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  • Writer's pictureTulika Publishers

Guest post by Sowmya Rajendran: Women, work and rest

It was during the pandemic, when I was feeling overwhelmed with my job, housework, online school and a book deadline, that I looked at my cat and decided that turning into him was going to be a life goal.

'Being productive' has always been very high on my list of priorities. In fact, my therapist noticed that I constantly brought it up in all kinds of conversations. It was how I assigned value to myself and those around me. If I was being productive, then all was well. If I wasn't, then I didn't have a sense of control. I became anxious, fidgety and restless. There are many reasons for this, reasons that I'm working through.

One of them is certainly gender. As a girl, I grew up observing that the women around me were always expected to be working. 'Taking rest' was equated to being lazy. Even when we visited other people's homes, the female guests were supposed to participate in the housework. Cutting, serving, washing up.

Girls who obediently participated in these tasks assigned by older women were applauded. Those of us who protested were told we were selfish, and that we should be married off to someone in the "military" who would instil some discipline in us. Waking up late during the weekends or the holidays was also a sin because you could have helped out instead of sleeping the hours away.

Talking about how busy you were running the house, how early you woke up to make breakfast and lunch, how housework was endless but had to be done, and the sacrifices you made for the family were common topics of conversation among the women. There was an undercurrent of pride in all the moaning and groaning.

Back then, it was only my grandmother who was unapologetic about not obsessing with housework. She also discouraged her daughters from constantly cooking and cleaning. She wasn't interested in running the perfect home. People said she had "tholikatti" (thick skin) because she was not bothered by the judgmental comments of those around her. She was not bothered about that either.

She took good care of herself, applying coconut oil in her hair and Ponds cream on her skin. She had four children. Her husband suffered a stroke and was bedridden when she was in her forties. He never recovered. But she didn't lose her zest for life.

She took pride in her appearance ("Rani mari irukkku!" she would say in broken Tamil as a joke). When she was hospitalised for her failing lungs and had to wear an oxygen mask, she pulled it down when we wanted to click a photograph with her because she was particular about looking good in pictures.

After she passed away two years ago, I was sitting in the balcony one day and watching my cat. He was so content, staring at the trees. My grandmother often had that expression. Gazing at the beyond and thinking her thoughts. Her favourite place was the balcony, too.

Both of them also have something else in common - self-love. I'm always fascinated by how my cat licks himself thoroughly. No part of him is too icky. No part is unworthy of his attention. He is always immaculate. He is always convinced of his supreme beauty.

That's where the idea for 'My Ammamma is Now a Cat' came from. It is about a grandmother who decides that she is now a cat because it's time for her to focus on herself. She isn't the kind of grandmother who makes pickles and pappadam. She's the kind of grandmother who curls up in bed for a siesta. The story isn't about how she takes care of her grandchild but about how she takes care of herself.

The picture books I love the most are ones that speak to children and adults alike. That's what I wished to do with this book, too. Here's to grandmothers who enjoy doing nothing and may we inherit their tholikatti. Thank you, Tulika Publishers for bringing this book out.

Ammamma declares that she is now a cat!

Follow her feline moves in Sowmya Rajendran's latest book, My Ammamma is Now a Cat, with Niveditha Subramaniam's whimsical pictures.

Buy your copy here!


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