When gender based violence erupts on our TV screens, as it did recently with instances of molestation in Bengaluru, we react in shock. What does it say about a society where such acts have become routine? The shell of silence surrounding sexual violence needs to be shattered. As a first step towards a more honest conversation, we bring you “Talking Gender”, a series of articles on the fundamental problems of the collective mindset on gender.
In early 2016, a considerable amount of outrage was invested in reacting to a set of photos online, which would go on to be titled Arranged Marriage vs Love Marriage Roti. The extremely sophisticated joke was around the fact that in an arranged marriage the wife would produce six sigma compliant, stellar rotis day in and day out; whereas the wife in a ‘love marriage’ would obviously produce flat, misshapen, burnt rotis.
Ha ha ha. Let’s get that out of our systems. One more time with feeling: Ha ha ha.
What went unsaid in this viral meme-fied no-space-for-nuance discussion was that the roti-making skills of a man, any man, is never questioned.
Love marriage or arranged marriage, married or single or divorced, hostel bound or single in the city, the Indian man is never expected to make rotis. Or anything else for that matter. Even when push comes to shove, the most that the Indian man needs to do is to create some marvelous new invention involving instant noodles and other curious artefacts from around the world.
The ubiquitous food delivery services offering restaurant food, daily-menu-refresh food, home cooked food, gourmet food that you can pretend you cooked, late night cravings food, things to drink while you wait for your food delivery, and even food by the kilo make it even more trivial for boys and men in Indian cities to learn to cook.
I was once an omelette impresario myself, proudly nonchalant about my inability to cook. Built on the back of years of enjoying excellent cooking by my mother with no real appreciation of the toil that went behind it, I unconsciously modelled myself after my gastronomical but culinarily challenged father I guess.
When I did start, progress was slow. Thousands of Starship-Enterprise-shaped dosas later, liters of horribly set curds behind me, I now spend long mindful periods of time in my kitchen mostly cooking meaty treats for my family, and I realize how foolishly I wasted several years ignoring this crucial life skill.
Today, the joy of hearing a “Yummmy!” from my children at breakfast time, or the satisfaction of seeing them scarf down a biryani whose recipe was inherited from my grandmother, is almost beyond compare.
This is where a huge opportunity lies for us fathers! The average child’s world view begins to form by the age of 5, and a child’s picture of the world around is pretty much solidified by the time the early teens roll in.
If we are to raise sensitive, inquisitive, collaborative, and free-thinking adults, we need to change the way we tell the gender story through their childhood years.
So, here’s one father sharing ideas about how to tell a more balanced gender story through cooking. If you are a fellow father, join me in changing the gender narrative in urban India by following through with these ideas. If you aren’t, share this with a father you know, we need all the help we can get!
1. Ideally, you should have started your journey way before your induction into fatherhood. But it’s never too late to get the basics right. Learn about what your kitchen contains, and if needed go ahead and equip your kitchen the way you think it should be. Here’s one list put together by two dads of the bare essentials your kitchen must have. (I would add a large enough pressure cooker to this list.)
2. Once you’ve got your equipment sorted, learn how to run a kitchen. This means knowing what quantity of how many varieties of vegetables to buy every week, how to tell the good watermelons/okras/mutton cuts/store-made breads from the not so good, which produce needs to be used soon and which ones can last a few days, and what staples your kitchen should never run low on.
3. If you’re lucky enough to begin this journey when your child is still in utero, congratulations! You have an appreciative and sensitive feedback-giving audience in the mother of the child. Figure out which foods cause acidity, bloatedness, or nausea. Learn the foods which give the mother sensory pleasure along with nutrition, make tangy flavours your best friend and boldly go where few spouses venture.
4. If you’re the father of an infant, learn to fulfill the whole day’s nutritional needs of the baby with a combination of expressed breast milk (or appropriate substitute if breast milk is not available readily), instant infant food mixes that can be whipped up in under a minute, and traditional infant foods that need some amount of preparation and cooking.
5. Learn to make more than instant noodles and egg bhurji. Any self-respecting father’s repertoire should include at least a week’s worth of made-from-scratch cooking: this means breakfast items like dosa and poha, basic steamed rice in a pressure cooker, rudimentary dal or rasam or equivalent gravy, two or three ways to cook vegetables (‘palya’ or ‘sabji’), and if you’re non-vegetarian at least one easy chicken curry. You can get your ideas from this cookbook written by a father.
6. If your children are under the age of 6, experiment with spice levels to calibrate your cooking to be palatable to the adults and children in the house alike. Observe which kinds of food go down easily, and which items cause more fussing. Have an arsenal of ‘healthy treats’ like cheeses, eggs, pastes/chutneys, and sauces (not ketchup!!) that can mask the taste of the fuss-inducing foods to increase their acceptance.
7. This one is really important! Beginning at the age of 6, even younger if your children show interest, include your children (both boys and girls) in cooking in age appropriate ways. From washing greens, to simmering the stove, or watching the milk so that it doesn’t boil over, and beating eggs, several tasks are fun and can get young children to appreciate how much effort goes into preparing even a ‘simple’ meal. Older children should even make whole meals from scratch.
8. Cook often enough, and with joy, so that when the children in your house think of the answer to “Who makes the food?” they think of their father and mother at least equally.
9. And for the sake of everyone’s sanity learn to clean up after yourself in the kitchen. Teach your children to clean up too! Years from now, if your children encounter a variant of the arranged marriage vs love marriage roti joke, maybe they’ll remark about how leaving the kitchen counter spotlessly free of dry atta after making rotis is as important as the geometric harmony displayed by those rotis.
Food, as evidenced by its inclusion in the famous trilogy of Roti, Kapda aur Makaan, is one of the most important things in our lives, way more important than Facebook or salary slips or American presidential elections.
If we inculcate in our sons and daughters a culture of appreciation and collaboration in the preparation and joyous consumption of food, we will definitely have gone a long way in setting right the gender imbalances that are rife in our society. Let’s increase the chances of arranged marriage rotis, love marriage rotis, and even premarital and extramarital rotis being made by men as likely as women in the coming generations.
Most Indian vegetables (sabji/palya) can be cooked in two or three easy ways. Let’s pick an underrated vegetable: ridge gourd or turai or heerekai. Look for three kinds of recipes online: ones that use a simple seasoning and no ground masalas, others that use a pre-made powder masala flavoring, and a third kind that uses a freshly ground masala paste. Try all of them on your unsuspecting family. Let me know how you felt cooking the vegetable in these different ways and what your family said about your attempts. Mail me at email@example.com.