Thursday 16 April 2020

The clash of the brain and brawn

The recent lockdown has all of us cooped up in the confines of our homes which is a bag of mixed emotions. For me particularly, the lockdown has brought house-work and a feverish craze to clean and sparkle the home, which isn't a bad thing, after all but it does have serious implications - I am unable to give myself to any intellectual or academic work. Reading, writing and attending to various activities of critical insights leading to a paper in a journal/book is practically impossible for me. But on the days when I set aside the housework-that-never-ends, I am able to focus on activities that require the brain and not brawn.

I have often wondered on the disparity of the brain and brawn. Many friends who are academics don't much indulge in house-work for it is time and energy consuming leaving no time for any other work. Here I am also tempted to think that I have always given more weight to work that involves the mind instead of physical work but the lockdown has brought to the surface ground realities - The house work cannot be ignored and I being I, cannot leave anything half done (The saying, Well begun is half done has always given rise to a conflict in me!). Cooking has become an elaborate affair and so has cleaning and shining the sundry stuff around me. I enjoy seeing the work of my hands and take pride in the sweat of my brow but I'm not quite content; I think of the academic work that could have been done in this time of lockdown. This is when existential angst smothers me and I start missing my helps. How I wish they would relieve me of this but I also know that I am a better worker than them - cooking tasty food and shining my vessels and clothes brighter. I am perpetually drenched in sweat and always on the run - vessels, clothes, hair everywhere (my nonhuman companion's) and of course, the plants and the cobwebs! Sigh.

Someone I know refers to housework as menial job which requires no much thought but mechanical rendering of the work and I think that person is right - Because when I tick off each finished task, I am glad that I don't have to be critical or analytical (perhaps analysis into how to remove that oil stain or how to reach a corner which my help has conveniently overlooked through for eight years!). And at the end of the day, I sometimes feel happy that there is no much thinking involved - at the same time missing the fact that I could have written couple of essays or short articles.

At the end of the day, the brain and the brawn keep me engaged and away from thoughts that arise from the dark labyrinth of the social media though I am yet to master the art of detachment from the same. But I do wish earnestly that I manage time to distribute to both the Bs - the brain and the brawn.


  1. I totally hear you. Housework is by no means less in quantity and effort it takes, but but seriously seems so not a value add to us as a person. I would happily outsource it and focus on the brain things as you call I, creative things or stuff where my capability is actually put to better use!!! Think of it, it helps run someone else's house too! Not a bad choice at all!

    1. Hello Deepa, thanks for taking the time to comment. You are right when you say that it does not seem to add any value to us as a person. I am with you on outsourcing. And yes, it does run someone's household.

      Hope you are doing safe and well.

  2. Hey Susannah nice to read all you had to say. Even better to know that you are well and safe.
    i have been hearing that the lock down should be a period of realization and self introspection and right now after ur post what i feel like reflecting more about is what determines the value of a person? While i happily did school, college and finally a teaching job combining it with fun with friends and colleagues someone did all the 'menial' jobs. First it was Ma who did all with an unconditional sense of devotion and sacrifice and later when i started my own family, a domestic help who did it for getting accommodation and income to supplement her family's income requirement. There was definitely a remarkable difference in the result of the output in both and it is not rocket science to understand why it could be so. Outsourcing is not without it's limitations and hazards. i sure am wondering however if it did make me more valued or did i value them more.If the domestic help was away even for a day my life felt messy. And when she returned she was even more valuable to me than the precious things in the safe. Needless to say then how akin to God i feel for the other one who did everything right from the lighting of the chulha to cooking, cleaning of utensils to laundry and cleaning of the house and endless rounds of that unconditionally.
    i think it is the state of mind. No job be it taking care of the house or working as a domestic help, is menial.
    And as long as we can pat our backs about outsourcing and running someone's household it is fine but there are serious surveys indicating that it is just a matter of time when those willing to do 'menial' jobs will go extinct because they would be climbing up the ladder too and doing 'better' jobs. Or else we would have to be very very wealthy to afford a house help and give her lots of value like Daphne Moon (Frasier TV Series 1993-2004)
    But hey! nothing to really worry about.We will cross the river when we come to it besides what we lack in manpower will be compensated for with technology.It started long back when we were growing up won't you agree.
    Just got reminded of something and would love to recollect as well as share.
    ''While the practice of slavery is looked upon with abomination in modern society. This was not so in ancient Greece. The ancient Greeks did not share are beliefs in universal human rights. Slavery was accepted as a normal part of society and was justified on a number of levels. Even Aristotle, the great defender of democracy and political freedom, believed that the goal of a civilized man was to attain a life of leisure so that he was free to pursue the higher things in life. How was this life of leisure attained?...With slaves, of course. Aristotle also believed that the laws of nature dictated that free men should rule and dominate slaves and women. [Source: "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum]
    Hope my elaborate comment gives you and me enough to reflect upon. Maybe another blog post from you. Will quip in then.

    1. Dear Shivani: Lovely to see you here. It has been absolutely wonderful to read your thoughts and thanks for the patient typing. It is indeed a joy to read your comment. And yes, your comment has engaged me if various levels and I'm glad that this predicament is a common one faced by many of us at different times. You are right when you say that technology would gradually take over as it is already happening - vacuum cleaners, dish washers, washing machines and so on. The comment on the Greeks is especially interesting; I haven't come across that one earlier. Thanks for the reference too.
      Hope you have been well and safe during these uncertain times.

      Love and joy,

  3. Oh I understand where you are coming from, Susan. In the last few months, we've been without help. I've always done my own cooking but we've had to add sweeping, swabbing and dusting to the list. This prepared us for the lockdown. Now we've had to add the yard, albeit a small one and a terrace to the list of things to do. At the end of the day, I'm so exhausted that I can't really think straight. We often say that the poor live from day to day and don't seem too concerned about the future. Could it be that the kind of physical labour most of them do leaves no time to think? Wondering...



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