You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

“Advertisements are a society in microcosm”, it is often said, mostly be me.

It is either plain bad luck or an involuntary reaction against the gaining of knowledge that, despite it always having turned out to be an educational experience, I have not indulged in watching TV often enough.

My recent experience of watching the Hindi movie “PK” on TV was no different. Lady luck also seemed to be smiling on me that night. The movie was frequently interrupted by commercial breaks.

They were eye-opening.

Efforts made by our leaders with their frequent lip-service and seat-of-the-pant implementations for upliftment of women in society, through initiatives like for-women-only pink autos driven by males and rented mostly by male passengers, a still-to-be-launched-as-it-might-not-make-sense women-only bank run by males and efforts at the integration of the two genders such as a coach exclusively for women in the Delhi metro train, are bearing fruit. And how.

In the first commercial break, we came across a lady who has to feed a husband who multi-tasks. And, if that was not enough to handle, she even has to feed her son who also multi-tasks. It may be difficult for youngsters to imagine, but, being the age I am, I can tell you that the housewife of an earlier generation would have struggled.

But not the housewife of today. Faced with the situation, what does she do? In order to feed her multi-tasking husband and multi-tasking son, the woman of the house feeds them chapatis made of multi-grain atta.

Thankfully she is a single-tasker, focussed on the task of making sure her multi-tasking husband and son get adequate nutrition to go about their multi-tasking ways. And she is dressed smart. In a salwar and kurta. Not in a scruffy sari as the struggling housewife of yore would have been.

Barely had we got the chance to digest the monumental change this represented, the second commercial break came on. And brought with it a big car with 4-wheel drive. Of an American brand. With a man at the wheel and a woman in the seat next to the driver’s. Driving to a magical destination with lots of hot-air balloons going up in the air, chosen by the man, it seems. The man, as usual, in full control of the situation, as his smile indicated. As soon as he turns the power-steering with all his might by lunging left, the woman covers her face in wonder and amazement at the sight. And this woman is smartly dressed in western attire. And, what’s more, she seems willing to undertake the hot-air balloon ride. Tell me honestly how many of us can visualise a woman, say thirty years back, in a commercial, willing to go for a hot-air balloon ride.

When children come home dirty after being children, she cleans their clothes.

“So, what’s new?”, you might be tempted to ask.

Gone are the days when you would see a mother handwashing clothes, wiping sweat from her brow,  and advertising for bars of soap which clothes had to be scrubbed clean with. Today, nothing less than a washing machine will do. And they are not stopping there. Some mothers in commercials even have a choice of electric dryers instead of hanging the washed clothes out to dry on a line. Even brands of detergent are par for the course for these mothers of today. No mother ever advertised either a washing machine or dryer or detergent before these devices were invented.

Women are no longer confined to the house. They are mostly engaged in staring enviously at other women whose clothes are whiter than theirs. When pushed to the wall, they even engage in streetside speed-washing contests. Can we ever inmagine a woman of an earlier generation doing a street-side washing test to prove her soap or detergent is better?

When children come home hungry after being children they feed them. With healthy choices like instant noodles and frozen fries. Can you imagine a mother in the seventies doing that?

The time for reaping the dividend from this change has also arrived. In an FM commercial the same day, I heard two children talking animatedly as they came back home hungry.

Does your mother allow you to eat French Fries?

Of course. In fact, the frozen fries my mom uses have 50% less calories.

But I am so hungry. I cannot wait for the fries to be made.

Don’t worry. These fries take 70% less time to cook.

Wow! Such knowledgeable 8-year olds could only be the progeny of the modern, empowered woman.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man, it used to be said. Husbands and fathers are rarely to be seen in these commercials, except occasionally replacing children as the cared-for subjects.

It has seeped into the consciousness of society. This change is irreversible. So engrossed was I in the commercials and their messages, I forgot that they were the side story. Each time the movie came back, I would wait eagerly to the next break for more educational commercials.

The times, they a changing, as the latest Nobel prize winner for literature once said.