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I always thought I hated cooking. But around my 40s I realised the the real problem was something else. So here’s my take on this…
‘I hate cooking’ has been my impulsive refrain throughout my life.
During my forties, the analyst in me took command and tried to break this refrain into smaller steps, so that I may comprehend what prompts it. And to my surprise, I discovered it is not cooking that I hate, but I hate the reception. I mean the reception of what I have cooked.
Imagine the different scenarios:
Believe me, I don’t like any of these responses. Even the first one because I always have a feeling while they are praising my cooking, that they are being formal, they are giving the politically correct response.
To sum up, I can say I hate hanging on their words, you know, the verdict pronounced by the eaters.
As a youngster, I might have tried to please and have had my hopes dashed, which has left me stoic. No fuss, no storm; this is my cooking and accept it silently if not graciously. I am obliging you by cooking for you. This gender role was thrust upon me, mind you, not chosen by me.
A digression or an aside here!
On smaller social occasions, I believe especially in the recent past, before the present era of easily available caterers and takeaways, the hostess, who used to be the cook too, had to be complimented. She has spent a lot of thought, planning, time and energy to please you, and if your taste buds don’t feel thrilled, the fault lies with your taste buds!
To come back to my main point, the analyst went into the roots of my feelings, my attitude.
Basically, I believe we eat to live, not live to eat. So, wasting so much of time and energy on a 24×7 basis is to me justifiably annoying. While I was a young girl, I wanted to read, read, and roam in the world of imaginary characters. So, my training in cooking started with scoldings from the ladies of the house asking me to abandon the jungle of the Phantom of Inderjaal Comics and come to face the heat of the kitchen.
No doubt, the scoldings were benign with ‘what-will-become-of this-girl’ worries. A shake of the head, a show of disappointment on their part, and on my part irritation for being kept away from my favourite Mills and Boon as I graduated to them after the comics. The ladies of my family kept on worrying about me and the wonderful condition I was going to be in, at my sasural.
Then came marriage – husband, kids, housekeeping, a full-time job, and my strong belief that self-improvement is a must.
Habits, thought patterns, confidence, beliefs, learning new skills, and setting goals all fall in the ambit of self-improvement for me and they have to be worked upon.
As expected, I was always short of time, cooking was the most time-consuming chore, which also made me feel guilty when my kids compared me to the mothers of their friends who cooked mouthwatering, dissolving with bliss elaborate snacks and sweets along with regular dal-roti. I, on the other hand, had fixed menus – wholesome, filling, healthy, short on time, without frills and maybe they didn’t vow the taste buds.
Deciding what to cook is a big problem, believe me, cooking is not! There are ingredients available, there are expectations of the eaters which may not match the available ingredients, and there is the time you have available to devote to cooking. When you are going with the ingredients available (no other option!) knowing that they do not match the expectations of the eaters – it fills you with irritation, impatience, anxiety, dread – the pressure builds there is no safety valve. And the blast takes place on the dining table and you play your Parent card.
The recipe queens of the family try the limits of my patience with their solicitous offering of helpful hints to improve my cooking and, thereby undermining my authority before the hangry progeny. I wish I too could throw tantrums as and when I want.
At such times I often shifted to my cuckoo land. In my fantasy, I would be like Bree from Desperate Housewives and they would all rave over my elegant, impressive dishes like Braised Brinjal (my family is vegetarian), Soya Cutlets and Basil Pure Soup. And I would be the writer of a critically acclaimed Cookbook. And I always burst out laughing when I imagined myself wearing Bree’s classic tweed suit with pearls and the dream ended.
I often wonder about the patriarchal distribution of gender duties (which badly need updating!).
Adam worked outside delved in the fields, and Eve minded the hearth, housekeeping, cooking, etc. But now Eve also works outside the house, so when are we going to have equivalent proverbs like ‘the way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach’ etc.?
Not only patriarchy, mythology, religious beliefs also come to the fore. And like the accepted concept of Madam Annapurna, I am waiting for the Mr. Annapurna avatar to catch the popular imagination.
Media can play a proactive role here. Feeding others can be satisfying for the male psyche too, it is the Ideal for the family man, etc. should be glorified by them. I think also of the religious teaching that we get the human form after going through 84 lakh ‘yoniya’. And I have known this for certain that my sheep Janam was my favorite. Wherever I looked I could see grass in the fields – breakfast, lunch, dinner – all served, waiting for you and the clan.
And the leftovers – they have been the bane of my life. While throwing them away, the economist in you, the humanitarian in you, who thinks of all the bellies going without food, balks. The members of the family refuse to share your burden. So, either you act as the family dustbin – a silent staunch incinerator of those leftovers or, with waves of guilt washing over you, you throw them into the real dustbin. Maids are finicky; no stale food is their policy.
And the comment, ‘Why do you cook so much? Even by this age, you haven’t learned to judge the quantity needed!’ – takes the biscuit.
Now, who is to explain to him (to the husband, who else?) that the amount left or consumed depends on the mood of the eaters, how much had they eaten before this particular meal, and of course the amount of oil and spices which seem to follow the more the merrier principle. Though annoyed, the reminders of the nth number of times you silently had to give your share are bitten back. You were laughingly told to take it as a compliment to your cooking, remember?
At this later age, I have stopped feeling guilty and have stopped hating cooking. I have stepped out of my people pleaser persona. I cook simply because I am expected to cook. If you don’t like it – you make an alternative arrangement, like you can start cooking yourself or order from takeaways.
My cooking is enough for me. If you are a great cook, good for you! My self-esteem is not hurt when others declare that I am not a great cook. I silently retort, “But then you are not good at expressing yourself. Yes, you cook but what about my stories, articles?” And I smile.
To slightly misquote, I agree that until the lions learn how to speak, history will always glorify the hunter. I am ready to roar, anybody, joining me?
Image source: shutterstock
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