Ambition In The Time Of A Pandemic
VOGUE India|July 2021
Goals, dreams, bucket lists—call it what you want, the age of COVID-19 has presented working women yet another challenge. Writer Nisha Susan taps into the sisterhood of women around her to enquire into the state of the ambition spiral most of us find ourselves in today
Nisha Susan

My first book came out smack in the middle of the pandemic. The one thing I have always wanted, happened: to hear from readers that they had a good time reading my book. But it’s been odd to see my one true ambition come true. Because the next step in my world domination plan was to sit and write more books. In the months that followed, I did work on new books. But every time I sat down to write, I was filled with a feeling I didn’t recognise and found it hard to continue. I couldn’t stop thinking about work, but I just couldn’t focus. >

Then, my dancer-turned-expressive arts-therapist friend Brinda Jacob-Janvrin used the word ‘expansiveness’—the idea of taking as much time and space as something needs and deserves—when talking about what many of her female clients were searching for over the last year. Something shifted inside me. I understood that despite my great enjoyment of writing, despite my gratitude for having it as a source of pleasure and income, for a long time, writing has also been another item on my ‘getting things done’ list. And despite other jobs, family illnesses and two toddlers, I’ve got it done. Even in 2020, I wrote. But now, in year two of COVID-19, every time I sat down to write, one voice was drowning out everything else: “Why isn’t this done already?”

Expansiveness is rarely a quality women are allowed. The narrative of women’s ambitions is a suspense-filled thriller set against a ticking clock. Youth and beauty that we are supposed to monetise, children we are supposed to have, the families we are supposed to put ahead of us. Tick, tick, tick. We are constantly panicking about it being too late. In the last few years when work has been flexible and my family has had stretches of excellent childcare, I have had time and I have produced things. But it always came with that suspenseful soundtrack: “Will she make it or not?”

THE WORK GAP

Then came the pandemic. Study after study shows that during the last year, everywhere‚ but in India particularly, women have been pushed out of paid work and been made to take up even greater shares of unpaid care work. According to IndiaSpend, “In November 2020, two per cent fewer men but 13 per cent fewer women were employed or looking for jobs than a year ago. Urban women were the worst hit.” Throw a dart at any study about women in paid work in India and prepare to cry.

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