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A well known tactic of patriarchy is to gaslight women and keep them in control. As The Great Indian Kitchen shows.
A certain still in the movie, The Great Indian Kitchen zooms in on a wall display of square framed, monochrome photos. The laminated wooden antiques allow a glimpse into the great ‘Tharavadu’ (ancestral house) lineage.
Man and wife.
Tall and meek.
Fenugreek, cumin and mustard seeds, dry chillies, ground onion-pepper-curry leaf paste meets medium heated oil in Kadai.
Fire sizzles and hisses in resentment.
Bent women silhouettes blow air into the blazing hearth stove.
Generations slip by with each laboured breath.
The camera lingers less than a second on each frame, faces blurry and soon forgotten, figurative of history finding its way to oblivion.
Distinct kitchen sounds of seasoned spices being crushed fine on the grindstone, and the dark brown simmer of a two-cardamom two-tulsi coffee brew accompanies the transition of each era.
A universal rule that has salvaged many overly spiced, acidic dishes to palatability is “Add a dollop of sugar and let the honey broth disguise the concoction’s bitterness.”
Petitions made to the women in the household are syrup saturated,
“My laundry be handwashed, machine tears linen”
“Rice be cooked in hearth for the authentic flavor “
“A side dish be included, because isn’t chapati the best!“
“Why strive for a career my child, aren’t you doing the most glorious of jobs already?”
Benevolent sexism, just like that, colours the shackles. Conformance is celebrated, and appreciation rewarded.
The still defiant group is gaslighted.
Those are the ‘intolerant’ ones who question hypocrisy and refuse their sanity to be distorted by gaslighting and plain disrespect. They see, unlike others, that the oppressors, beneath their cynical exterior, are afraid. The husband feels threatened when his wife suggests a foreplay, and when she calls out his contemptible table manners. She apparently ‘knew too much’, and too much of anything intimidates the existence of sovereign powerhouses. Measures to crush defiance ensue as personal attacks, cold treatment and disregard.
However, like a leaked pipe, the attempts fall short, and the stench of patriarchy like regurgitated debris, grows undispellably powerful.
Positive reinforcements internalize a behaviour, consensual or not. The remarkably forbearing mother in law (a postgraduate herself) urges the protagonist to send out job applications. But her voice quivers in horror as she asks her daughter in law to keep it between them, probably recoiling from a past memory of hers.
Meanwhile a striking contrast is drawn by a distant aunt, who admonishes the young wife left and right and questions her upbringing as she ‘inconveniences’ the household by having her menstrual cycle.
The three female characters are a remarkable depiction of how shades of patriarchy warped its victims differently. One proudly vindicates their subordination to the system, other disagrees at heart, but fatigued and choiceless, reconciles. The third kind rebels, sees through the eulogies for falling in line, sets off seeking liberation from the shackles. And when she does, she breaks generational curses, frees the line of women around and ahead of her.
Co-authored by Heera Baiju (@heera_1.1) and Sreehari Baiju (@sreehari_baiju)
Published here first.
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