Staying home alone has many perks: Wearing pants is optional, nobody else is around to slow down the internet connection, and you have free reign to fart and pick your nose whenever you like. However, being on your own also means that you have to handle food all on your own, and if you’re anything like me, that’s where the Maggi, boiled eggs, and problems begin.
Last week I found myself all alone at home, and had to manage lunch. Despite having a fridge full of fresh veggies and frozen meats, I wound up heating up some water and waiting two minutes while my instant noodles were ready. My culinary spin on this dish was to mix in a packet of Venky’s chicken sausages.
Now, I don’t actively prefer eating carcinogenic cardboard masquerading as fast food over a hot, home-cooked meal, but I know I am utterly hopeless in the kitchen. I might start out trying to make a lavish mac’n’cheese, but after burning the sauce on my sixth attempt, all I’m capable of producing is a loud maa ki…
And yet there was a time when my culinary ambitions matched my appetite. When I was ten, I dragged my mother to Crossword to buy my grandmother a Sanjeev Kapoor cookbook for her birthday. My plan was to cook her Chef Kapoor’s butter chicken recipe, bask in her praise, and then reveal the book as a coup de grace. It was a sweet fantasy, but it was not to be.
On her birthday, I woke up early and snuck into the kitchen. I had enlisted the help of my eight-year-old sister and house cook the day before, so the ingredients were already in the fridge. Things started off well, but when we began marinating the chicken, my grandmother woke up. She came into the kitchen to make her morning chai, and was mortified to see the boy of the house up to his elbows in curd and butter. I was screamed at for not knowing what I was doing, the cook was yelled at for letting the clueless lad into the kitchen in the first place, and in due course, my grandmother took over the preparation of her own “surprise” meal. I was banished from the kitchen while my sister got to learn how to make butter chicken a là Sanjeev Kapoor, and from that day it was like there was a Laxman Rekha keeping me from entering any room where food preparation was taking place.
My new plan now, is to head to Crossword and hope that Sanjeev Kapoor cookbook is still in print.
I thought of this little story around the 100th time I cut my thumb trying to finely chop a garlic to stir fry my stupid sausages. Perhaps my anger shouldn’t be directed at my own incompetence when in fact I had never been taught, like so many of my male brethren, to chop garlic, thanks to being raised in a sexist kitchen.
The name “sexist kitchen” might seem a little too inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale, but a sexist kitchen is not some den of overbearing patriarchs keeping their downtrodden women servers engaged in the backbreaking labour of roti making. It’s a much more innocent, everyday situation that you might have even experienced at your own home. The kitchen belongs to the womenfolk – it is their fiefdom, and any boys or men are seen as interlopers. It’s still sexist – Simone de Beauvoir lamented the unfair division of housework between genders in her work The Second Sex as far back as 1949 – but since the power dynamic is flipped on its head, with women bossing the men around, it’s less overt, but no less harmful in the long run.
Today, I live with my girlfriend, and my contributions to kitchen activities are limited to grocery runs, setting stopwatch timers for boiling kettles, sauce tasting, and doing the dishes when the maid pulls a fast one on us. The real work is done by her, and I’m uncomfortably aware how imbalanced this arrangement can get. A comic in The Guardian called “The Gender Wars of Household Chores” explained it best by using the corporate analogy of how women at home are like managers that are in charge of delegating work, but they also have to simultaneously cope with the stress of being the low-level employee who has to execute what has been delegated. I’d like to pitch in and cook something once in a while, but both my girlfriend and I have an aversion to eating food that looks like it was prepared by the Minions.
I’d be the most ungrateful scum to have ever crawled on this Earth if I were to pretend, for even a second, that I had any complaints with the way I was spoiled by my grandmother growing up. I’ve learned that I can eat more than ten rotis in a sitting, and that I’ll never say no to mango phirni, even if it’s at 11:30 pm. But I do wish she had relaxed the traditional gender roles in our house kitchen, only so that I could fend for myself a little better and not be a burden to my living partners once I flew the nest.
So my new plan now, is to head to Crossword with my pathetic little bandaged finger, and hope that Sanjeev Kapoor cookbook is still in print. Until then, I’ll have to convince myself that my latest concoction of Maggi noodles and Venky’s chicken sausage is actually a MasterChef-worthy millennial take on spaghetti and meatballs.