On the heels of International Women’s Day, I want to take a moment to honor my sister-in-law, Jyothi, for the incredible woman and mother that she is. She is the backbone of her household, and without her nothing would function, and no one would eat. Because of her family’s dependence on her, Jyothi is somewhat of a prisoner to her role as a mother, wife, and caretaker. She can never go anywhere overnight, and often nor during the day, either. Quite simply, too many people need her.
Jyothi’s day starts every day at 3:30AM, whether she has a headache, was up late the night before, or it’s a sweltering hot and humid day. She wakes up and waters all the beautiful plants that make her garden so lovely. She loves her flowers and she takes great pride in them. I can see why- it’s her way of bringing some beauty from the outside world into her own world. She then starts cooking breakfast for the entire family, which includes her 8 and 10 year old sons, her husband, her mother and father (my parents-in-law), and for the past month since we’ve been staying with them in India, my husband, me, and our daughter.
Once she is finished making breakfast, she begins preparations to cook lunch, making sure it is complete by the time the boys head to school around 8:45AM. The boys get a freshly prepared meal to take with them and feed them through their brains through the school day. In the evening she spends time kneading bread dough and rolling out each wheat chipati we will eat for dinner. The family expects three freshly prepared meals per day, and Jyothi is the only one to provide it.
She does the laundry, cleans, does the dishes, waters the plant, cares for their dog, and takes the children and her aging parents to doctors’ visits and dental appointments. This woman never rests, and she can’t afford to. No one else in the family will pick up the slack. When we are here she insists on taking my own daughter to play with, entertain, and sometimes put to sleep. Yesterday as my daughter was slowly rousing from sleep, before she even opened her eyes, she was whispering over and over again “Amay” which means (Aunt) in Malayalam. All I can do to try to scratch the surface to give back to her in some way is try to help with the dishes once in a while, and I always feel incredibly inept! The few times I’ve tried preparing some Western-style food, Jyothi will eat it, but she still has to prepare something for the rest of the family who expect their curries. I can’t really blame them- Jyothi’s food is the best I’ve tasted.
Jyothi has aspirations beyond being a mother and caretaker for her parents. She would love to open a beauty shop in her town, and to sell clothing and textiles. But, her roles as mother, wife, and daughter come first and constrain her. Jyothi represents the women in this world that give so selflessly to their families at the expense of pursuing their own desires. Like so many cultures and traditions still alive today, it’s often not acceptable for women to find balance between being a mother and caretaker and pursuing our own individual interests beyond their home responsibilities.
So today as I reflect on having the time to meditate on motherhood and womanhood, and Jyothi is working in the stifling hot kitchen to prepare a fresh lunch before she takes her father to his dentist appointment, I want to at least recognize her, if nothing else. She keeps this household and so many people going, and she is in every way amazing beyond her roles as a caretaker. She is kind, beautiful, resilient, and to me she is truly a super hero. I often complain about how hard it is to balance work with being a mom and I remind myself of Jyothi.