February 28, 2011

The Housewife Returns

I had to stop myself before filling in the customs re-entry form on the flight from Heathrow to Boston last Wednesday. Name: fine. I remembered it. Address: ditto. Carrier, flight number, passport number, passport issue date, passport expiry, yadayadayada. At the bottom — profession. I gripped my pen…and then I remembered: “housewife.”  I had gone to India as a housewife, so, I figured, I’d better come home as one, too.

Amazing what this housewife got to do in India. Serendipitously interviewed a fascinating bunch of people while working on a documentary about a 90-year-old left-leaning missionary. Chatted animatedly with an elegant older Bengali gent about educating students with special needs in India and America — and spoke of what I would do from Boston to provide contacts. Stood in line to clear security at the Taj Mahal with my daughter and got whacked in the ribs by a coterie of be-saried Afghanis intent on cutting the queue. Ate in the home of an actor-cum-driver and his nurse wife, savoring chole and chapatis, watching their 7-year-old son dance on a coffee table. Got a sense of Indian community health when the beloved 90-year-old fell and fractured her collar bone and shoulder. Rode a jeep through a tiger preserve and saw tiger paw prints. Huffed and puffed my way through a string of bazaars overlooking the foothills of the Himalayas. Shared a wild, segmented, 10+-hour taxi ride from Landour to Delhi with a gracious, garrulous movie star.

What to do with all of these experiences and memories? A good housewife would cook. And since I am an excellent housewife, I’ve been studying the recipes and techniques of Auntie Manjula online. A good housewife would also put together a pitch for a radio story and begin piecing together video and sound for her documentary. And do laundry. And give friends gifts. And watch the Oscars with her husband. And write a few thank you notes. Check, check, check-check-check.

Ah, to travel the world under the capacious mantle of “housewife!” A privilege? A disguise?

If you want to see what I saw — and also to see what daughter-of-housewife is seeing and doing — follow this link.