"Don't forget your lunch!"
“Don’t forget your lunchbox!” I remember my mom almost saying this every day as I would get ready to leave for school and later on, to work. I don’t remember a single day when she would miss packing a lunch for me. In the Indian families, many generations live together under the same roof. Unlike the North- American culture, I didn’t move out from my parent’s home when I turned 18. Forget when I turned 18, being a girl you only move out when you get married!
I had no idea then as to how difficult it must have been for my mom to always have plans in place so that everyone in the house was well fed. She exactly knows the amount of rice I eat when she cooks my favourite ‘Gujarati daal” (lentil) or the spiced and toasted ‘Bhindi masala’ (Okhra) my sister loves. She knows it all.
Living an independent life now, I salute her for all those countless lunches and dinners she tirelessly cooked for me and my family. This isn’t just my story. Many of us have had this luxury at one point in our life or are still enjoying those love packed lunches from our moms. Every evening as I come home from work, when every inch of my body is craving for some food, I realize how hard it is to cook on an empty stomach! It makes me think if my mom ever felt that way! I almost never have all the groceries that I need for a dish that I plan to cook and end up having to go the grocery store beforehand of making my meal. It’s commendable for mom’s can do!
The Indian way of lunches and dinners is completely different than how North America does. In India, you cook your meals fresh. The meal preps that you find on Pinterest surely don’t work for the Indian families. It would never work! A part of it is also because of the hot weather in most parts of India. Summer to India is like Winters to Canada. You just don’t almost experience any other season! You also buy your groceries fresh. Every evening after planning the dinner for that evening, my mother would walk to the local ‘Subjiwala’ (street hawker or vendor who sells fresh vegetables and fruits) and pick up the greens required for next morning lunch. At times (rather most times) she would send me or my sister to pick up the items and remind us to not forget getting some ‘freebies’ from our ‘Subjiwala’ (Freebies would be a handful of fresh coriander and green chillies, a must in almost any regular Indian dish).
All these happy memories of lunches and picking up veggies for mom to cook, then turned into a nightmare when the expectation shifted to me as I got married. With absolute ‘NO’ experience or interest in cooking, I was now looked upon as a ‘weirdo’ who despite getting to an age where I was now married, didn’t know how to cook a basic Indian dish. As I sit back and think as to why I was never interested in cooking, I realize that ‘knowing how to cook’ isn’t seen as a life skill in Indian societies, but rather is associated with your gender, age and marital status. Because I was a girl, and by a certain age (anytime from 20 to 27) I am ‘supposed’ to get married, I ought to know cooking. I always grew up seeing this and my hatred or rather no desire to cook, was my way of being a rebel as I am. I never understood why only because I turned out to be a ‘girl’, I am the one supposed to know or take the responsibility of feeding everyone else in the house. I would always ask my mom (and she hated it as my questions never ended), “What is it that’s different in me that it’s only my job to cook? I have the same heart, 2 kidneys, 2 eyes, 1 nose, 2 hands, 2 legs etc. as the boys (I am skipping out the obvious!). Then why I should be the only one who must know cooking?” There is no real explanation to this question even today in the Indian culture and societies!
With all these gender, age and marital status stereotypes, I clearly was not into cooking for any other reason than keeping up with the so called ‘culture’. As I started to cook, I realized that I would do things in the kitchen remembering how I saw my mother doing. I wouldn’t like a particular dish if it wasn’t cooked my mom’s way! Lucky for me, my dishes also started to turn out pretty delicious, just like my mother! And every time someone complimented me for what I had cooked, I would remember my mother and think how that particular dish associates me with the fondness of my mother as she cooked it for me. I don’t have any memories of cooking any dishes with her to help her out but even then, it has been enough to bring me to the realization that cooking is not just a responsibility, but rather a tradition that passes on from generation to generation within the families.
Living in Canada, oceans away from my mother, I feel even more close to my mother with all the food that I cook. Because I was able to break the stereotype of ‘cooking’ as a woman who is now married, in my own head, I no longer find that I absolutely hate cooking. Although this statement is debatable depending on the time of the day, I at least enjoy cooking when I am doing it by ‘CHOICE’ and not because I am ‘MANDATED’ by any of the stereotypes. I take pride in my cooking, as to me any dish I make is a fond memory of my childhood where my mom ran around us fulfilling all our demands (more of my sister when it comes to food as she never knows what she wants to eat!) for what we wanted in our lunchbox or dinner.
It’s about time that India stops blaming it on the ‘culture’ that woman bears the sole responsibility of cooking. Rather the culture should shift towards considering ‘Cooking’ as a ‘LIFE SKILL’ as it is! I am sure some of you may say that men do cook in the Indian families. Let me say this loud and clear again! Even if men in Indian families decides to cook, it is as a ‘HOBBY’ and not because it is a ‘REQUIREMENT’ because of their gender!
I have no regret or shame in saying that I only cook when it is my CHOICE and not because I am supposed to do it because some ‘culture’ that the Indian patriarchal society demands of me for my age, gender and marital status. Are you willing to change this stereotype?