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Having guests for lunch can be stressful for women – simply because all the work involved in entertaining falls on women (with few of the rewards!)
First year of marriage.
The hubby’s birthday.
Let’s call them home for lunch, he says.
I look at him – my eyes wide as saucers, a look of bewilderment on my face. Well, you know right that I can just cook for 2-3 people. I won’t be able to handle this battalion. Let’s just order in or better still, take them out. Will be the perfect thing to do, I say.
No, no, you don’t need to cook. My sister will do all that. And her co-sister will help. You just need to be around to help them with odd jobs.
Umm, that sounds ok then.
I never realized at that point that these ‘odd jobs’ and this thing of entertaining people would be such a tedious thing and so taxing for a woman. So, as a woman of the house who was about to have visitors and many of them visiting for the first time, I had to make sure the house was spic and span. Right from dusting the furniture to cleaning the loos till they shone like that harpic ad, and then new bed spreads, towels and every small thing. Then comes the grocery list – to make sure that we have all the required ingredients, ice cream, some snacks and cold drinks. And when the D-day came – it was so much chaos.
Some people like to keep it simple in terms of the menu when you have visitors but some like to go lavish. So you have fish, prawns, chicken, eggs – at least 3 of them. Though she was the one who did all the cooking helped by her co-sister, I was around to help them with odd jobs; like wash the few utensils which piled up, chop some onions, attend to the guests and serve them refreshments.
Finally when all the cooking was done and it was time to eat – as is the usual case in Indian households – the men will take the place of honor and women will scuttle around serving them. And then insisting that they take yet another helping and then some more. The kids would have eaten by then. Or you will see a tired and hungry mother running behind a kid trying to shove a morsel into his mouth. Finally when the men can eat no more, and get up to wash their hands, can the women think of starting their meal?
But first off all, the mess on the dining table needs to be cleared. By then their hunger has almost disappeared. Having cooked food and then having had to run around serving it and finally sitting down at a time which is way past your lunch hour – who would really relish the meal? I certainly didn’t. Though I had not cooked it but when the aroma of food was wafting around and warm food was being served – I wished to just sit down and eat to my heart’s delight. Not that anyone would have objected but being the lady of the house – I thought my duty was attending to others first. Maybe that’s how we are conditioned. So when I finally sit to eat, I can’t enjoy my food.
And in most places where non veg is cooked – yet another thing which you can’t fail to notice is – the succulent meaty pieces are almost invisible – what’s left is bones and the unwanted discarded pieces for women to have. Since most people have had their meal and would always chose the best ones. So chicken bones for the host and her band of sisters who did all the work. Not a fair deal I would say.
And let’s not forget the huge pile of utensils lying in the sink which calls out to you menacingly. And the bits of food lying around on the floor which needs to be swept and mopped. And the platform, gas stove, mixie to be cleaned. By the time the women have eaten and rushed to finish these tasks, it’s time for tea.
The men are asked their preferences – some of them want tea, some coffee and others milk. So off the women run again to light the gas, boil milk, make tea coffee, serve, wash – the cycle continues.
Call me selfish if you may but I always dread guests. The reason is – I am a working woman. 5 days a week I am out for almost 11-12 hours a day including travelling to work and back home. This gives me very little time to relax or to indulge in for myself. I wait for the weekend to unwind and if I am expected to entertain and cook a 5 course meal, clean, do the dishes- well, I don’t think I am interested.
It’s not about calling people home but why do we need to do the cooking at home? For someone like me who is not much into cooking I prefer ordering in or taking them out to a restaurant. My hubby goes berserk when I suggest ordering in. How can you even think of it? You will get food cooked from out and serve them? If they had to eat hotel food why are they coming here?
I retort – I thought they are coming here to meet us, spend time with us but you are telling me they are coming here to eat food cooked by me. Then they are risking a lot here for I can’t cook for many people – just not good at it. It will be a fiasco.
I always visit my friends and relatives to meet them and spend quality time with them. I don’t think it matters to me if they have ordered in. I am not really going with the primary purpose of eating but meeting them. So why should it matter to people?
Unfortunately in India I think many people will look down upon me – hotel food – blasphemy!
I don’t have a penchant for cooking – I know many women do and would love to cook for their guests. But it’s not an easy task and indeed one that drains you out. I wonder why don’t the hubbies step in – offer their help where they can – in dusting, cleaning, grinding, chopping veggies for the salad, washing the few utensils that piles up in the course of cooking. If you have a toddler or small kids – the man can take up the job of feeding them and bathing them, getting them ready so that the woman could devote her time and attention to cooking.
I know there are men who help but how many? Often it is other women like a sister or mother or MIL who chips in.
I know I may end up offending women and many men for sure – it’s important you get my point. I am not against having guests at home. I would love to have people around, some company other than just my family members. I am not anti-social.
But I have an issue, a serious one with this whole process of entertaining guests being flawed – it’s misaligned, with the brunt falling almost completely on the woman’s shoulders. I would be happy if men share the work for it’s not easy – I tell you.
I will be happy if we can be broad minded and decide to order in – if not everything, at least a few dishes. That will surely help.
I will be elated if men and women sit together at the table and relish their meal amidst the chatter. And I would be happy if both get an equal chance of having those juicy chicken or lamb pieces and eating to their hearts’ content.
So the next time a woman hears, “Honey we have guests at home”- she won’t shudder but genuinely smile.
Top image via Graphicstock
First published here.