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If the kitchen is a woman’s territory, what does it mean for her ability to venture out beyond it and fulfil her true potential?
Ms. Little Princess (3+ year old girl, curious, quick learner and a keen observer) said, “Mummy! I want a kitchen set. That is only for girls to play. I will grow up and cook food for you and everyone at home. That’s what girls should do, right?”
Ms. Pre-schooler (5 year old girl living in a new age nuclear family) said, “Mummy! Papa made a sandwich for me. But he’s not supposed to enter the kitchen. That is your room, right? You are there all the time.”
Mr. Primary school kid (7+ year old boy living in a joint family) said, “Mummy! You’re not supposed to go to work. You have to be in the kitchen and cook food for me. See that is what grandma does all the time. That is what the girls should do.”
Mr. Teenager (15+ year pampered school boy and only son) said, “I will eat only if my mother cooks for me tasty hot food of my choice. I won’t enter the kitchen and do anything. It is what every woman should do, right?”
Ms. Ambitious College Student (23+ year and pursuing a professional course) said, “I want my mother to cook fun lip-smacking food that I like all through the day. Else, I’ll just go out and buy myself some junk food. It is the least mom can do for me when I am studying so hard. And I will not eat food that I don’t like.”
The newly wed bride (26+ years and corporate career woman ) said, “We’re newly married, and it’s true that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. So I ensure I serve my husband food of his choice. After all, we are just married and it is the least I can do as a wife.”
The newly married dude (30+ years, well-educated and in a high-flying/paying job) said, “I want my wife to learn to cook like my mother. After all, what am I earning for if I cannot have good food. And no better cook than my mom. My wife better learn sooner than later.”
Mr.Corporate Honcho (35+ years, well qualified and in a high paying corporate job) said, “My wife served me breakfast 5 minutes late, so I slapped her and walked out of home without having a morsel. How can she serve me late? Is it not her duty to ensure that the breakfast of my choice is laid on the table so I can have it on time?”
Mr.Entrepreneur (40+ years, well educated and successful entrepreneur) said, “My wife spends the whole day in the kitchen so that the family has hot meals three times a day custom-made to the tastes of the entire family – kids and myself. That is her primary responsibility. And yes! She is well educated. But now, her primary goal is to look after the family. And food is one of the most important aspects.”
Mrs. Home Maker (40+ years, stay-at-home mom) said, “After all, we all live to eat right? And if a woman cannot provide hot home cooked meals for her family, then I don’t think her life is worthwhile. In any family, it is the woman (mother) who should sacrifice, compromise on very many dimensions so that the family grows and prospers.”
Mrs.Neighborhood Aunty (55+, and has a view on everything ) said, “I judge a woman by how clean or well maintained her kitchen or fridge are, when I pay a surprise visit to her house!”
Mrs.Grandmother (63+ years, wise and experienced) said, “I have given my everything for my kids – so that they are healthy and happy. Food is very important for any child’s growth and development. I put myself last, and have surrendered by body, mind, heart, money, soul and everything for the family. My food, health and well-being comes after all their needs are met.”
Mr.Retired (70+ years, well-educated/qualified and retired) said, “I want my wife to make what I want to eat – no matter when I ask or how she is feeling. That is the purpose of my wife’s existence, and she will do it.”
Lest you thought I was setting the stage for a family drama, let me burst your bubbles. All the people described above are real people and what I’ve shared above can possibly and probably be instances of what you’ve seen, heard or experienced as the reality in very many (modern) Indian homes. These narratives are in some way a reflection of our society and the reality.
Let me also highlight a few more points:
So if I had to make sense of all the above points, then this is the logical inference – realistically, if someone in any house has to take ownership for the ‘kitchen/food department’ – it is invariably the woman of the house. That can be your grandmother, mother (-in-law), wife, sister(-in-law), daughter (-in-law) or maid! And this is how it has always been – from time immemorial to the modern times we live in.
So what is the point I’m trying to make, you may wonder?
Here’s the thing – what a family decides to do within the four walls is based on the context and circumstances of the family. So if a woman (married, mother or anyone else) spends most of her time, energy and efforts in the kitchen by choice, that’s wonderful.
However, what if she does not want to spend her every waking minute in the kitchen (married/mother/otherwise)? What if she does not really want make the kitchen her permanent abode, but has to due to lack of choice?
Is it really the best use of all her knowledge, skills, experiences if she is spending almost all her waking hours in the kitchen?
Is it really the best for the family that they leverage her time for purely their domestic requirements?
Is it really the best return on investment for society if after the education of the girl child and the experience of being a working woman, she spends most of her adult life in that one room in her home?
I don’t have answers to these questions. Do you?
As I sign-off, I leave you with two conversations I had recently with people dear to me.
The first was with a wise old grandmother who always gives me nuggets of wisdom. She said, “50 years back, most married women/mothers used to spend all our time from dawn to dusk in the kitchen. We used to live in joint families, and had to cook for a large number with traditional tools and techniques. Interestingly, I find that many women (especially married/mothers) today still spend all their time in the kitchen in spite of being in nuclear families and having accessible technology/tools for the kitchen to do things faster. I think the reason is that even though families are smaller today and affordable tools/technology are accessible to all, people are rigid in their preferences and spoilt for choices. So, they don’t eat what is put on the table. Everyone wants to have something exotic or customized at every meal and so the woman ends up spending a significant part of her every day time in the kitchen. I don’t see a difference between many of the new age modern women and me in terms of how our everyday routines are – at least as far as the kitchen is concerned. I don’t know if it is good or bad, only time will tell!”
The second was with a dear mummy friend (and one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever known) who is now a stay-at-home mom (for lack of any viable alternative in her personal context/circumstance) when she told me, “I sometimes wonder what is the purpose of my brain, education and professional work experience if my everyday routine is no different from my mother, grand-mother or great grand-mother? We all spend most of our time in the kitchen and give our lives for the family. I sometimes worry and wonder about how things will be for my daughter or any girl child in the future. First we educate her, we show her the sky, give her wings (and dreams) and when she is all set to fly, we cut her wings and tell her, ‘Your place is on the ground. Don’t aim for the skies’. It just does not add up!”
Both have left me pensive. What do you think? Leave a comment to let us know.
Image of a lady in kitchen via Shutterstock