Do you believe that patriarchy begins at home? You’re right, it does and it is the bane of every Desi woman’s existence. If you’ve watched the iconic coming of age movie Bend It Like Beckham, you may recall a certain scene where Mrs Bhamra asks her daughter Jess;
Of the many things that are expected of young Desi women, household chores are a common demand.
What will your in-laws say?
Tied to these expectations is the cliché of becoming ‘a good wife/daughter-in-law.’ And on account of daughters, any failure to become a domestic goddess means that they’ll be judged as entitled and an embarrassment to parents.
These expectations were not created randomly.
Culturally, marriage was (and still is) the only aspiration that many South Asian women were allowed to have. Parents feared that their newly-married daughters would return to them for failing to be a good daughter-in-law. Though an irrational fear is trenched in misogyny, it is still imposed by some immigrant parents raising their daughters in Western countries. When girls at home are pressured into cooking and cleaning, it rarely comes from a place of teaching them to become independent, but rather to fulfill unequal gender roles.
How will young women connect with their Desi roots, if we only give them reasons to resent their cultures?
This was one of my issues growing up in an Indian household.
As a teenager, unequal gender expectations blinded my appreciation for Indian cooking. The pressure of cooking to meet the expectations of my mother, made it seem like a chore rather than a learning experience. I wanted to cook anything but Indian food.
To the surprise of my family, I enjoyed cooking food and experimenting with different cultures. I loved cooking homemade Chinese food, with inspiration from watching Ken Holmes and Ching He Huang. I loved the versatility of Chinese cuisine – a concept also familiar to Indian cuisine. Indian and Chinese cuisines both pride themselves on taste, appearance and smell. But I didn’t acknowledge this similarity then.
You may ask, why didn’t I recognize this sooner when cooking was so close to home? I sadly conflated cooking with cultural expectations and lost sight of its place in understanding my heritage.
Re-learning to cook with love…
The epiphany came when I moved away from home to university. Absence makes the heart grow fonder – and I felt this especially true when it came to missing homemade food! Living in a different city, a new environment, and new people made me yearn for home-cooked Indian food. With a new-found flair for cooking and my parents’ recipes at my disposal, my attempt to re-learn Indian cooking was both satisfying and successful.
There is comfort in reminiscing about what seems familiar, and I found this comfort cooking away Indian food in my little flat. Nothing can replace the taste of eating authentically cooked food! Falling in love with Indian food, made me fall in love with my authentic self again. Cooking really does transcend time. And through this act, I bind myself to the stories of my ancestors, reminding myself of them with every colorful masala I use.
Now I find cooking Indian food to be a therapeutic experience that teaches me new things about myself with every meal I make.
The secret to my new-found love for cooking Indian food?
Cooking to the beat of my own drum. Learning to cook at your own pace is the best gift you could ever give to yourself.
Even the tears shed from cutting onions, have (almost) begun to feel worth it.