I saw this on Pinterest today and it spoke to me.
A few days ago the Brat walked in with a recipe book he’d borrowed from a friend’s mother. The OA and I took one look at him carrying a book bigger than his body and fell over laughing. But here’s the truth – he loves food and he wants to learn to cook.
This brings us to an uncomfortable situation. I am home more often than the OA and most often it is I, tossing up a salad or a sandwich for a quick meal. And so naturally the kids are drawn to watch me cooking. If it’s on a slow day, I’m tolerant of their presence in the kitchen. If not, I tell them to get the hell out of my way if they want anything to eat, because I have to get back to work.
The OA on the other hand, enjoys cooking and encourages them to join him in the kitchen. Having the disadvantage of only recently taking up cooking as an interest, he watches and records hours of food programming and even after all these years, doesn’t know as much about food as I do, theoretically. How did this come about?
I grew up with a feminist grandmother who didn’t believe every woman needed to know how to cook. What every woman should know, she’d often say, is how to earn. And once you’re capable of supporting yourself, you can decide if you want to cook or hire a cook. And so she, my mother (who is a superb cook) and I, hired cooks and went out to work.
But no matter what your family environment, there is no denying social pressure on a woman to cook. My in laws were horrified that their son had not married a Havell’s appliance (please see the series of advertisements here if you haven’t already – they’re fantastic). And I cannot begin to count the number of women in my own generation who felt there was something wrong with a woman who didn’t enjoy cooking, didn’t feel her heart burst with joy at the thought of homecooked meals for her children and didn’t rush to pour out hot dosas every time a belly somewhere growled.
I was young and gave in to pressure easily so I bought recipe books, and cooked when I got a chance (less than most others because wild horses were usually required to drag me to the kitchen) and even joined cooking e-groups etc for the tips. I am now a competent cook, guests expect a fairly good table at my place and I know a good deal about cooking – but I still hate the drudgery of it. Still get tired thinking of even brewing a cup of tea, still hate joining conversations on methods of layering a biryani.
At some point I realised that the OA too, was fighting his own demons. He had a love for food and cooking that had never been discovered or encouraged. He’d walk into the kitchen while I was cooking and try to be helpful, end up bossing me around (because of course I *was* doing something wrong) and be sent off with a sting in the ear for his pains. And so I established a tradition – he began to cook our Diwali family dinner. It started out pure vegetarian, the entire family revolted and the next year it was beer batter fish. Over the last year as the kids have grown and he has more time on hand, he’s been cooking more and more and I’ve eased out of the kitchen almost entirely. The kids make their own sandwiches, the cook does the daily fare and if the OA wants something fancy, he makes it.
It took me years to get to this point where I could back out of what is a traditional female role and encourage the OA to step up to the plate and do what he enjoys doing. The patriarchy screwed us both over and yet we took so long to make this handover. It wasn’t easy watching the cook begin to take orders from him, guests turning to him to ask what was on the menu, and the kids coming to him with their requests. Particularly because working or SAHM, mums run the kitchen in most homes – I felt like a bit of a failure even though I hated the chore to begin with. I continue to handle the day to day running of our home since I work from home, stepping in when the cook is absent. But on the whole, if someone comes in bursting with the excitement over something they want to eat, they know who to take that excitement to, and its certainly not me.
And so it was that the Brat staggered in with his massive recipe book and a demand that we cook something out of it. I looked at him with deep love and much affection and said – You have to be joking if you think Mama is getting up to cook complicated stuff.
And sure enough, he and the Bean nodded and turned to their father, taking it in their stride. ‘Oh yes, Mama dislikes cooking and finds it boring. Dada, you enjoy it, so lets plan a meal. Anyway, you’re the cooker in this house. Mama is the doctor.’
And the three of them bent their heads and began to pore over the book. I turned back to work and heaved a sigh of relief. It is done. I am no longer the default cook in this home. And the next generation has already come to accept home cooked food as Papa ke haanth ka khaana and not Ma ke haanth ka khaana.
I feel a twinge of something and suppress it. I think it is social conditioning calling and I’m not home to receive it. It really was this easy and if only I’d stopped fighting my limits some years ago, I’d have not wasted time making elaborate meals and trying to ‘fit in.’
I’m off to sign off the cooking groups and sign up for a few more on my interests. When I get home, there’ll be a hot meal cooked by husband and kids awaiting me. Life is good.