By Karima Khan Mar. 16, 2018
As a child, what I hated most about hosting, was having to wait until I got to eat. At first, I thought we let the men eat first because they’re older than us. I realised the practice had everything to do with my gender when I had to serve delicious saalan to my much younger male cousin.
“Mehmaan aa rahe hai.” The phrase came with mixed feelings. Happiness, that there would be delicious food, chips, and soft drinks in the house – and horror, that I would have to be my mother’s elf in this endeavour.
The entire process of making your house look casually exquisite like, “Yes, we use this expensive chinaware every day, don’t you?” The running for errands every 15 minutes. Putting an effort into your look made my heart palpitate harder. But none of this comes close to what I hated most about hosting or being a mehmaan… having to wait until we got to eat. Rephrase: Having to wait until the ladies got to eat.
I was six years old when I was made to get up and leave the dastarkhan because the “gents” were eating. I said I’m also a gents; everyone laughed and I was promptly sent away appearing only when the dishes required a refill. And while no one told me why I had to do that, I learnt that we ate only after the last man burped.
Because I’m the youngest in my family, I thought we let the men eat first as a sign of respect because they’re older than us; traditionally, husbands are older than their wives. So my baby brain made this wild connection that the eldest members of each family ate together.
As I looked at the piece in my hand, and as I chewed that first bite, I saw an image of a bearded, kurta-pyjama-clad old uncle on a familiar dastarkhan shaking his head as he glared at me.
I realised the practice had everything to do with my gender when I had to serve delicious gosht ka saalan to my cousin who is younger than I am. I watched him from behind the parda as he dipped the naan in the gravy and grunted “mmmm” after every bite. Oh, I watched and felt smaller, angrier with every dip that followed.
The rules were only slightly different when the gathering was small and involved men and women eating at the same table – but they were are always in men’s favour. It wasn’t just the fact that I was forced to eat later – my appetite I could still deal with. But eating first had a more insidious implication. The men got automatic dibs on the most meaty, delicious piece of whatever was being served. And in the case of biryani, it was the coveted leg piece.
Now I know this is an unpopular opinion. The leg piece is one of those things that draw extreme reactions, like the duran or the jackfruit – you either hate them from the bottom of your soul, or you love them with the intensity of a thousand suns. I also know that the world skews heavily in favour of the juicy breast piece – but gimme a meaty fine leg any day.
Yet, this tender piece of heaven has managed to elude me my entire life. The very hands that type this have cleaned it, marinated it, and prepared it to succulent perfection… only to have to serve it to someone because they have two XY chromosomes.
I finally got to enjoy the leg piece – all by myself – when I was 21. We’d ordered biryani at office for lunch and I opened my foil package to find a piece of drumstick laying seductively on a bed of fragrant rice. My joy that day was unparalleled. I should have marked it as a “life event” on Facebook, gone around the streets throwing confetti, making a day of it.
Instead, all I did was make a mental note of how it made me feel. It made me feel guilty.
As I looked at the piece in my hand, and as I chewed that first bite, I saw an image of a bearded, kurta-pyjama-clad old uncle on a familiar dastarkhan shaking his head as he glared at me. I am six again. The faded image still has significant power over me. And to this day, I have a “I should, I shouldn’t” relationship with the leg piece.
My life is dramatically different from that time. I don’t live with my parents anymore, and my guests are my friends. I enjoy hosting now because beer and poker are involved. We eat, drink, dance, play, and pass out together. Everyone serves themselves. I’m surrounded by people who look at me as “people” too.
But the KFC bucket still feels far away. It’s okay because I now like popcorn chicken better.
Karima is a writer and a standup comedian from Mumbai. Her blood tests have revealed that she's mostly made of shawarma. She enjoys back scratches and writing in third person because that's how you feel #official. Hit the girl up on Twitter @karimasanela.