What’s cooking?

By Jas Saluja
Photo: www.pixabay.com

And for god’s sake you don’t have to ask a woman!

Vidya Balan, an award-winning Indian actress known for her portrayal of strong willed and unconventional characters was once asked in an interview, “We have heard that you can’t cook?” to which she smilingly replied, “Neither can Siddharth!”. The fact that girls still get asked such questions is disturbing.

The relationship between me and my kitchen has always been a competitive one. There are days when I aggressively win but on other days, I just give up after a fierce mental battle between us. I have always wondered why! I come from a regular Indian family and growing up in 90s felt like living with an identity crisis. That era brought the rest of the world straight into our homes through TV and print media. There were too many influences from local to global demographics, too many opinions, too many ways and too many choices. It opened a whole new spectrum of life for people.

There were few observations in and around my household that troubled me as a girl:

  • How cooking formed the definition of a girl!
  • How cooking was used as some personality test to assess a girl!
  • How cooking snatched the idea of self-care and self-growth from a girl!
  • How cooking blocked some bright minds to question intellectual living room conversations!
  • How cooking was like a proven way to be used by girls against other girls!
  • How being uninterested in cooking made some girls ‘not girls’!
  • How cooking defined relationships!
  • How cooking wrongly empowered men to be cared for but not to care back!
  • How cooking became synonymous to girls!
  • How cooking was a thankless non-rewarding job!
  • How cooking was never enough!

Back then in early 90s, third wave of feminism began to rise all over the world. Girls started to become more aware of their rights and their roles. This brought a shift in society’s brain cells. A shift which was in its early transition. A shift which is still in its transition. A shift that generated lot of noise and lot of voices. A shift which everybody knew will challenge what we have done and known so far. Traditionally, there were lot of gender defined duties which were tossed at females including cooking. But the shift hugely challenged that!

It also gave rise to a new conflict in the society. A conflict between the traditional expectation and changing reality. A conflict between the resistance and the change. A conflict where the major part of the society was still unequipped to handle what was coming. See, that’s the funny thing about any change. A change is always instigated with some pre-assumptions about its end results. But no one can really control it and one can expect varied manifestations of the change.

Girls were no longer restricted to the kitchen and were studying, securing well paid jobs, were going out in real world and calling their own shots. They were brought up and treated differently. They were rebellious and persistent. I was part of this shift too and without realizing much, it primarily defined my equation with anything that was gender biased and cooking metaphorically.

Gender defined roles are so deeply woven into the system that it becomes hard to segregate them and comprehend their impacts. It makes you dig into stereotyping and into freedom of choice. Anything that’s imposed and is done out of fear—fear of loss of image, loss of love, loss of control or fear of fighting the dogmas then it serves no good anyway. You are not meant to do something because of your gender. And to be aware of that fact itself is liberating. Like it liberated me!

We have come a long way but still have a long journey ahead to take. There is a steep rise in families with flexible gender roles and is almost contagious. It’s a beautiful amalgamation for children to witness and it fosters a system that fairly empowers both men and women to build themselves up together and bring upon an integral change in DNA of society.


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