By Aashna Moorjani
Mom wakes up every day at six. Though my brother and I protest, she insists on making our breakfasts and lunches. Our attempts to give her a break are half hearted, anyway.
Bowls of cereal and peanut butter sandwiches somehow taste better when she prepares them. While my brother and I are at school, Mom cooks: lunch, dinner, side dishes. After her own lunch (which never exceeds ten minutes) Mom picks us up. Back at home, she has a brief intermission with a cup of chai before getting back in the car to schlep us off to our extracurricular activities until dinner. After dinner, she washes every dish and cleans every counter because God forbid, we wake up to a messy kitchen. Then, she goes to bed and the cycle continues.
When I sat down to interview my mom, Arpana, she described this life with acceptance. “I am fulfilling my roles as a mom, as a wife, as a daughter-in-law,” she said. Her life is based on “roles” she needs to assume. She considers any further examination of them to be pointless.
“There was no choice,” she said. “I had to do it.”
As her daughter, it was painful to hear this resignation in her voice. There was no anger or sadness or fatigue. Only acceptance. This is the opposite of how she raised me to approach my own life. She taught me the importance of striving for exactly what I want in life and settling for no less. I know her life cannot be everything she wants. If it were, she wouldn’t describe it the same way one describes going to the DMV.
More than the pain, however, I felt confused. As a girl, I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t want a career or some outlet outside the home? From my first days of school, I was told I could be anything, along with all the other girls in my classes. So, the idea of becoming a housewife instead of pursuing a career morphed from a viable option into conforming to an outdated ideal. How can Arpana accept a life of submission to the cult of domesticity women’s rights activists fought so hard for us to escape? The answer may be found in where we grew up—I am being raised in America, while Arpana was raised in India.
While I was asked on the first day of Kindergarten what I wanted to be when I grew up, Arpana told me she wasn’t. Nor was she asked outside of school. Or by anyone anywhere.
She explained, “I never had a goal, an aspiration of what I wanted to become because I felt there was no life beyond being with my parents, going to college, and getting shipped away to marry somebody. It was never an option to work.”
While I spent my childhood preparing for my career as an actress/director/author/fashion designer, Arpana spent hers being told about marriage, as she says, “all the time.” By her parents, her grandparents, her aunt… “It was put in my head so much that I didn’t even know what else there was in life.”
It makes sense why Arpana accepts her life because that was the mindset she was trained to practice. It began in her early childhood and continued until marriage. “It was just taken that I’ve got to do what they’re telling me to do,” she said.
If I’m being honest, my interview questions were designed to crack the animosity I expected Arpana to harbor against her life because I couldn’t imagine ever being satisfied with it. I now know such animosity doesn’t exist. She was told for so many years her “opinion didn’t matter” that even now, the obligations of married life are something she simply fulfills. An opinion is not necessary when the obligations still need to be fulfilled.
The ideal Indian wife is firstly and lastly, a homemaker. Yet, homemaking is a duty, so individual successes are nothing to be proud of. Certainly not when every woman is attaining the exact same successes. Recounting her second pregnancy, Arpana said, “I was working until the last day, cooking and cleaning. There was no one to help. I was alone.” In fact, both of Arpana’s in-laws were present, she explained, but they “didn’t even care to check what was going on with me.” Their expectation was that the daughter-in-law would fulfill her duties. So, she did.
The way Arpana strained herself to be this ideal, even when nine months pregnant, shows how deep wifely duty can cut.
The reason Arpana said “I didn’t have any vision other than my home life,” is because any visions of success outside the home were repressed by her family. For instance, Arpana always knew she loved fashion, but the thought of pursuing it in college, in her words, “wasn’t an option.” While she encourages every one of my ambitions, her family told her she “would never work.” However, her “vision” more recently, has bloomed beyond the home.
Up until this interview, I’d never heard Arpana describe herself as being “fulfilled” by life. To my surprise, when we discussed her personal fulfillment, Arpana said “I’m on the path there. I can feel it.” The focus before was always on whether her family was being fulfilled. At least she now is willing to commit to her own with the same dedication.
Now, Arpana is a fashion blogger on Instagram. In between all those car rides, she’s taking pictures, crafting unforgettable outfits, planning to attend fashion shows. She’s using talents she’s had her entire life. No one can create a story out of clothes and a single picture the way she can.
It took 20 years of marriage for Mom to realize she is just as deserving of fulfillment as her family, that she can seize control of her life the way she taught me. Mom’s daily routine was once beholden to the terms of both everyone living in our house and in her childhood house.
Mom now says, “I want to live my life on my terms”.
Aashna Moorjani is a high school senior who loves to write (but you already knew that). At school, she is the editor-in-chief of both the newspaper and the French literary magazine. Outside of school, she writes for TAPinto of Millburn/Short Hills and interns at Lotus Lane Literary. She recently ghostwrote a novel that will be published by Amazon Lake Union this fall. When she’s not writing, she spends her time reading, trying to bake fancy French desserts, and watching cheesy movies.