Some days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi locked us down on 25 March with the battle analogy of the 18-day Kurukshetra war, the celebrity housework videos began.
Then, the men who did not have cameras installed for easy recording provided dishwashing updates, and gradually, washing shortcuts and tips on Whatsapp chats. By the middle of April, three weeks into one of the longest and most draconian lockdowns in the world, the feature stories in newspapers about men participating in housework began.
What was barely seen (even on social media), were the stories of “housewives”, those for whom housework did not feel like an adventure to showcase. Women who may have had access to social media, but the lockdown eroded their free time savagely. There was a certain kind of privileging of cooking on social media, but these were not the women who were exhausted with cooking and cleaning and meal-prepping and childcare and eldercare. The women who shared their lockdown days on social media were women something like me—working women with a social media savviness, not to mention other kinds of privilege.
Domestic labour, or unpaid servitude, is rarely documented outside recent academic work. In the newsrooms I have worked in, editors take the domestic labour of women as a given. What is the story here, they’d ask. The Nobel-prize winning writer Alice Munro has mentioned how one of her first newspaper profiles was headlined, “Housewife Finds Time to Write Short Stories”. What did a day in the life of a “housewife”, an unfortunately laden term in Anglophone discourse, look like in the lockdown? How much solitude had gone, how many pleasures remained, what things were gained? What do they tell themselves if they are hit? Do they get enough sleep at night?
This is the story that the 46-minute Bengali film Tasher Ghawr (A house of cards) tells. What is it like to be a housewife forced to be at home with a husband she has disliked for a long time, a man who is having...