicated to all working moms, however, the rest of us have to understand this deeply. In the past, I have written on similar topics - NatureVsNurture, Love and Marriage etc, however, this topic is a bit different. And I have yet to have the privilege to support in bringing a human into this world, and hence there is no personal experience. I will still try to write with my heart because this is an important topic from a societal and economic pov.

To start: India’s lowest women's workforce participation is visible to all of us. However, future participation is totally upon us. This means the next chapter in the colourful history of India’s society is taking its shape as we speak, and each of us has an opportunity to contribute. Irrespective of our gender, we are all in this together.

I had a different topic planned to write for this weekend. I wanted to write about Subhashish’s new book - Caged India: How too much Government Is Holding Indians Back. But today morning, I listened to one of the Podcasts (600 working Mothers told us how they navigate work, home, and their careers) from Cost to Company by “The Ken”, and I changed my mind to write on this topic. I was listening to this episode sharp in the morning at the time of exercise, and at one point - when the word guilts, guilts, guilts of not being about to fulfil, guilts of not being live up to the expectation - I felt this massive sensation in my entire body. And it was not goosebumps pure sensations - it felt like my trillions of cells felt uncomfortable, and my neurons took longer to process the above words. People usually ask me, hey what is the source of your unending energy? And I think these stories, being empathic, and the ability to think from being in the other’s shoes are my energy sources without burning any natural resources (net +ve, no?). I know, I know you are still figuring out the full context, I will come as we proceed in this essay, however, I would like to start this essay with a +ve story.

Let’s get started…

I listed my flat on Airbnb a few months ago. There were two reasons: a. To minimize my random aloneness and learn more about the diverse set of humans. b. The earning from Airbnb will minimise my personal expenses (I was increasing my personal runway). And people, this has been one of the best decisions. In the past three months - I have met with so many unknown humans and got an opportunity to learn from them. But for this essay, I will only talk about one particular story, and it is relevant to this essay.

At the start of this month, one couple started living in my flat, of course, that was through Airbnb. As you try to know the purpose of the visit for the long stay, she told me - she is a teacher and visiting Patna for her MSc Examination. When I asked about her husband, she said: her husband is on a leadership position in a Pune-based IT company. And since I allow guests to access the common areas including the kitchen she said a room with a kitchen would be better compared to a Hotel as she avoids outside food.

It was a good deal because the rent for 18 days stay was the month's rent for my flat. She booked in advance and on 3rd July rang my doorbell. I opened the door and welcomed them, and I was a bit surprised because the woman was pregnant. I can’t explain to you the root cause of my surprise - maybe because I am subconsciously biased. In our conversations, I discovered she is six months pregnant. I helped them settle and left for my work.

On the night of 3rd July, I sit with them to explain the house rules. Since I like things in their place, I requested them to use everything without disturbing their places. The important rule: Consider this as their home. We talked for 20 minutes, and I got to know a few things about them. I did ask Shivani (Created Name) why did she choose to go ahead with her exam in the 6th month of her pregnancy? Why not postponed it? She reacted super fast: I can’t compromise my career and highlighted one past example: I have already postponed one similar exam due to my engagement.

What I saw the next day was a pure delight: I saw the husband trying to cook food because, on the 4th, Shivani had her first exam. As the kitchen was shared, and I love cooking my breakfast, I could see that he was probably, cooking for the first time. He was literally struggling, I saw the colour of the pulse, and I could say: the husband was trying his level best. Just for the trying part, 100% mark. And for the next 18 days stay, the husband did everything - two times cooking, cleaning, on-time medications, taking Shivani to the doctor, taking her to the exam centre and coming back - his daily routine for 18 days. In fact, he came back from Pune, especially for Shivani’s exam.

I remember vividly one particular incident, after visiting the doctor for medication - she felt sick and struggling to keep up with herself. In fact, everyone from her family told her not to take the next exam and come back - she said no and gave the exam the next day. I could see her holding baby bump during some of our conversations. And still travelled to Patna, stayed for 18 days, travelled from my flat to the exam centre and completed her exam.

I took the couple's permission to click and write about my experience (On 21st June- before heading back to their home)

Now tell me if I complain about anything in this world, would that be fair? Because Shivani with limited resources, even in bad health displays unimaginable strength! Frankly, after this experience, in my life - there will be no pain/constraints that can stop me from doing what I want to do because I know my pain/constraint will never cross the threshold of Shivani (and billions like her).

But the above story has a lot to do with the husband. The day you realise life is a single-player game and having another player as a partner can be bliss. But I don’t think in India - marriage is anything like a partnership, it is more like an obligation and dominated by one party. I don’t think I need to write about this again - I have written about this in the past. But when you see a husband like the above - you get optimism about the future of India's society. I wish I could see every husband do the same or even more. I think we will have a better society to live in!

Now, let’s consider this scenario: after going all through, if Shivani failed her exam (which she will not, based on what I saw: preparation) and having guilt about not being able to be on the expectation, don’t you think the rest of us with no constrain - body changes, pain, medication etc - and still not able to pass the exam means we should think many times? Of course, this is a generalization - but still valid.

Before we go to the 2nd half of this essay, I am inserting a small portion of an unpublished essay (I will publish this essay someday) to connect the dots. "Many times we feel powerless because we think we lack the resources, connections, and network to bring the changes we would like to see in our world. But the fact is one of the best inventions that we all have at our fingertips is called History: History is our ultimate weapon because it harnesses time itself. Used correctly past can alter the present - what other inventions can do that?" This is one of the reasons I love History because if I don’t have anything, I have the ultimate weapon to fight - History!

We should come back to the initial spark of this essay - the Cost to Company Podcast. To start with, this is one of the best Podcasts I have listened to this year. The episode starts with the story of the documentary: How to Survive a Plague. And it is a good reminder for all of us that everything around us is the years of hard work of millions like us, and many of them left this world without even seeing the outcome of their work. I am convinced, on the net, we are still creating positive and hence we are still making progress otherwise, one button click could eliminate humanity from this earth. So, this world is the outcome of not those who create net negatives but rather those who create net positives! And just based on this thesis, women would be the highest net positive creator in our world, no?

Before I go any further, I also have to acknowledge Sneha Vakharia - the host of the Podcast. Sneha, you are a pure rockstar! I started listening to the Cost to Company because I wanted to make sure - I have enough understanding about the current work culture - so we could build our unique culture. It seems that was one of the best decisions by letting my neurons to store information - and thank you for that. I am not going to write much about the Podcast except request every working mom out there:

Dear Working Moms: Believe us, you are punching way above any of us. And even after uncountable contributions to this world if you have guilts of not being up to the expectation or failing to give time to your child. And most importantly, keeping this inside you - would be the biggest unjust to the fabric of our world. I think you should have zero guilt, and if you have guilts, I don't know how the rest of us should feel. I know it is easy for me to write still I will request you to please be kind to yourself! Because without you - there will be no world to live in.

Can you recall the last sentence of my first paragraph - the next chapter in the colourful history of India’s society is taking its shape as we speak, and each of us has an opportunity to contribute. Irrespective of our gender, we are all in this together. Since all of us hold this power to give shape and write the rules of the society that we want to live in, Jincy Varghese’s story (The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016) is a great example of how we don’t need resources to bring institutional or societal changes at scale. It is a great example of how one human from her house with zero legal knowledge - can fast-track a bill in the world’s biggest and the complex democracy. I listened to this story multiple times. And the above story is again a testament to the fact that - History is our biggest weapon because it harnesses time itself.

Can you see the Victory mark highlighted on this Petition? It must give you unending energy.

This is also the time to wrap up this essay but before that, I would like to request the same to all Working/Nonworking Moms: Please be kind to yourself! If after doing everything, you still have guilt - I don’t know how the rest of us should feel.

Thanks for reading this essay if you know any working/nonworking moms - please tell them, to be kind to themselves…


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