Her knife cuts through the soft flesh of the shiny purple brinjal (eggplant/aubergine). Rotten to the core! She must negotiate this one first – the case of missing aubergine in the sambhar. The vegetables in the backyard garden are still too raw to be plucked out for today’s cooking. She would need to improvise and come up with an alternative, fast. A regular ten-year-old son, and a generally reasonable husband, both raised, unintentionally, somewhat spoilt with the free will to refuse a meal altogether because of a favorite missing vegetable in sambhar. The entitlement of throwing a tantrum over such slightest disruptions in the trivial pleasures of life perhaps results from a doting mother and a conscientious homemaker’s passive forbearance for a family’s little drama that doesn’t really hurt. She will cook, clean, ensure the household routines remain undisturbed, and then head out for work – run the village school as its principal. A role she has played most diligently for the past eleven years.
She laid the table. Arranged the food. The day is about to begin with a nourishing meal. She served a bowl of sprouts and honey for the little agitator. For him, the choice is between a bowl of food that tastes like plant and a relatively exciting bowl of spicy hot sambhar and rice, sans the aubergine. A child’s body, hardly capable of any resistance in a ravaging state of morning hunger, eventually gives in. Her strategy works; one mini-revolt averted. For the other grownup fuss, she begins the morning conversation while serving the food. How much would the idea of giving out the annual prizes at the next community meeting excite the man who once held elected positions in local government and, despite not holding the office anymore, still finds the delicious taste of power and authority irresistible—a promising evening of attention and adulation. Missing aubergine is hardly noticed. The payoff of such regular strategic manipulation over trivial household matters is a peaceful start for a promising day, conserving the residue of energy to focus on issues slightly more consequential.
As a teacher, she is patient and passionate. As a principal, she values being perceived as a consistently reasonable leader by her staff and colleagues. The second big negotiation for the day would be with the staff members about the early commencement of the yearly exams, given the forecasted rainy season to hit before the usual time, next week. The rain and floods usurp daily life in this part of the terrain regularly, every season. The ground gives in, and sinkholes and landslides are common. It’s hard to assess the aftermath of such natural calamities. Sometimes the tragedies are life-changing. An interrupted education is the least of misfortunes. Yet it is always hard for a teacher, an educator, to reconcile the loss of a young person’s future in the face of inescapable difficult circumstances. Missing the yearly exam would mean falling behind on a year’s hard work. Preponement of exams would mean extra hours of work and exam duties for the teachers on short notice. She is anticipating some concerns raised or some pushbacks, perhaps. She is ready to discuss. She wants to hear out the impending challenges that would ensue. She wants to plan as a team. However, none of that happens. Her suggestions are treated as commands, and her staff, voluntarily relinquishing all individual opinions and ownership, simply follows her instructions like an obedient workforce. No questions asked. Nothing to negotiate. No strategy is required. Her only payoff – children’s well-being, in this case, them being able to finish the school year uneventfully.
She has other plans with the school budget. She wants the school staff and community to participate in the budget allocation. She is proud to have been instrumental in setting up the school library. But she knows not all children nor all adults like to read. Some like to listen, to be read out. Some children love to act out the stories as they listen. The children need a space for that, an acknowledgment that it’s okay not to enjoy reading, listening is fine too, or simply acting. The school playground is a pride for the village – the football and other sports events keep the young busy. But some children are innovating new games and sports on the side. A weeding competition on the farms during weekends, who catches the most fireflies in the jar. Some even built square badminton rackets on their own. That’s the shape that was easier to make. She watches and wishes she could appreciate them too.
After school, her day is still not over; in fact a long way from the end. She is the president of the local community body. She replaced her husband. The result of a state affirmative action that turns out to be more strategic than simply a policy choice – a necessary inclusion that amps up the efficiency of a local body by recognizing women’s unique abilities in fulfilling governing duties and responsibilities. Husband, however, still hangs around in committee meetings as a habit of legacy. He does most of the public speaking. His voice is loud. But she is not silent. Her voice is well-formed, far from muffled, and most importantly, legitimate. Her third negotiation of the day – is finalizing the budget for a women’s community center for their skill development, training, and meetings and, above all, building friendships and groups around shared stories. The fund allocated is not enough and is highly contested. Villagers demand it be used for other more pressing issues. She runs the women’s social media group. The posts are as efficient as entertaining, from the latest cow birth to taking orders for the last batch of pickles before the season ends. Technology has been the most accessible privilege. However, community budgets have not been accessible nor adequate. The women meet in their backyards or sometimes simply sit down under trees, like a picnic.
Today she will meet the village ladies on one of their farms. A tiny shed. She will show resolve and abstain from snacking. Her heartburn is worsening. There will be jokes and banter, but as always, many concerns will be raised. She will take notes. Eventually, some women will have to start participating and speaking up in the larger community meetings alongside all the village members. The women need convincing. But even before finding voices, the women have pledged their small savings to add to the allotted budget. They are committed to that women’s center. She will walk into the village committee meeting later in the evening, representing the women’s commitment. For months, she has been connecting with the village women in informal spaces that are more friendly and liberating than the community office. Today she has gained their confidence and is strategically in a solid position to negotiate, with the strength of their pledged money and all the women’s voices. Like NFTs and DAOs , tokens of space ownership could be issued for these women someday. Technology will perhaps soon reach places where equal legitimate voices will emerge from equal ownership.
In the meantime, she will continue to be the community president at home, negotiating over the day’s lunch menu. Be the mother at work, where she is simply obeyed and never questioned. She will be the wife at the village community office, persuading for voice and ownership. Ultimately, she will oversee all three everyday spaces irrespective of their hierarchy of importance in her life.
Author: Esha Sen Madhavan
[Founder Editor, The Daily Life Magazine]
Illustration/Image/Graphics: TDLM Design Team