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My paternal grandmother was an empowered, no-nonsense woman in every sense, but still still bowed to the patriarchal upper hand of my grandfather by quietly making perfect, hot, round rotis for him.
Numma, my paternal grandmother always preferred preparing food at home, sometimes quite elaborate recipes that she used to pick up from the books and magazines she read. She was an expert cook, having acquired the skills for it quite early in life.
She was married off to Dada, my grandfather, before she was 20. From then on began her fight to have a foothold in the new household she was in. Though she was quite a favourite amongst her in laws, there was a slight strain between her and my grandfather, which sometimes became evident. Not that he belittled her or loved her any less, but did not hesitate to exhibit his apparent superiority by virtue of his gender. Thank God that none of which was inherited neither by my Baba!
The early signs of patriarchal force were evident when Numma served ‘roti’ to Dada or Tata, my paternal grandfather and my uncle respectively; they both emphasized that each roti should be served hot while they ate, and every roti had to be perfectly round in shape.
One day while Numma was at it, I volunteered to help, when she quickly retorted, “Make sure each roti is round and rolled out perfectly well, else they will not touch their food.” This was quite ridiculous to me then, while now I think of it as a completely misogynistic act!
As days passed by nothing seemed to change in the house wherein I grew up, however there was a silent acceptance amongst all. Each and every meal had be served well, all household chores had to be learnt with deft accuracy, lest you fall prey to accusations targeting your upbringing!
Culinary expertise has always been deemed as the most essential skill for a woman; often she is judged for her inability or disinterest in it. A perfect, round, and hot roti is an important yardstick in the Indian setup, to measure a woman’s capability, irrespective of the fact about how qualified she is or what a fantastic human being she is.
Numma always encouraged female education, emphasizing how essential a woman’s career could be. She further went to explain how I should aim for my own identity and never be overshadowed by a certain, “Mr X” or even the “Mr Right”.
Modern in her thoughts and approach, she never failed to raise her voice against unnecessary domination of the fairer sex, not to forget the amount of wrath she earned from the not so women-pro majority.
Her tales never circled around a damsel in distress, waiting for her knight in shining armor to salvage her from the evil forces; rather they focussed on how a woman could stand up for her rights. The story of Sita was not about her failure to prove her purity to her husband, but about how undeterred she was in her own pursuits.
But when it came to salvage her own marriage and her home, Numma rolled out round and hot rotis quietly.
This contradiction between her thoughts and actions is still a question to reckon with, and something I cannot reconcile to, even now when it is 9 years that she is gone!
Today when I take up cooking as a passion and not as the prime responsibility that the members of my tribe must excel in, I silently thank Numma for instilling in me the early signs of high self esteem and self worth, which a mere perfect “roti” cannot decide.
Image source: shutterstock
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