The Great Indian Kitchen

The movie, The Great Indian Kitchen currently streaming on Amazon Prime, has set off some sparks in the old household as it should. The movie is required watching for every man and woman especially of Indian origin. Indian cooking has been hailed as amazing, tasty, and a host of other adjectives that are all throughly deserving no doubt, but the adj I use are: pesky, demanding, grueling and painful. 

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On several occasions, I have been heard to make the passionate plea for communal cooking wherein a household is only in charge of cooking for a few meals a week in a communal kitchen, and all meals are served there for the whole community. If ever you want to build a community, there is your chance, and it takes the burden away from the shoulders away from the women of the house, and every person learns the value of shared work, whether they like to do so or not.

The Great Indian Kitchen does an amazing job of capturing the loneliness of the housewife as she goes about her duties. The family unit can be an isolating one for the housewife. Even when men are present, there is an inherent assumption that the men have their own lives separate from those of their counterparts, and the interactions when they do occur, rarely have that intellectual spark that one wants to see in people in love. 

The story is of a typical patriarchal household where the men are polite enough in conversation, but do not care to know about the lives of people they live with. The new bride arrives into the home with a wish to fit in, and gets along well enough with her mother-in-law. When her mother-in-law leaves to tend to her daughters pregnancy, the situation rapidly unravels. The increasing workload, the callous expectations of the men, and the regressive customs drive the bride to take life in her own hands.

If anything, the movie looks at a best-case scenario where things unravel pretty quickly – possibly within 6 months. The husband in question makes no attempt to endear himself to his new wife, and communication between them is hardly there. So, she is at liberty to take stock of her life. Unfortunately that is not how it happens for the most part Is it? There is usually just enough Chemistry between the couple for the thing to sustain and before we know it, a few children are in the mix, by which time the girl has lost all marketable skills if any, and life is a drudge from one day to the next. 

The movie sparkles with some scenes such as the husband teaching a Sociology class. The class in which he actually has the ability to self-reflect and assess the impact of lives in society, he instead devotes to blindly parroting useless things from the textbook. “The family is a universal unit. ” 

We all know those uncles who love a certain type of dish paired with a certain other type of dish, without pausing to think about the effort that is behind the scenes. In Indian households, the kitchens are tucked away from the main scene unlike the kitchens in the US. Even when the kitchen and family room are joined, and the center of the family life, there is a certain disconnect between the food prep, and consumption. Now imagine, tucking away the factory and presenting hot piping meals at every meal. It is hardly surprising that the men are kept well away from the work spaces.

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Which brings me back to the question of communal kitchens. There are many places in which we pay a fee to belong. In the same way, you pay a fee to belong to a kitchen, and help out with that kitchen’s duties. Procurement, reorder, stock taking, inventory, cleaning all need to be shared by all members of the kitchen. You can pick the slots in which you would like to contribute, with the caveat only being that every eating member over the age of 5 and under the age of 70 has to help for at least 3 meals a week – and you cannot pick and choose the tasks you like. For before you know it, the men would have snagged the budgetary aspects, and give the cleaning, cutting part bunk. No Sir! 

It would do the old enablers some good, to actually see what goes into making a good meal instead of sitting around and making jokes about the quality of the food in front of them. 

Studies show the disparity in time spent on average household chores by gender.

  • Indian women are high on that list spending a good 5 hr & 51 m Vs Men who only spend 1 hr 19 minutes of unpaid work.

Quote:

In every country, men have more leisure time each day while women spend more time doing unpaid housework. 

I am not sure whether Robert Frost was thinking of social iniquities when he wrote the poem , Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost

We do have miles to go before we sleep. We have the universe to traverse in the simple act of knowing the lives of one another.

The Land of Crumpled Cardboards

I love to see the children play their games of make-believe. One night the son went on and on about which island I would save and why. I was doing three different things in the physical realm as he spoke, and mentally fifteen. So, by the time the question was posed to me, I was flummoxed.

“Umm the biggest island.”, I said.

“Ugh! You didn’t listen did you? That has the ferocious dragon, and not just that, it won’t even listen to you! Do you really want a dragon that doesn’t listen?” he asked. Distracted as I was, I was glad that the irony of the moment was not lost on me, and I chuckled.

Sometimes, I need to get something at night, and howl and yip after stepping on gallant heroes, tired cars, planes and figurines parked on the ‘arena’ in neat rows so they can sleep.

An old cardboard box has occupied prime real estate in my home landing for months. Several attempts to throw the thing out fizzled out when I heard the touching passion with which the son argued for it to be kept. It isn’t an ordinary one: It has hosted grand prix races, super hero battles and has even been used as an air strip for firefighting airplanes. 

cardboard_box

 

Inside, you will notice several faded crayon marks, the battle scars on a war-field.  The faded crayon lines are the tracks where the races take place. The green colored lines are the lanes within which the firefighter plane has to land, exhausted after fighting fires raging over the crumpled forests of paper nearby.

I was reminded of the poem, The Land of Counterpane, by Robert Louis Stevenson. A poem so endearing to me given the situation with the crumpled cardboard box.

The Land of Counterpane – By Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850 – 1894

When I was sick and lay a-bed,   
I had two pillows at my head,   
And all my toys beside me lay   
To keep me happy all the day.   

And sometimes for an hour or so     
I watched my leaden soldiers go,   
With different uniforms and drills,   
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;   

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets   
All up and down among the sheets;  
Or brought my trees and houses out,   
And planted cities all about.   

I was the giant great and still   
That sits upon the pillow-hill,   
And sees before him, dale and plain, 
The pleasant land of counterpane. 

land_of_counterpane
Illustration from Book of Poems – R L Stevenson

 

One evening, all the adults and teenagers in the house were busy trying to figure out how to amuse themselves. Netflix was straining its algorithms, and saying, If you liked that, how about this? You-tube stars were creaking and moaning leading folks down rabbit holes of if-you-like how the soap bubbles popped in this purple bucket, then you will surely also like how the soap bubbles pop in this pink mug.

The elementary school going son, however, was playing vigorously. The Piston Cup was in progress, and he was charging round and round the stadium trying to see whether Lightning McQueen would win yet again. After an hour or two of this game, he became a firefighter, and flew off, his mouth-engine purring brrrr—prrr—vrooom—broom. 

 

Ask any adult about how they played as children, and you can be sure of being entertained.

“Because when you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worth while.”
― L.M. MontgomeryAnne of Green Gables 

I wonder when we lost this admirable skill. What would it take for us to regain the ability to amuse ourselves, and delve into the wonderful worlds of our imagination? 

I can understand now what Robert Frost meant when he said something to the effect of, the older one gets, the younger the teachers. 

When I was young my teachers were the old.

Now when I am old my teachers are the young.
Robert Frost