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Indian Society Thrives On The Invisible Trap Of Glorifying Cooking & Homemaking Skills Of The ‘Good’ Woman

Often these sugar coated words turn out to be a façade for enslavement and to generate that invisible female labour force who continue to slog under the burden the patriarchy.

Last month, a friend of mine recommended a Malayalam movie called The Great Indian Kitchen. I was instantly intrigued by the name, wondering what could be the theme of this movie carrying such an interesting title. Was it about glorifying our food, glorifying our culinary skills or glorifying our Indian kitchen?

I was excited. But little did I know that an awful shockwave would be waiting for me when I would watch it.

A disturbing feeling of recognition…

As I started to watch the movie, I just sank into my sofa. Who is this protagonist? Whom am I seeing on the screen? Is that me? Is that my mother? Is that my sister? Is that my mother in law? Is that my friend? Is that my colleague? Is that my neighbour? Or is that each and every Indian woman I meet on street?

As I entered the world of this unsettling saga of drudgery of housework, I witnessed a newly-wed bride; a gifted dancer, a potential teacher, an educated contemporary woman was made to engage in her mundane kitchen cutting vegetables, preparing dosa, sambar, cleaning dishes, and fixing the kitchen sink. In fact, half of the movie was dedicated to the girl’s humdrum activities of preparing the breakfast, serving the family, cleaning the table, washing the dishes, preparing the lunch, serving the family, cleaning the table, washing the dishes, preparing the dinner, serving the family, cleaning the table and washing the dishes; as if life was on a cook-clean-repeat mode.

And while watching this somehow I felt that the very ordinary tedium of her actions actually established the truth of every middle class woman whose entire life is trapped in a mundane kitchen, engaged in repetitive jobs sans any excitement.

I also realised the cunning way patriarchy has glorified this work

The disturbing portrayal further brought forth one more important patriarchal aspect of tricking women into this situation by appreciating their culinary skills and trying to dissuade them from aspiring to become anything else other than a ‘perfect cook’. It made me think how our society functions on the invisible trap of glorifying the culinary expertise of mothers, sisters, and wives to get away with the sense of guilt and culpability of killing their dreams and entrapping them in the “great Indian kitchen.”

In India, apart from fair skin, the obsession still continues for a prospective bride with great culinary skills and complimenting partners, wives, mothers, sisters, sisters-in-law, daughters-in-law on their cooking proficiency opens up a Pandora box of manipulation, exploitation or entrapment.

Often these sugar coated words turn out to be a façade for enslavement and to generate that invisible female labour force who continue to slog under the burden the patriarchy. When I look around, I see millions of married women trying hard to seek approval from their family to be a good cook and they are made to feel guilty and apologetic if they fail to do so.

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Unpaid, un-recognised work, even if glorified

It reminds me of a recent discussion I witnessed on social media. The whole debate was about the demand for wages for homemakers for doing household chores and empowering them financially.

Here, I am not getting into the technicalities of quantifying domestic labour, but what amused me in that discussion was to see how numbers of ‘so-called’ educated men were quite disturbed by the idea of homemakers being paid for their services. I was even more amused by the arguments where they claimed: how the women are the queens of their households and they should not be insulted by being paid, how a woman makes a home a house with her love and affection and it can’t be compensated with money etc.

Interestingly, when I hinted about it to some of the homemakers I know, all of them were elated at the idea of being paid and considered it as an approval of the services they have been providing to their families for decades.

I believe, no matter what your gender is, you should know how to cook as it’s a basic life skill.  But let’s not glorify it by forming unseen manipulation and invisible exploitation of women which has been a pattern for generations.

A woman’s identity is much more than just being a cook trapped in a kitchen. By the time the movie ended, I was transported to a world of uncomfortable truth. The realisation was hard-hitting; it disturbed, disconcerted and unsettled, but then that’s the ultimate goal of art; it comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable, isn’t it?


About the Author

Sulagna Mohanty

An Educator by profession. A Storyteller by passion!

1 Posts | 2,453 Views

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