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She would serve everyone fresh food and serve herself the stale rice and curries from the previous meal. Some days after finishing the leftovers she was so full she would not even be able to even taste the fresh food.
When I married the first time, my MIL told me that during the Navratri the lady of the house should not eat stale food. ‘Gharatlya bai ni shila khau naye’ — in refined upper caste Marathi.
I was just 26, eager to please, not versed in patriarchy or feminism, and it seemed like a positive thing — respect for the goddess in woman.
But soon I realised she spent the remaining 356 days of her year finishing leftovers. And that I was expected to do the same.
This was a surprise for me. Because growing up, my family used to finish leftovers together. They were served as a first course for lunch or dinner, after which the rest of the food was served.
Some leftovers like mutton curry would be cooked with rice and we would compete for it. Others, my mother would turn into parathas or fried rice or something and sometimes served as breakfast. And some were served as is. But they had to be finished, and by everyone.
The only exception was if someone was ill — they were not given leftovers till they were better.
I think this tradition happened due to my dad who came from a very poor family and was used to eating up leftovers since childhood. Also his parents, my paternal grandparents, were in love, so they would eat together out of the same plate and so ate the same food — leftovers and all.
The men were served food first, and women got to eat what remained after the men had eaten. Often the most coveted foods were eaten up by the time the women sat down to eat, or very little was left. And the tradition of women eating on the used plates of their husbands was also observed.
And any leftovers and stale foods were also not served to men unless there was something that was culturally preferred in leftover form, especially meat curries. In which case the women ended up deprived of that as well.
In the early years of her marriage my mother tried to follow the traditions she had learnt from her family. She would eat alone in the kitchen after feeding my father. Same if there were guests.
But by the time I was old enough to remember anything, we were eating together as a family and I had heard my mother explain this to other women in a shy, apologetic manner as my father’s choice. I suppose she felt shame around eating like that, equally with her husband. Not like a ‘good wife’. We were a bit of a ‘modern family’ that way. The other children in school described how in their homes the children were fed first, then their fathers and then their mother. My description was missing a step — children first and then parents together — and it took a few more years to become the general reality around me.
In the early years I remember my parents also eating out of the same plate. But as their relationship deteriorated that stopped.
Watching all this while growing up gave me the inner conviction to refuse the role of the family dustbin in both my marriages. I fought tooth and nail in both my marriages for my husbands to eat the leftovers equally with me. They were stubborn in their entitlement.
And so I walked on without them. Now I eat my own leftovers and my fresh food all by myself — with no one telling me what to do.
Her brother got married in his late 40s with a woman in her early 20s.
The only time we visited them as a family was when they had a two year old son, and I was a postgraduate student. At that time I saw my maami– the uncle’s wife, finishing leftovers at every meal even though we all sat together at the dining table.
And my uncle appeared to be OK with it.
My parents talked about this together, and then my mother spoke to him — told him it was not ok for his wife to be eating leftovers at every meal. He said he did not ‘force’ her to do that. That he has told her hundreds of times to just dump the leftovers. And she wouldn’t ….. so.
And my maami said she hated to waste food.
And my mother — not truly healed from ingrained patriarchy as she was — meekly accepted that if my maami was eating leftovers it was on her — after all she had her husband’s ‘permission’, and her husband was a rich man right? Unlike us they could afford to throw away food.
What was never asked or spoken about was, why did my uncle want the leftovers thrown away? Why would he not join with his wife to finish them off and save the food from being wasted?
Because that is the crux of it. While we preach things like ‘Anna’ (food) is ‘poorna brahman’ (the ultimate sacredness or oneness or whatever) and such ideas, we also preach that men are superior so they deserve the best and freshest food.
So the women are left holding the responsibility of saving the ‘brahman’ from desecration — aka eating leftovers.
Image source: SoumenNath from Getty Images Signature Free for Canva Pro, and a still from the film English Vinglish
Aparna Pallavi's current callings are as a therapist, contemplative writer and researcher of indigenous and forest foods. Gender and patriarchy are among her favorite subjects in her contemplative writing. Formerly she has had a read more...
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A feminist man sometimes seems like an oxymoron, but maybe there are some out there. How is it to be married to a feminist man?
How is it to be married to a feminist man?
This is a working list. Will keep adding to it.
Do you also have a feminist man at home? And if yes, what is it to be married to him? Do share.
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It was almost midnight. I was dead tired and fatigued.
I was feeling drained out and fatigued. My head was hurting badly. Sleep seemed far from eyes. I was tossing and turning in the bed I noticed his eyes were gaping at me, perhaps he wasn’t getting sleep either. Our eyes locked and soon I felt drawn toward his mysterious and irresistible charm.
With parted lips, he looked up through lashes. His side glancing at me stole my heart.
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