The Liberated Woman- A Short Fiction

by Chandrika R Krishnan

Smita was in a tizzy. The maid, as usual, had passed on the information that she wouldn’t be in today. Really! Shanti had a penchant for choosing the most awkward of days. She wished she could do without her, but she sighed knowing that it was only wishful thinking. On the office front, the project had to be completed today and she hoped that her completion would pave the way to ask for a day’s leave from her taciturn boss. Workaholic to a fault, he expected the same from everyone.

“Ma, don’t forget to take off for my science exhibition.” That imperious order came from her thirteen-year-old!

“Don’t count on that, beta. She is under the assumption that her absence would send the IT sector crashing!” Her husband inserted caustically.

“Don’t underestimate my job profile. Why can’t you take off for your precious daughter? Will the whole financial sector of the country be in a shambles if you do so?” Smita screamed back.

Generally, her husband Sunil was supportive but he was cross. He had been asking her to employ a more reliable house help from the agency. Smita was reluctant because Shanti knew the ways of her house and she just did not have the time to train another. Another grouse of his was her reluctance to invite his parents for an extended period. True, her daughter would benefit from her grandparent’s presence and they weren’t the kind to interfere, but having people underfoot was not to her liking. Moreover, she didn’t want to come across as dependent on them.

She rolled out the chapatti and threw it onto the tawa. Briskly she stirred the sabzi on the other stove and expertly rolled out another as she continued to mutter to herself. She was tired mentally and physically. She tried to remember when she had last sat down and relaxed. Life indeed was turning into a giant wheel with its faulty mechanism, going round and round steadily and mechanically. The worry about Ramya was also getting to her. Her grades were slipping and she needed to interact with the teacher. But where was she supposed to find the time?

Smita shook her head to clear it off all her negative thoughts. On the positive side, the job satisfaction she derived was great and her bank balance was steadily increasing. That reminded her that she simply had to find time to discuss long-term investment plans with her husband instead of just accumulating in the bank.

She liked leaving home early to avoid the horrendous rush-hour traffic and loved the extra time she could put in the office. She completed the project well in advance and earned a faint nod from her boss and, surprise of surprise, a full day off without a murmur. But by 7 PM, there was a new project, a new deadline and scrapping her leave to a three-hour permission!

Back home she found it difficult to deal with a sulky Ramya who was unable to or simply refused to accept that a high-profile job did not simply allow time for emotional pleading. Another showdown between her and Sunil before they stormed off to cool down.

The day dawned bright and chirpy made more so with the arrival of Shanti. She, God bless her, did her job extremely well and needed no supervision. No explanation was forthcoming regarding her leave the previous day and Smita did not want to raise the issue lest it escalated into a difficult situation. Smita decided to “avail her permission” in the morning, as she was apprehensive that once she stepped into her office even getting away would become difficult. She went to the school and saw the room in which her daughter was displaying her project. Ramya wanted her mother to visit her friends’ projects but Smita did not have the time.

However, she managed to have a word with the class teacher and learnt that her daughter was displaying a lack of interest in learning. Most of the time she seemed to be in a world of her own. “Another job on her long list,” Smita thought, caught between her career and her home life.  She simply had to find time to chat with her daughter. She would order a “takeaway” this evening and make sure she spoke to her daughter about the importance of education.

That night she gave her daughter a talking and tried to draw her out on what was troubling her. She stressed the importance of education. “See, Ramya. I can shoulder the responsibility of running this household and earning almost as much as your father. This was not just possible earlier due to lack of education. Your grandmothers had to put up with exploitation and the drudgery of the household- a mere slave in their own house. The boss wants me to put me on a new project. Do you want to be liberated like me or be exploited?”

Smita was sure that Ramya would see sense and decided to allow her to sleep over all when … … “Ma, are you really liberated? From what I see, Shanti takes more leaves than you do. You seem to depend on her more than she does on you. We hardly have fun together. Is life all about earning well? No time for fun and worried about competition and constantly proving oneself at the office and home? If that be the case, I would prefer to earn less and live more.”

Walking out of the room, the truth of the statement stuck with her. Isn’t there a simple answer to the most difficult question of all- a work-life balance? Did she like being in control and not display her vulnerable side to the world and family? With that thought, she shed the heavy mantle of wanting to put her best foot forward at all times and breathed deeply for the first time in days.



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