I was never the fool who believed that our society isn’t incredibly judgmental, but I didn’t realize how irritatingly overbearing it can be if one is moving out of her parents’ home and is known for having barely any interest in the kitchen.
I am currently in the process of preparing my move to the US for a Masters at – forgive me for bragging a little – one of the top universities in the world for my field of study. Yet, every time my mother announces my imminent departure to one of her friends or someone from the family, the comment that immediately follows the mandatory congratulatory comment is “Akeli rahogi, khana pakana parega“. After much deliberation, the best response I have been able to muster to this remark is an awkward smile. It doesn’t help that most of the times I’ve had this conversation is a little before Iftar, which means I am not at my patient best!
As a feeler, I would always sense some forlorn in their comment and I wondered why that would be the case. What makes them so sure that I will cry my eyes out while staring blankly at a recipe? Have they known a great number of career women who died of starvation because they weren’t much in the cooking department?
And then it hit me. Most women who have made that comment to me are women who cook, have had to cook or will have to cook, as some kind of a compulsion. Because they themselves dread the thought of it, they feel that other women would do that too if they were put in the same situation, especially single women who’d much rather focus on a grueling education or career.
What they don’t realize is that cooking isn’t rocket science, and what makes it so dreadful for them is the fact that it threatens to become the end-all and be-all of their existence. I ask you, how hard can it possibly be to chop off a bunch of vegetables, add condiments and spices and let it cook – on its own – for 15 minutes? Daal and chawal are even easier to prepare, and there’s always the trusty omelet and Shan Masala packets! Who needs to eat difficult-to-cook foods such as biryani and qorma every day anyway? In fact, a craving for such food is a great opportunity to meet desi relatives you would otherwise avoid like the plague!
But what they don’t seem to understand, let alone appreciate, is that a woman who prizes her career understands that she is responsible for the consequences of her decisions. She knows that she’s signing up for a tough life, and that cooking her way through it may help but becoming a gourmet chef wouldn’t make things much easier because that wouldn’t be one of the biggest causes of stress in her life. I respect a woman’s decision to be a homemaker, even if it comes at the cost of her giving up a high-profile career in medicine. But the least I can expect in return is respect for my decision as opposed to the contempt and superiority complex that makes some women make insensitive and inane comments like “Ab pata chale ga bachoo jab roz khana banana parega”. Believe me, I have gone through stress levels in my life that are just as bad, if not worse, than any saas-bahu-nand-susar-devrani-jethani issues a woman may have had to suffer from. And they have made me strong enough to realize that the biggest issue in life is not whether or not I will be able to cook for myself in grad school. And does it occur to you that I may be enjoying myself so much and relishing in my achievements that eating two-day-old rice wouldn’t be such a punishment?
So, to every girl and woman who has, and will, make that comment to me: Trust me, as a career-oriented woman, I am more likely to die of a nervous breakdown caused by unimaginable levels of stress than of starvation because of a purported lack of cooking skill. And as someone with an elite, world-class education to go with it, I will probably be able to pick up that skill faster than one can say “cook”.