Ibite my nail, my thoughts wandering and my fingers flitting over the keyboard. A ding from the washing machine says clothes are ready for drying and another ding from the oven says the curry is ready. As I run from the washing machine to the oven, carefully remembering my next line to be typed on the laptop, I forget somewhere about calling the electrician to fix the calling bell. As I sit to type again, there is a call from the daddy about which vegetables and fruits to buy. As I contemplate between cabbage and cauliflower, the rice cooker whistles to me indicating it will mash up the rice if I don’t switch off the stove that very moment.
And the Oscar goes to…
Life as a woman – that too as a multitasking woman is worth an Oscar. We don the role of the mother, the daughter, the ‘iron’ lady, the cook, the cleaner, the driver, the emotional punch bag and at times even the ‘devil’ herself in office. When everyone says I am good at multitasking, yes, I smile gleefully. The endurance and the pain behind that smile is known only to those who live the same ‘multitasking’ life. I took my initial lessons from my mother. A teacher by profession, she instilled the knowledge of ‘time management’ in every one of us at home. If breakfast was at 8 am sharp, the table would be ready, plates brimming with those white bombs that she called idlis, and she would already be by the dressing table tying her hair and speaking, i.e., yelling over the phone at her father.
Her evenings were filled with theorems and essays. She would sit nearby marking her papers as we three children sat by her, memorising formulas and theorems. She would occasionally correct my English poetry – “See, you are again reading it as if you are a news reader. Put more emotion”. I would read again aloud and poor Wordsworth would be turning in his grave. The grinder would be churning out dosa batter on one side and my grandfather chatting with his daughter about his day.
In all ways I have tried to emulate her, playing the miserable mom, dutiful daughter, happy housewife and steely career woman. Managing bills is something that I never find easy. I set alarms in mobile that go off on my electricity bill due date which I dutifully turn off. Water tax and property tax – whoa, that is another story. When the husband wants me to complete all formalities to apply for a housing loan, I feel my intestines being pulled out and placed in my skull and my brain travelling in the opposite direction. You have the encumbrance certificate? Yes, ma’am. The plan? Yes, ma’ am. The building permit? Yes, ma’am. Salary certificate? Yes. Bank statement? Yes. Then a long pause. The next question will be, “You have your passport copy? Hallelujah! Yes, I have it.
Applying for a loan, applying for a passport renewal, change of address in a gas card, booking cooking gas on time, keeping alive the ration card, linking your Aadhar card, renewing your driving license, prompt payments toward your credit cards on time, renewing your life insurance, renewing insurance of your car, bike, periodic service of your two-wheelers, four wheelers, servicing your air-conditioners, renewing your tata sky, updating your passbook in multi-various banks, mind you, they are always strategically located at two different corners of the city, paying your telephone bill, your mobile bill, paying the dhoodhwallah (milkman), the newspaper, phew…I am tired even mentioning all this.
Apart from this, remember, you have the parent teacher meet where you smile and smile till your ears ache at the ‘achievements’ of your little monsters, their dance classes, abacus classes, IIT coaching class, music class and what not. My two-wheeler has spent more time with me than the inmates of my home. We are both made for each other. He knows my emergencies and at the right moment, he will fail me, a flat tire winking at my poor self, as I stand in the mid day sun, late for an important appointment. Whenever I get the upper hand, I don’t mind kicking him when the self- starter fails. Most two wheeler companies have developed bikes that always have faulty self starters, so we women can imagine the face of whoever messed up with us that day and kick the bike to a sputtering start. Yayy to that!
The whole office knows you as the ‘multitasking’ woman as you keep issuing tickets on one hand and the mobile is with its speaker on. ‘Two Chennai’, you yell and issue a ticket and the next moment it is Pythagoras theorem with the son, ‘a squared + b squared = c squared’. It is always me, squared. For ages we have been trying to find x and trying to square a, b and c. All that is being squared is us, the poor multitasking women. Multitasking is like juggling a colourful array of balls, only we are not sure of which one is what. When praises are heaped on our women on multitasking, I feel it is just piling up more and more pressure on the hapless women. So much of pressure that we fervently wish someone from High Above will deliver us from Evil.
The multitasking millstone
How do we do all this? The feeling of supporting the whole world on our shoulders – the feel of Atlas is imbibed in us right from the day we start wearing our skirts and frocks. The domestic world revolves around us. The official world cannot just tick without our strategic decisions. We are like the rope walkers, balancing our education, career, family and social life with aplomb. When I mention a ‘social life’, I mean the total absence of it. Every time a child is born, we may add to our list the vaccination schedule, the feeding schedule, the diaper changing schedule and the every morning potty schedule, which reminds me of my time as a doting mother to our son who loved his potty time. The longer his loo time, the more jobs I could juggle in between. As he sat on the commode and drove it like a Ferrari all over the hall, I could chop vegetables, make his soup in the kitchen and run his bath, keeping a watch over the commode and its contents that threatened to spill over anytime!
As our biological clock ticks by faster, we realise we are far better at multitasking than the most talented jugglers. We know how to handle the worst customer and the husband in his foulest mood. Almighty has bestowed on us the power to remember a lot many things, the power to remain organised under stress and the clarity to pursue our needs. The cerebral cortex of women is designed to withstand pressure, to organise in adversity and to convert short term memory to longer ones. No wonder our stay-at-home grandmothers did them well, starting from saving money in those kitchen containers, micro managing funds, saving all that is possible for the family, cooking and caring for all at home, and managing cattle and fields.
These days, multitasking has just become a tad bit stretched. In addition to homes, we have offices to manage, where files wait on our table for days till we get back to our seats and dust them off. The stress of having to do justice to both the family and career is crushing us. At times, the stress is too much to bear. There are few who just throw away career to favour the family, like me. There are few others who have opted to be better career women. For the vast majority, life everyday is a tight rope walk, oscillating between the family and career. Having been bred in a world of multitasking women all around us, we the women can always strike a balance, for God gave us a little edge over the men, in organising and striking gold. Even God couldn’t multitask and gave Himself a day off and we run around the mill, doing what we do best- multitasking!