Of men and cooking!

By Sritapa Mishra*

It took me ten years after being born in this planet and this country to realise that it is not normal for a man to cook. Not only cook but be somewhere around the kitchen even or helping his wife with other household chores. I was taken aback to learn so when I happened to share my lunch box with my group of friends during my school days. They loved the food and started complimenting my mother constantly. I corrected them. “No, this food was prepared by my father”, I said. All of them as tiny and as innocent as me turned around. I did not understand which 8th wonder of the world did I mention about? One of them said, “Oh! is aunty sick?”. No. My mother was completely fine. “Then? Why uncle had to cook?” I just said casually that my father cooks like my mother does. One of them boastfully told that his father did not know how to turn off the gas stove knob even in a case which could have led to an emergency. Her father was an alien to the kitchen area. Now, this surprised me and I took it as a joke because imagining an educated man as himself not knowing to just turn a knob left or right even after his wife’s instruction was something I could not imagine even at that age. But that wasn’t a joke for others. They all started narrating stories and flaunting how their fathers did not understand the difference between sugar and salt. I started feeling lost in the conversation. I thought fathers don’t cook and it’s something one can flaunt or be boastful about. I was sad. I was angry and I somehow felt very ashamed that my father was an active cook in the house. As active as my mother was. Not only him, I have seen all his brothers doing the same. I was deeply hurt thinking that my father was somehow less of a man because he cooked and the world made fun of fathers like him. Until then I did not know that the world was a different place and in my country fathers don’t cook. And moreover, it’s glorified if they don’t. My home was different and I felt left out.

I came back home with the same thought still lingering in my mind.  I waited for the evening until my father returned home from his office. Our evenings were wonderful as we all sat together to watch Odia News followed by Hindi and English all in Doordarshan with our snacks and tea for elders of which I would rarely get a chance to take a sip from my mother’s or father’s cup. That evening I was quiet and curious to get my answers. I began my narration of the entire day with the above situation as the major highlight. My mother said, “I also cook, right? You don’t have to tell that your father cooks or helps me. You can omit your father’s name even if he has prepared something for you. That’s an easier way.” My mother was correct. If people feel that it’s demeaning to cook and Baba does it then I won’t mention.

My father, as calm as the ocean or whatever simile that can be used for that range of calmness, broke his silence finally. He turned to me and said, “Tell everyone that my parents cook. My father does voluntarily. My mother does too. This is not a big deal to do something as simple as cooking because even I feel hungry and I eat too. Your grandmother taught me the basics so that I can survive and I learnt it better during my college days when I stayed away from home. The same goes for your Mumma. She even did not know anything unless she had to do it during her college days when she had to stay away from the comforts of her house. So, we both learnt the skills when required for our own survival and there is no work that is specific for your Mumma or me when it comes to managing the house.” I was too young to realise the significance of this situation until very recently when there is a debate raging around for something as simple as a survival skill that should be natural to all of us irrespective of the gender and irrespective the employment status of the woman in the house. The recent debate again forced my brain to accept that even after so many years this world can create an issue out of something as simple as feeding your hungry belly and that of your family. The comments because of which this debate is doing rounds was something which probably should have been taken as a lighthearted chat with youngsters rather than one gender feeling criticised. I am sure not everyone is weeding out something absurd out of it like some who equate motherhood with being a good cook.

Back then I did not understand the importance of what my father had told me but now I have certainly understood that he set such high standards of masculinity that is not so fragile to be hurt or feel criticised when someone just talks about gender equality and that no work is assigned to any gender by the nature. Most importantly, we the youngsters should learn to differentiate between criticism and a lighthearted talk with young people in an informal note which just gave the example of cooking as a skill that needs to be learnt but not the “only” skill that needs to be mastered. The message that we can derive from the talk was even if someone does not cook properly, be it a man or a woman, one should just have a psyche to just not feel demeaned or less important by learning to feed themselves.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author Sritapa Mishra, and do not in any way represent the views of  Sambad English. The author can be contacted at [email protected]

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