Hours to kill and 'nothingness' to contend are driving many urban, affluent women to depression, finds Anjuli Bhargava.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
I walk into a friend's palatial home in south Delhi the other day and find her looking despondent. She is married to a successful businessman, has two children, both of whom are now studying in the US, runs a nice home and is free all day to pursue whatever catches her fancy.
Yet I find her very low -- seeming almost depressed.
I ask what has happened and her answer is 'nothing' is happening.
Everything is perfect: she is rich by most standards, has a peaceful marriage, her children are doing fine, she has plenty of help at home and yet, it feels empty. She says she wakes up and finds she has so many hours at her disposal and nothing to fill them with.
I ask why she doesn't work in some way -- just to keep her mind occupied.
She says she doesn't want to work unless she is paid adequately for it -- she holds a master's degree from Oxford -- but no one will pay her according to what she thinks she should be.
I suggest she look at doing some social work. In a country like ours, there's no end of people who need help and if she has time on her hands, why not use it to do some good?
She says -- quite honestly -- that Delhi traffic and the whole nightmare of stepping out and getting somewhere just to do 'good' is not her cup of tea. She no longer has the discipline and has too much apathy. She says she finds it a struggle to get out of bed every morning -- that's how pointless the days seem to her.
Then I realised that I have had this kind of conversation with many women in the post-40 to early-50 age group over the last few years.
In Gurugram, at the condominium where I lived for eight years, I was surrounded by 250 to 300 women. Barring those who were single mothers or unmarried -- and hence forced to earn a living and often doing a better job of it than many men -- very few women, despite holding degrees from the best institutions, had careers to speak of. Some were working in their spouses' businesses and a few were teaching, but by and large the moment economic necessity didn't demand it, women didn't work in competitive environments.
Over the years, many confided to say that they wish they had done something else with their lives -- other than parenting. Many admitted that with the kind of resources they had, finding good help to look after their children was not really a constraining factor.
With the children older, leaving the country to study overseas and leading their own lives, they now had too much time on their hands while their husbands remained as busy as ever.
Several admitted to being depressed and some had sought professional help.
Yet they argued that now it was too late.
Many felt that whatever they would earn would be a fraction of what they felt they were entitled to earn. Some felt that NGO or voluntary work -- which is always an option -- was 'not really working', so they didn't want to consider that.
But a majority said they simply lacked the drive to change things. While raising their children, they had slowly worked themselves into a corner -- 'a golden cage' -- from which they didn't have the strength to emerge.
Why am I narrating all this?
In my view, as a society -- in the more affluent circles, at least -- we seem to be failing to get a few critical points across to our daughters.
The days when families survived on a single income are fast vanishing. Inflation, lifestyles, aspirations are all rising faster than incomes, and to live the kind of lives we seem to be aspiring to, it is critical that both partners in a marriage contribute.
The days when marriages were for keeps are gone, too. I have seen several instances where women were suddenly thrust into work due to a separation or a divorce. All too often, the woman finds herself trying to eke out a living, managing the children and dealing with the trauma of a broken relationship all at the same time.
But perhaps the biggest point that needs to be driven home is that girls need to be aware that they work or keep themselves gainfully occupied for their own sake. There is no point to prove.
We don't work only to earn a living but to keep our minds alive. That is the single most compelling reason.