The Great Indian Kitchen - Part 2
Digging deeper into the problem + Call for pitches
It took a bit longer to put together the second edition of Deep Fry, partly due to my full-time and freelance work commitments and partly because I did not know what to write about. And then it hit me. I can continue talking about domestic abuse in relation to food and kitchen. This is something I have been researching and reflecting upon, along with endless discussions with my sister. The idea is to go deeper into this aspect of food and cooking…beyond the surface level.
And, this gave me another idea. To open this newsletter to freelance writers who would like to write about the patriarchal notions of ‘who belongs to the kitchen and who does the kitchen belong to’; the gendered abuse (emotional, physical, financial) with kitchen and cooking at its center; and, if you think there’s a solution to this problem. You can pitch personal essays, short fiction, or a reported piece. I will be focusing on this particular topic for the next three months, but a lot will depend on the pitches I get. And yes, you will be paid. At the moment it’s Rs. 5000 flat for a 1000 word piece. The newsletter is completely financed by me for now, but as and when I open it for contribution (I won’t be going the subscription route) I hope to increase the budget.
So, if you have a story to share and if you think you’d like to share it via Deep Fry, do send me an email with your idea at email@example.com. Don’t forget to mention ‘PITCH’ in the subject. Also, tell me a little about yourself in the email, why would you like to write this piece, and share links to some of your previously published articles. For those who have just started as freelance writers, just send in your idea with a short intro. This call for pitches is open for South Asian womxn only.
And now, on to this week’s newsletter
The Great Indian Kitchen - Part 2 by Shirin Mehrotra
I keep going back to the title of Jeo Baby’s Malyalam film, purely because it conveys so much about the Indian family system. Another reason is that it has opened up conversations around gendered abuse in and around kitchen, taking the act of cooking and feeding out of that romantic bubble of tradition and nostalgia.
My first newsletter got me talking to a few friends, and while we’re all on the same page I believe there needs to be a deeper understanding of patriarchy . This is important as we often tend to point fingers at women, blaming them for their own oppression - women are women’s biggest enemy, women tend to bring it upon themselves, and other similar tropes. In doing so, we forget the intergenerational conditioning and trauma that we carry as women. Women enforce traditional rules too, but it only and exclusively benefits men.
While growing up I was never told I had to learn to cook because it was my duty as a woman. I started cooking purely out of interest. And yet, when I got married I unknowingly slipped into the role of a traditional woman who would singlehandedly cook for the entire family; it was expected from me and I complied. While all my ex-husband had to say was, “I do not like to cook”, to get away from kitchen duties. It took me a traumatic experience, 8 long years, and constant reaffirmations to finally become completely aware of the difference between ‘cooking as an act of love’ and ‘cooking as a duty’. So then, how do we expect the women of our parents’ or grandparents’ generation to realize this? And even if they do, the whole notion that they can get out of this cycle of abuse and dominance is a privileged position.
Another trap we continue to fall into while looking for a solution to the gargantuan problem - teach boys/men how to cook. Yes, teach. The message often directed towards mothers, wives, girlfriends. As if the responsibility to change the status quo lies upon us. We are told to teach men how to cook or navigate their way around the kitchen…something that can be easily learned by voluntarily stepping inside the kitchen and taking charge. It’s not brain surgery, you know! You’ll make mistakes, burn your fingers a few times and eventually learn…on your own…like we all did. Nobody will hold you to task for making de-shaped rotis. It’s not as if someone is going to throw the plate of food across the room if you add too much salt in rajma.
And let’s assume for a moment that we teach them. What after that? Do they also automatically learn the deep conditioning that women carry in their bodies? The expectation of assuming the role of a nurturer? They learn to cook, they acquire a new skill; sometimes they use their newly acquired skill as an excuse to judge a woman’s cooking and control her further (yes, I talk from experience). Other times they only learn to cook for themselves, to feed themselves (men, if you’re the one who know how to cook and take care of the family and kids then this is obviously not about you).
Honestly, I don’t really care much about whether a man knows how to cook or not as long as he is living on his own and can find out ways to feed himself. I have women friends who can hardly cook anything beyond five dishes, but they’re fairly independent when it comes to feeding themselves. What he needs to learn is that the role of women in his life (mother, sister, partner, wife) is not to nurture him; it has to be a two-way street. He also needs to learn that everything that comes into and goes out of the kitchen will not revolve around his taste buds and preference. He also needs to learn that he can not shrug off the household responsibilities by saying, “but I am ok with ordering in or living in a dirty house. It’s you (woman/wife) who wants to cook/clean”. Because love is all about taking care of each other’s physical as well as emotional well being.
A man also needs to learn that he has to be an equal and active participant in their kid’s nutritional wellbeing. And yeah, men too need to teach their kids how to cook and participate in house chores. Men need to also learn that they will not be celebrated every time they cook a meal for themselves; there won’t be a newspaper article lauding their achievement in the kitchen.
I think I’ll end it here, before this reflective piece becomes a rant. Do think about the points I have raised. Let me know your thoughts in comments or feel free to drop me a message on Twitter or Instagram. My handle is @shirinmehrotra.
What to read?
An intricate relationship between food, caste and patriarchy illustrated through art and a recipe. I chanced upon The Big Fat Bao’s work on Instagram through a friend and their series on Caste and Food gives a deep understanding of the politics of food. Read here.
This piece in the Whetstone Magazine looks at women’s malnutrition and power dynamics in the domestic space through a kozhambu recipe. Read here.
This is a lighter piece on looking at male entitlement and gendered roles through roti, written by my favourite writer Mohammed Hanif. The north Indians will relate to this. Read here.