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The Choices women make

Deepa Krishnan

Author: Deepa Krishnan

Date: Tue, 2017-03-07 22:08

When my sister and I were growing up, the kitchen clearly seemed to be the arch-enemy of self-respecting women.

Around me, there appeared to be only two types of women: nondescript mousy housewives who did nothing but cook, and gloriously glamorous ones who went to that exciting place called "office".

Housewives. Sweaty slaves of the kitchen fires! They woke up at unearthly hours, muttered ancient prayers, and produced breakfasts, lunches and dinners in endless succession. They wore faded cotton sarees, their blouses damp with sweat. They chased and scolded and cajoled children. "Home makers" they might be - but when their husbands summoned them by name...Kamalaaaaaaa...they dropped everything else, and jumped to attention. Perhaps it was time for the next round of coffee. Perhaps there was a visitor who needed to be fed. Whatever. Clearly once the household woke up, the housewife's time was not her own.

But the women who worked - ah. They seemed to live in a separate world. Their sarees were crisp, pinned neatly at the shoulder with little golden pins. Their blouses actually matched the colour of the saree. They powdered their faces. Their bindis were neat stick-ons, not streaky sindoor that ran when you sweated. One of my earliest memories is of visiting an aunt who worked in a bank. How wonderful the bank was! Several women sat at desks, with important looking files around them. The fans whirled high above their heads; everything was cool and pleasant. Outside, customers sat on wooden seats, patiently waiting their turn. Inside, competent looking women counted money, totalled cheques and wrote in ledgers. Tringgg! The ringing of a bell would summon a peon. "Give Rekha madam this file", he would be told in an authoritative voice. Surely this was the good life! So much better than the kitchen!

There were other examples. At school, the Teachers Room was filled with all-powerful women. Since my mother was a teacher, I was witness to their camaraderie. I saw women sharing jokes, laughing over school politics, and debating what the annual day program should showcase. How much more interesting than housewifely discussions of rasam and sambaar at the local temple!

Clearly, those who wanted to be anything at all, had to forsake the kitchen. They had to study. They had to go to college, and make a place for themselves in the world of career women. My mum dreamt this dream for us, and kept us out of the kitchen. While other girls my age were chopping vegetables and learning to tell tuar dal from lal masur, I grew up with my head buried in books. I drew and painted and played marbles and flew kites. I got my MBA. I travelled. I earned money. But somewhere along the way, I also learnt to cook.

It was motherhood, of course, that forced me to learn. Starting from simple "koozhu" and boiled vegetables, I graduated to complex delicacies. I had a child who loved good food. At the age of 10, she could tell one subtle flavour from another. As my skills grew, so did my desire to entertain. All of a sudden, visits by family members became opportunities for me to experiment with food. I discovered and was totally trapped in the atavistic pleasures of feeding an appreciative audience. In the process, I came to understand that those glamorous working women of my childhood - the ones with the crisp sarees - woke up at unearthly hours too. They too cajoled their children, they too pandered to demanding husbands and in-laws. But their kitchens were not always hateful prisons to them. While their work life provided them with independence and confidence, cooking and feeding people gave them deep satisfaction too.

Today my kitchen is home to several recipe books. My spice box is rich and inviting, and tempts me often to create new dishes. When I travel abroad on my consulting assignments, I raid specialty stores for delicacies. I've launched bazaar walks and cuisine tours in Mumbai and Delhi. Great-aunts and old female relatives have become a source of inspiration, and mum and I have conversations around food. Cooking has become a truly creative, rewarding part of my life.

Life is funny, I tell you. Twenty five years ago, I would have laughed at the very thought of cooking. Today, I'm doing food shows on TV! 

 

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Comments

Wonderful article you have here mam. I could relate to this, as my mom quite resembles the early waking, sacrificed her time for family kind of woman you have described in the article. Mom prepared my sis and me to aim big in life and work towards it. At the same time, dad, our own master chef, prepared us to explore our food interests and experiment with dishes. We were taught very early that the reason we do most of what we do is to feed ourselves and never to cut cost on food, and also a healthy body though a healthy stomach breads a healthy mind. But most people today forget the reason they are going out to earn. Bad choices and eating habits and lifestyle, takes a toll on family health sooner or later. For some working woman ‘not knowing to cook’ is a style statement. Hope they realize the importance of self-cooked home food sooner.

Dear Ma’am, Your article has depicted the two kinds of women India in a very clear manner. The first type reminds me of my mother who spent all her day and night taking care of the house and us. I believe the job of a housewife is the most difficult job in the world. I remember watching a video where a few people were asked questions randomly if they would work at a place 24 hours a day where they don’t get time to sit or breathe. The job entails running around all day and completely forgetting about their life so that they can dedicate their time and life to a few other people. The salary paid for this job was zero and they were asked if they would accept this offer. Everyone rejected it and also said that no one in the world would accept this offer yet we see about half the population doing this job lovingly and giving it their all. Each mom in this world is an example of this employee taking up an impossible job without batting an eyelid. Hats off to all of them.

Dear Ma'am, First of all i would like to congratulate you on penning down your thoughts so clearly. The article beautifully depicts the life of two types of women that most of us have come across . How easily we form an impression of the life that one might be leading simply based on what part of their life we are exposed to. My mother always kept me out of the kitchen and the only job I had as a growing up teenager was to study. While reading the story of your childhood, I was reminded of how my distant relatives would talk about me and more than that how strongly Maa would answer anyone who would ask her what all I can cook. However, I believe its not just the women who are being judged. Men who cook for their wives/family are judged as well. We are still far from the ideal world. Nevertheless, I am optimistic and hopeful about getting to live in a society where gender does not define the interests and hobbies of an individual.

Ma’am your article gives an overwhelming insight of the transition towards 21st century. I would like to share my perspective as a millennial and what are the important decisions a millennial woman make. A woman is considered a complete world in herself. She unknowingly realizes this at an early age and fosters everyone around her - brother, father, husband & son throughout her life. It’s like they say ‘ladkiyan jaldi badi ho jaati hain’. Whether fetching water without asking for her exhausted father returned from work or crying like hell when her brother is being thrashed for his mischief, she becomes a nurturer and a protector from a very young age. It’s not the connotation of old Indian society that makes her so but it’s the part of being women itself that makes her more sensitive and empathetic than her male counterparts. My purpose of bringing this up here is that we come from an age of millennials from urban/semi-urban India who have never seen her peers cook meals at home at school going age. All of my friends and colleagues had very progressive parents. The difference between a boy and a girl existed only in grandma’s stories. Neither we were told, nor encouraged to only stay at home and do household work, except during festivals like Diwali when we equally participated with our brothers to do chores as basic as dusting, decorating etc. Our parents understand the importance of financial independence in our lives and so do we, thus aspiring for a successful career becomes de-facto. We also understand our role as a family maker and that’s why two of our life’s decisions become very important - choosing the right path for our career and choosing a sorted out life partner who believes in our dreams & aspirations. Today’s woman is not ready to compromise on either; she wants to compete head on in the corporate world irrespective of gender. On the other hand she also looks out for a life-partner who is amiable enough to help her balance the work-life equation. As time changes so does the people, the things change, priorities also change but sadly the expectations from women have changed little. Managing the expectations is the most imperial task that has beautifully been carried out by women from centuries and will continue till time unknown.

Dear Ma’am, your article very subtly reminds each one of us the superhero we have in our home, whom more than often we take for granted. I grew up watching my mother impeccably managing the house and her work and only now can I understand the sheer hard work she would have put in. Needless to say, my father has been a great support to her all along, motivating, appreciating and helping her in the daily chores. These very acts by my parents shaped my mind set, breaking the societal stereotypes which bar females from making their choices. I grew up in an environment which encouraged me to make my own decisions, own up to them and to be knowledgeable enough to make those decisions. I am also aware of the very fact that thousands of women across the globe are deprived of such choices and thus I value it all the more. It should be the prerogative of a women to make her own decisions. On a lighter note, cooking a meal never interested my mother though my father loves to cook.

Hi Deepa Ma’am, This wonderful article of yours made me emotional and travel back in time to my school days when the biggest aim and worry of my mom’s life was if my stomach fill or no. Perhaps all Indian mothers will be able to fit one of the two types of women you have described. There is this unique fire in every mother to come up with tasty and healthy food for their kids. My mother gave up her teaching job twice so that she be available for us round the clock. At times my dad asked my mom to join back teaching but she happily refused to. It is now, when I have to eat the sad mess food, that I realise the reasons behind her decisions. Whatever little I am, I can proudly say that is because of the fact that my mother was always around me to teach, play and serve awesomely cooked food.

The article above has beautifully dealt with the subject of working women and homemakers. Deepa Krishnan Ma’am touches upon this topic with great poise and goes to great lengths to describe how each of them operates at the opposite ends of the spectrum. We all have seen both these types of women, be it our mothers, aunts or grandmothers. As mentioned in this article, the older generation primarily comprised of homemakers however over the years we have come to see that women juggle both roles that of a homemaker and of a working independent woman with aplomb. The article talks about how working women also have to attend to daily chores and spend some time in the kitchen but they view it more as a recreational activity rather than something that has been forced down their throat. Taking nothing away from homemakers, it is one of the toughest jobs that exist as it requires women to be omnipresent and take care of everything that happens at home and does it on a recurring basis. Housewives don’t get leaves, they don’t even get paid for the work they put in and yet go about doing it with a smile on their faces. It would be unfair for me to choose which one of the two is a tougher deal as they both require enormous amounts of resilience and grit and it is only a woman who can don either of these hats and produce the results that they do every day. I would like to salute the spirit of each and every woman for taking it on the way they do and making our lives simpler in the bargain.

Times have changed from when I was a child. I myself have watched my mother play the housewife who cooked, cleaned and ran after two boys who were more interested in disemboweling each other. The boys in this are my brother who is the younger sibling and I. In this day and age I have seen my fair share of sneers towards women who are house wives. While it may be aspirational and even a woman’s right to have a career I realized that the role of a housewife has been greatly undermined. My mother who was a college graduate, let go of her career at a very nascent stage to raise both me and my brother. It is only very late in life that I realized how difficult that job was. The realization set in when I moved out of the house and relocated to Delhi for my first job. The biggest issue was that I didn’t know how to cook. This is where the mother who was a house wife came into play. Overnight phone calls of what to do with burnt or watery dal, congealed rice and overcooked chicken were met with a certain calm and a clear set of instructions of what needed to be done. I realized that the concepts of leadership that we learn about the work place was in play every day right in front of our eyes in our own home. From budgeting for the month for supplies, school fees and entertainment to setting up schedules for our trips to school, convincing the father for a bigger budget for the next month’s expenses and mentoring, the house wife was playing the equivalent role of a CFO, CEO ,COO and HR all at the same time. This was vital job because it ensured the family’s health, comfort and most of all its survival just as managers would ensure for their organisation. Now that my brother and I are on our own path equipped with the leanings and skills passed down to us from the housewife who took care of us for over 18 years, my mother went back to her first career choice of teaching disabled children. She now moved onto being an entrepreneur and runs her own school for children with autism. I would say that being a housewife is also a career. Albeit with no remuneration, these women are looking for rewards that are not purely monetary. It is just for us to realize that the choice women make be it a formal career at a firm or one that involves taking care of their children and running a home should be backed with unconditional support from the people most important to them.

In middle class families, a good education for a girl child is viewed as a method for securing a good groom. Marriage is viewed as a definitive objective and post marriage losing herself in home management. A career is not the top priority. Many say that the empowered women can settle on a decision between family and profession out of their own accord and they of their own free will pic the former. But there is a paradox in this situation. Since the time of their birth, girls are conditioned to think that the house is a lady's utmost important duty and thus when the time comes for them to decide, they "pick" home above profession as a moulded reaction. Becoming a mother is the most valuable experience for a woman but she is then considered the 24 hour caretaker of the child. Parenthood does not carry with it even a question mark for a man's vocation, yet for a lady it regularly accompanies a big full-stop. In the event that a woman continues on her profession way, she should be a logistical genius. She needs to juggle household and profession at the same time and is expected to be on the top of her game at both fronts. Her profession, actually, experiences these diversions, particularly on the off chance that she happens to travel. Her work always comes second to her household duties. You may call it a matter of decision, yet in my eyes, it is sheer false reverence. A profession is not restricted to simply having an occupation and acquiring some income. It additionally intends to seek development and better positions according to your education, knowledge and exertion. Most parents give their daughters a decent education with the goal that they can be independent and remain on their feet "if required". Education is thus exigent. We have supported the wrong thought for a considerable length of time and noticeably adapted to it. It is time this chain is broken. Both men and ladies must have their parts in the public eye re-scripted. It ought to be worthy and typical for conventional parts to be exchanged. Men needn't be suppliers. They can remain home and be essential parental figures for kids while the woman works and earns enough to keep the ship running. We have been talking about women's rights for quite a while, yet insufficient movements have been take to achieve the goals. It’s time we change that.

Your article is reflection of one of my personal experiences. I come from a business family & my cousins would usually join the family business after they graduated. But, I loved to paint. I was a creative child and wanted to pursue a career in arts. So much against my family's wish, I pursued design & went on to become a product designer. As a part of my job, Initially I was only responsible for designing products, but later as I grew up the corporate ladder, I was held accountable for product sales as well. I enjoyed my stint thoroughly. I came to realize that at the end of the day, it is all about business either or mine or someone else's. I soon applied for a short leave at office and went on to help my uncle setup a crafts business, which he intended to venture into since a long time. I worked with him alongside my job and the business was up and running in a matter of six months. It was time for me to focus back at my job, but I realized that it didn't satisfy me anymore as it did before. I decided to get my MBA and join my family business post it. Needless to say that my family is excited as I plan to join family business like my other cousins!

I admire this beautifully articulated write-up. Choices are difficult to make in life. Some women choose to be home-makers and others come out of the house to work, breaking all the shackles. I’m reminded of an old movie “Umbartha”, depicting a woman’s trade-off. She establishes her identity by pursuing her career, even at the risk of alienation from her family. No choice is wrong or right, choices are circumstantial. You have nicely portrayed the transition from our grandmas’ times to those of our generation. My mom, though she completed Master’s degree, chose to invest her valuable time in raising me and my sister instead of taking up a job. My parents encouraged us to explore the world, learn from our own experiences and make our own choices. They never pushed us to enter kitchen and strive for a perfectly circular chapatti. I am glad that today’s world is changing. Today, many women are liberated and have successfully earned their status in the society. However, challenges are different now. We have gone out to walk the extra mile of success but left behind our tradition at home. I always enjoy home cooked food. It’s not the Indian spices but the care of mother’s hand that makes the dish lip-smacking. Our generation lacks the patience and time to cook our traditional dishes at home. Kitchens are mostly left at the disposal of cook-maids and the luscious dishes have been replaced with pizzas and pastas. The culture of eating out is spreading virally because our women are giving away the control of the kitchen. However, it is unfair to demand so much from her. We want her to work, raise kids, negotiate with sabji-walas and maids, cook food and what not. I hope the next era comes when “Dad-cooked food” will be more popular than “Mom-cooked food”. Balancing of household responsibilities between the two genders is much needed. Personally, I love to cook. It’s an art and a stress-buster for me. I cook only to see the satisfaction on the face of others after feasting on the dish I cooked.

Dear Deepa Ma’am, Your article really caught my attention. The two types of women that you talked about, I grew up looking at women through the same frame, and watching a lot of “Kamlas” spring up in action as soon as they were summoned by their husbands. During my childhood, my parents’ and my aspirations had already painted a picture in head of which of the two types of women I would represent when I grow up. In today’s age and in the large spectrum of the society, I think the aforesaid categorization is getting blurred, as educated and well-informed women now have more and more choices. An increasing number of women today are voluntarily choosing to stay at home especially during the early years of motherhood. Technology has opened new avenues of unconventional job opportunities where working from home part or full time is now also an option.

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