Book extract: Kaveree Bamzai’s No Regrets — The Guilt-Free Woman’s Guide to a Good Life

Journalist Kaveree Bamzai addresses the guilt women face in her latest book No Regrets: The Guilt-Free Woman’s Guide to a Good Life as she outlines a way of life where women do not feel guilty.

Guilt for women need not be introduced. They all know all about feeling guilty. They carry it with them and are afflicted by it, ever so often. Journalist Kaveree Bamzai addresses this in her latest book No Regrets: The Guilt-Free Woman’s Guide to a Good Life as she outlines a way of life where women need not feel guilty. Published by HarperCollins India, here is an extract from the book.

My father would come home quite late in the evenings for most of my school years. I cannot imagine how my mother did it, but she would wake my brother and I at 5 am every morning in the summer (5.30 am in the winter), cook us breakfast, drop us to the bus stop, pick us up at 1.30 pm have lunch ready for us, including a bottle of Coca Cola for me; till George Fernandes ran the company out of the country after Janata Party came to power. She would then leave us to our own devices for a couple of hours in the afternoon while she took a quick nap, which meant my brother would wander off next door to play cricket with his best friend, while I would roll out a blackboard, wear my grandmother’s sari and pretend to be a schoolteacher. As the evening rolled in, 5 pm meant homework at the dining table with my mother cooking our dinner, which we would eat by 9 pm before being packed off to bed. Most days we barely saw our father, who became our buddy much later in life once he stopped spending nights out with his own buddies.

Over the weekends we were allowed to stay up a little later, only because our grandparents would have demanded that my mother cook them a good meal so they could come over. This being a Kashmiri Pandit household meant a good meal was code for at least two kinds of mutton dishes, as well as rice, a vegetable dish and dal. Yet, I don’t recall my mother ever complaining, and it was only when I spent some time examining her life as a young woman
instead of as my primary caregiver that I realised how much she had sacrificed. Not like Portnoy’s mother, who was described by Terri Apter in Difficult Mothers: Understanding and Overcoming Their Power, as a ‘patron saint of self-sacrifice and one of the outstanding producers and packagers of guilt in our time’. There are pictures of my mother, only twenty when she got married, twenty-one when she had my brother and twenty-four when she had me, looking
lovely in her hair tied in a bun, in a diaphanous chiffon saree she still has in a suitcase somewhere, sitting beside my father, who was all Gregory Peck quiff, dark glasses and tie.

As a young woman in the Government College for Women, Srinagar, my mother would tell me stories of slacking off to watch a movie with her sisters at the Regal movie hall or copying the latest in churidar-kurta fashions from the movies of Asha Parekh or Saira Banu. Her coming to Delhi, adjusting to life with my father, a young executive who still lived with his rather overbearing father who was a senior bureaucrat in Jawaharlal Nehru’s government, must not have been easy, but we didn’t get to hear of that. She managed to teach her then unathletic and much younger brother-in-law how to play hockey learnt to cook observing her mother-in-law’s help, and figured out how to entertain the high and mighty of the land (guests such as DP Dhar and P.N. Dhar, leading members of what was then called the Kashmiri Mafia around Mrs Indira Gandhi). All we heard was that we needed to work hard, do well
academically, and get good jobs.

In my case, I was not allowed to enter the kitchen even when my mother could have clearly done with some help. The most she ever let me do was make coffee for guests. She was quite clear that I was to have a career and even chose one for me—the Indian Administrative Service. It is one of her lasting regrets that I opted to be a journalist instead but given that financial independence was her goal, she feels I haven’t done too badly. Almost all the successful working women I have talked to mention the enormous influence of their mothers. Union Minister Smriti Irani talks of her mother, who worked in various jobs, from a teacher to a hotel housekeeper, wanting her three daughters to grow up fierce and fearless. Philanthropist Rohini Nilekani recalls her mother, a Sanskrit and Marathi scholar, who retained a healthy interest in politics till the last day of her life. It was an interest young Nilekani picked up in the heady seventies when she was studying French literature at Elphinstone College, Mumbai.

Fashion designer Anita Dongre remembers the strength of her mother and the women of the joint household she grew up in, in Jaipur. ‘My maamis were the best hosts in the world. The way they conducted their lives left a deep mark on me. They would be constantly running the joint family, have no time off and never complained,’ she says. Her parents moved to Mumbai just before Dongre went to college and she remembers she could bring home five friends any time and her mother would always have a snack and a smile ready. ‘She raised three boys and three girls and still had time to stitch clothes for us,’ she recalls.

Over and over, mothers as role models are the leitmotifs in almost every woman’s life. Vidhi Duggal, blogger at Momspresso, says her role models are her mother, who runs a beauty parlour, and her sister, who is a teacher. ‘They inspire me with the way they have balanced their professions and families. They have created their own identity and are strongly opinionated and yet at the same time bind their family firmly with their love and care.

Duggal used to work as a primary teacher after she got married and started working as a makeup artist and hairstylist in her mother’s salon after three years of working as a teacher. ‘It was my dream profession. I loved doing makeup for brides and loved to see their faces light up when they looked at themselves in the mirror. The best part of my profession was to see the happiness on my clients’ faces when I gave them haircuts or changed the way they looked.’ She gave that up after her younger daughter was born, and is now a stay-at-home mom (SATM) and a blogger. Yet another mommy blogger, Deepa Jaisingh, who gave up a career as executive assistant to a series of bosses to become a blogger and now SATM in the United Arab Emirates, says she has always admired her mother, who worked for nineteen years in the government postal department.

‘She is the reason I am so strong. She has always shared the responsibilities with my father and never allowed anyone to think less of their girl children. She has raised us all equally. No difference between girls and boys. We were taught what we liked and were never forced to go against our will. That’s why mothers are WOW—
MOM upside down.’ Now, in turn, Jaisingh is teaching her four-year-old daughter all she learnt about being a woman from her mother.
1. You are no less than a man.
2. You can manage everything easily, both at home and at work.
3. Your children will grow up independent and they will know.
the value of education, time and money.
4. Simple living, high thinking should be your motto.
5. Treat yourself with love and respect.
6. No one should tell you that you are less than them.

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