Wednesday, July 16, 2014

All about all !

Indra Nooyi,  interviewed by Bradley of the Atlantic Magazine, declares "Women cant have it all !" .   


We've known about it.  And we deal with such stuff .  And get on with our lives.  Just that no one interviews us, and goes gaga over small snippets dealing with crowns, milk, PTA meetings and proxy permissions to kids.

It really depends on which part of this phrase/sentence we emphasize.

For someone  like my household help "S",  the key word is "have". 

As a "woman" she has braved life a thousand times more than I have;  she doesn't have the time to debate over whether she has a work-life balance or no.  Between being a single mother with a violent absentee (for the last 25 years)  husband, educating her 4 kids single handedly, caring for an aged mother, and now dealing with the education system and complicated certificates  to give her grand kids something she never got ,  she kind of gets a balance  only when she helplessly falls sick, and has to stay home from her own work. Her kids, plead with her to be a SAHM, now that they all work,  but she , with no pension systems, feels she must work, like her own mother, till her legs allow her.  She doesn't ponder over the haves or have-nots. Her sons too , are busy earning a living in an honorable way. Man or woman is not the issue. Theorizing about stuff is a non-activity.

For so many of us middle class types, the key word is "all" .    

For some, "all" is about a well paying  posh job, doing up your house,  annual vacations, children in schools that charge fees equivalent to down payment on a house for people like "S', a husband who looks after the kids because the wife accepts a transfer on promotion outstation,  no other aged family dependents and a house that, well, runs by itself.   " All "  is attainable, but difficult.  Sometimes requiring mental compromises, skewing the balance.

For some, "all"  is having a job, with flexible hours, ability to work from home, an understanding boss, grandparents chipping in with time for kids,   a lower remuneration is accepted simply because it is more important that  her time be her own to decide,  and the house be a home rather than a house.

For some, "all" is the good fortune to have worked, and been able to stop whenever children or parental care demanded it.  It is the ability to redefine your needs to exclude extraneous factors, and enjoy living on one person's salary, without agonizing about how your kitchen is old-style while xyz got German style counters and trolleys.

And for some, so many who have seen it all,  "all" is about managing the stresses inherent in ageing, modern ailments,  spiralling costs,  declining moral standards, and suddenly finding out that things are exactly opposite of what you thought they were.  Having it "all" is the ability to handle reverses without falling prey to psychological afflictions, and being your own Prozac . 

I read the Indra Nooyi interview.  I realize that the events she mentions are representative of her convictions about not having it all.  Maybe she should have chosen better.

I don't understand the milk stuff.  Don't they have phones ? Landlines? Cell phones ?  If the mother cannot call Indra Nooyi personally at work, what the point in being so powerful? Couldn't she call and ask her to get milk ?  Secretaries in the US system often organize and order out for sandwiches and stuff for their bosses. The secretary could have ordered the milk.  That is called efficient organization .   Hundreds of working women  in Mumbai, share grocery responsibilities with their spouses, and no one or their spouse thinks it is demeaning to stop someplace on the way home to pick up stuff. All it takes is a call or a text message.  Why all this fuss mixing up  crowns, milk, mothers and tired spouses ?  

And then the business about secretaries giving permissions to your kids to play some video game. Because you are too busy to speak to your child.  This is confusing . Isn't there a grandma in the house ?   Can the child not speak to the father at work  if the mother is unavailable at her place of work ?  Or is there something about new standards  being followed here ?  Reminds me about an interview being given once by a well known Indian industrialists wife, herself a prominent society person, who said, that as a way of teaching their children , that there exist hardships in life , on foreign vacations, the kids travel economy class, while the parents travel first class.  Wow !    

The story about highlighting absentees at the PTA meeting because Nooyi couldn't go herself,  actually sends a wrong message. Either she doesn't respect the educational system in the US, or has no qualms about her daughter learning  that. 

Never mind.

I wish Mr Bradley  of the Atlantic comes to India.

I can introduce him to so many women who can really tell him what "all" is.  How it changes with age , and how so many smart women here handle the "having it all " or "not having it all " stuff , quietly working at it.

And I am sure they will give better examples.  



  1. Whoa! Said it all in the true Suranga style, whack! wham! Yes indeed, the 'all' differs from person to person. And I am sure S would have given a true picture of a working woman finding it all. Couldn't have said it better, especially drawing parallels between the haves and have-nots. Travelling economy class to learn about hardships indeed! I wonder how these society types give such condescending interviews.

    1. Zephyr, thank you for the comment. And yes, reading the stuff really got me mad. I do hear , though, that several people have applauded and defended Ms Nooyi. :-)

  2. I just read your post and think it is the best you have ever written.
    I sit here and wonder
    where am I in all you describe.
    At times a number of them and at present this aging or rather
    old woman who has lived so many life style and is at peace in
    her simple surroundings at this time but still desires the health and stamina
    of a few years ago and wonders what could she have done differently.
    So much is not the way I imagined it years ago.
    4 children, 5 grandchildren and I stand amazed at their lives.
    Want to be a good roll model and at the moment going through
    health issues
    I feel I am not.
    Enough said and this one stands in awe of you, your talent and it
    makes me smile to think of the
    times you have reached out to me.
    Enough said
    as it is difficult to share
    what my heart wants to say.

    1. Ernestine, thank you ! Yes, you are very much there , and an inspiration to folks like me . You are such an "aware" person, following your own life and hobbies, living by yourself, but yet, all times, so much part of your children. It is such a pleasure to read your blog....

  3. I agree with you. 'All' is not the same for all. What I don't understand is, what is wrong in accepting that we cannot have it all? We try to do it all, but in reality, that all (defined by us) is rarely possible to accomplish. Some compromise somewhere must be made. I am a working mom of two kids and I try to do as much as I can. There are many times that I don't attend the PTA meetings or the fund raising events. That doesn't mean I am not there for my kids. When kids complain, I ask them: "Did all the parents come?" And the son says: "No amma...few or many didn't." Then I try to reason with him saying, see..all parents cannot make it. Only few were able to make it. I can attend some and not attend some. And that I need to balance work too. Kids do understand. But, I love the way you said it.