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The age old practice of women serving the best portions to men and making do with what’s remaining, needs to go. We have as much of a right to our food as men do.
Last night when my husband asked for a second helping of lentils (dal) I couldn’t serve him, rather I didn’t because there was the last helping that I had reserved for myself. And I did not feel an iota of guilt!
More often than not I have witnessed my mother, grandmother and other adult female relatives of mine keeping aside the best portion of the day’s fare for their husband, son, grandson or any other male relation. While they either had the portion that looked less appealing or they managed to make a dry stir fry of greens or some mashed vegetable peels.
As a child I was quite intrigued to know why they would do so. But I was always snubbed aside by a statement, “this is our food and that is theirs”!
From quite a young age I could distinguish between the food for men and women at home though fortunately the same treatment was not meted out to us by our parents; though I still notice Maa reserving the best portion for Baba who unlike most patriarchs does not adhere to these strange conventions.
The age old concept of reserving the best for the patriarch and other male members of the household is undoubtedly the most regressive custom that’s followed only in India. And I must admit, even my home set in erstwhile Bengal in the late 80s and early 90s couldn’t escape from this atrocity.
In an earlier post I had written about some of this. Numma, my paternal grandmother always preferred preparing food at home, sometimes quite elaborate recipes that she used to pick up from books, 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 20. From then began her fight to have a foothold in the new household she was into. Though she was quite a favourite amongst her in laws, there was a minute 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.
This patriarchy was evident when Numma served roti to Dada or Tata, my paternal grandfather and my uncle respectively; they both emphasized that each roti had to be served hot while they ate, and every roti had to be perfect 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, otherwise they won’t 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 else you fall prey to accusations targeting your upbringing!
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 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.
While savoring on the last bowl of lentils and switching on my favorite web series, I could only introspect what I would teach my daughter. Yes, my mind is clouded with so many instances of women’s suppression, and all the unfair deals that our previous generation has lived in with (some from the present generation still do). But something else made complete sense to me, which would also go down as an essential life lesson to my 6 year old, “You can always retain that last piece of bread or the last bowl of rice for yourself and you don’t have to feel guilty about the same; because hunger just as any other emotion is not restricted by a gender. And just as your father/brother/husband/son, you too have the right on the best portion of the day’s fare!”
A meal should bring the family close and not create unnecessary divides!
First published here.
Image source: a still from the film Hum Saath Saath Hain
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