By Yashodhara Sirur Jul. 12, 2020
Before the lockdown, I was a good career woman, taking great pride in crafting and delivering an excellent presentation. Now, I wonder if the lockdown has made us all want to quit our day jobs and lose ourselves in the sweet torpor of domestic work, like cooking, cleaning, and rearing babies?
Before the lockdown, I was a good career woman. I took great pride in crafting and delivering an excellent presentation, resolving a show-stopping deployment issue, and sometimes drafting a sarcastic barb-filled email with shrewdly chosen colleagues on “cc”. After the lockdown, all these wheels that kept the corporate world turning smoothly, suddenly stopped. Like many other men and women who didn’t know what hit them, I found myself giving up my prized laptop for domestic work. I pick up the ladle, turning into the thing I never thought I’d turn into – part-time chef, nanny, teacher, gardener, baker, cleaner and full-time housewife.
The first few days were agony. After working-from-home from 9 to 5, my husband and I would do double duty with mops, diapers and ladles. Instead of negotiating deals with clients, we negotiated storytime with the toddler.
“Two stories and then bedtime.”
“Fiveeee,” screamed the toddler
“Three stories and that’s our Best and Final Offer,” we’d tell him.
The dishes were demons. As was the laundry. No matter how many dishes we did, there’d always be a few more in the sink. And the toddler hardly ever had clean pajamas to wear. Each day, as I tackled the mountain of physical labour stretched out in front of me, I missed the mental workout and adrenaline shots that my work used to give me.
Two weeks into the lockdown and I could identify with the woman in that viral video yelling, “I will survive!” to myself while chugging wine and juggling babies on both hands.
Except that I was sure I wouldn’t.
They say that it takes 21 days to build a new habit or change an old one, and whoever “they” are, they must be right because around three weeks into my domestic work prison, I woke up with an urgency to make fresh pesto sauce, homemade mango pickles, and arrange my kitchen shelves with bright new Tupperware in red and pink carcinogen-free plastic. It was a strange feeling and a wholly new one. I had always wanted to make my own mango pickles and papad. Composting and making bio-enzyme has forever been on my to-do list. And how often had I dreamed of the perfect kitchen?
How I learnt to love domestic work
Is it just me, or has the lockdown made us all want to quit our day jobs and lose ourselves in the sweet torpor of domestic work of cooking, cleaning and rearing babies? Have all the fiercely feminist, career-focused women in the world finally come around to what their mothers used to say that there is no joy bigger than whipping up delicacies for loved ones and basking in their satisfied gazes?
While I must admit it was a joy to see my kid eat up all the vegetables drizzled in my pesto sauce, I don’t know if that is the reason alone. I discovered that the act of domestic work especially cooking involves so many micro-joys in the opportunities it presents for perfection.
Even the simple task of chopping garlic into bits as fine as glistening dew-drops or cracking open an egg just-so becomes a quest for perfection and one that is entirely dependent on your skills, your focus. There are no externals here. No colleagues who need to carry their weight. No bosses who need to clear your ideas and approve your budgets. It’s just you and your perfectly chopped garlic sizzling in olive oil.
After the lockdown, all these wheels that kept the corporate world turning smoothly, suddenly stopped and picked up the ladle.
Pride and perfection
There is no power-point presentation in the world that comes even close to the hands-on, deeply satisfying experience of grinding basil leaves on a stone mortar-pestle. If this sounds like a deeply profound spiritual experience then let me quickly admit that there is also a fair bit of ego involved in all this. There’s the joy of a perfectly made pasta in pesto sauce, but there is also the little kick when your bestie makes your recipe and creates an Insta post out of it.
And there is unbelievable joy in being the first one to discover, through a well-researched “process improvement”, a new way of cleaning, picking, wrapping and storing fresh herbs that adds immensely to the turnaround time of cooking a dish. Who would have thought that simply chopping off coriander roots, sticking them in a glass of water before stowing them away in the fridge could make such a difference to the dish and make your fridge look as pretty as a flower garden! I could write a 3,000-word case study on the productivity gain my little hack has brought.
As a techie, I’ve brought in some digitisation into the kitchen too. Instead of painstakingly writing down recipes only to lose the notebook, I now store my finely honed recipes on an app. The app also lets me plan my menus and shopping list. I only feel sorry I will have to mail my grandchildren a digital dump of the app instead of entrusting them with a leather-bound book filled with recipes and kitchen secrets, smudged with oil and masala stains.
In the Anne of Green Gables series, a mathematics scholar admits to not knowing cooking, and says, “But aunty, when I begin in good earnest to learn to cook don’t you think the brains that enable me to win a mathematics scholarship will also enable me to learn cooking just as well?” I think I’ve found my answer – midway between the presentation room and the kitchen.