Slice of life series#4
Some time back, in the pre-COVID times, I had a peculiar experience that made me wonder who is really the HEAD OF THE HOUSE.
What is the definition.
What is the qualification.
Who decides to award this title.
Who entrusts this title.
This incident didn’t quite shock me but it definitely made me think of the intrinsically deep rooted nature of this problem. The presupposition of men being the head of a house feels archaic to me yet its almost like the norm for most houses even now. I mean we still commonly hear phrases such as “whose the man of the house”. Even if it would be a “woman”, she is referred to as the “man of the house” or who wears the pants in the house or similar such phrases. It is time we change that. It really is !
So this is what happened:
I heard a knock on the door and promptly when to open it. A man was standing with a tablet in his hand (not the medicine), profusely surfing something on it. He looked up with a rather distracted expression and told me that he represents some department of the government of India and is collecting basic statistics of people/families living in each flat. So, he went about his mundane questions, which I answered.
Then, he finally asked me, Ghar ka mukhya kaun hai (who is the head of the house). Almost as a reflex, I said, you can write my name. He looked amused, smiled patronisingly and said “ghar mein gents kaun hai” (who is the male member in the house).
This definitely got my attention, I stood upright, and asked him, are you asking me the name of the male member of the house or the head of the house. I can give you the name of the male member but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he is the head of the house.
This took the man by surprise and he peered at me with incredulity in his eyes, as he tried to explain the dumb lady what he meant. “Madam, jo gent kamata hai, wahi ghar ka mukhya hota hai” (the male member who earns, he is only considered the head of the house). The confidence and conviction in his voice was so heightened as if he had just doled out the biggest yet most obvious scientific innovation in mankind that apparently everyone is aware of but the dumb lady in front of him who may have lost out on that prestigious class in school.
By this time, my irritability meter was slowly rising up the charts. Somehow, I managed to contain myself and asked him again, “jo ladies kamati hai wo kya hoti hai” (the ladies that earn, what are they ?). He seemed baffled by my insistence on engaging in this dialogue. Due to his lack of ability to be able to give me an adequate explanation to my query, he shoved his tablet in my face to show me how all the other flats had given names of the male members as heads of the house.
But I was not to be deterred. Determined to explain my point to him and exasperated by this preposterous exchange, I told him, I don’t care what information the other houses gave, this house has 2 heads. Me and my husband both earn and contribute to the house and thus for any one person to be entitled as head of the house is not acceptable and is logically incorrect. Also, if one is not contributing to the house financially, there are umpteen contributions that are literally not quantifiable in monetary terms.
He finally gave up and told me, “theek hai madam aap hi ka naam likh deta hu par office mein poochenge to main kya bolunga, meri naukri jayegi” (ok ma’am I will write your name but if they ask me in office, what will I say, I may lose my job).
I realised I was fighting the battle at the wrong level and finally told him my husband’s name. But the feminist in me couldn’t control myself. I looked at him sharply with a finger pointing right at him and said “you better go and give this feedback in your office. You only need the name of the earning member of the house, any earning member, irrespective of gender.” He nodded along to pacify me and scurried along to save his life.
Like I said in the beginning, I wasn’t shocked because at this level, one expects the mentality to be such. Be it lack of education or just the surroundings that they are brought up in. It doesn’t still make it acceptable in my dictionary but it isn’t shocking. But what intrigued me was that either he was given instructions that he was following verbatim and thus his insistence and very specific definition of the head of the house or this was his individual value add to his job. I don’t know and will never know.
Neither will I ever find out if that feedback ever reached the right ears but I would like to optimistically believe he would have shared this eccentric encounter of his with somebody in his life and maybe just maybe, it gave food for thought to someone, somewhere.
Please ask relevant questions. We need to stop mindlessly tugging along with the herd. And to the men out there, unlearn it all and start afresh.
We need to put a stop to this herd mentality.