Monthly Archives: June 2009

Who Says You Can’t Wear The Pants In The Family And The Apron Too?

The Knife comes up against a different kind of gender stereotype and defies it in his own way.

One opinion voiced in the article was that men cook by rules, follow recipes to the step… wouldn’t know that you can dilute coconut milk powder in water if there is no coconut milk and so on. The argument stated that women are more instinctive when it comes to cooking.

Come again? I think that is a sweeping generalisation. I hate following elaborate recipes. Most of the stuff I cook up are by instinct, visualisation and a sense of balance of spices. And I know that I am not the only one.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

I’m the mirror image of The Knife in that I’m a woman who struggles under the assumption that I’m a good cook while he opposes the idea that as a man, he necessarily isn’t. The kitchen, in my mind, is reminiscent of the dungeons of Harry Potter’s Potions class – warm, dark and full of alien smells and eerie bubbling noises.

My earliest lessons were of learning to turn the pressure cooker off and on and landing the weight right at the top. I was petrified of fire but my parents weren’t too sympathetic with my fears and learn I did. Tea and coffee and rice came next, followed by sambhar and dal. I must add that to this day, I consider Indian cooking extremely indulgent and wasteful. I mean, patriotic sentiment aside, we just don’t have the time and effort to put into soaking spices, boiling the dal, frying the tadka, chopping and stewing the vegetables and then bringing them all together for the grande finale. It just is too laborious and all for something that disappears in about ten minutes.

I carry over that attitude into the rest of cooking as well. I’m a Mumbaiker after all, I’m always looking for the shortest, fastest way to get things done. Three hours of preparation for a ten-minute result and a subsequent clean-up ritual of another hour is just not sensible, no matter what anyone says. Of course, there is the fact that I’m not exactly a foodie and consider food, simply fuel for the human body to be able to do other, more meaningful things.

I can tell you this attitude of mine has not been well-received at all. My otherwise liberal father showed his disappointment in my lack of interest and talent in this field over many years with what he thought were funny lines like…

My daughter can burn water very well!

I don’t think he even realized that there was a fundamental chauvinism in that statement till I stood up to him and pointed out that I cooked every time my mother was not around. Not just sandwiches and Maggi but full Tamilian meals complete with sambhar, curry, salad, rice and home-set curd. I even managed to pack lunches for both of us. Admittedly I did not enjoy it and I was nowhere near my mother’s expert cuisine but my food never sent anybody to the hospital. I dramatically concluded with,

If you don’t think that being a girl entitles me to special treatment, then why do you assume that I should possess any special talents in the kitchen just because of my gender?

He didn’t like it but he didn’t reprimand me for backtalk. He taught me to think for myself after all. Needless to say, the jokes have stopped and each time my mum has been unavailable, dad and I both share the cooking.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Other men, however, are not so accomodating (which brings me back to the premise that there just is no one like Dad!). I remember an ad a few years ago showing two girls on a moped, meant to show off the ‘modern-girl’ attitude where one of them asked the other,

What if we start asking the boys questions like “Do you know how to sew? Can you cook?”

It struck me as a brilliant thought and I actually did do that. The first man I asked that to, gulped and goggled at me like I was an alien from outer space. And then – would you believe – he had the temerity to say,

But why do I need to know?

That date didn’t go very far but my confidence in the question increased as did my patience with men’s answers. I realized that most of them had never been exposed to the idea of being truly independent. A career was all very fine but they had always had doting mamas, subservient sisters and later, girlfriends and wives to pick up for them. Well, that’s a little bit of another story but to come back to the point.

All of us eat, don’t we? It’s a human need, non-specific of gender. Isn’t it just as important that a man be able to fend for himself as a woman? Women are learning to take care of themselves in the physical rigours of the outside world. And really, truly, it isn’t because we’re trying to take away something from the men. I think all of us really see it as taking responsibility for ourselves and burden off the men’s shoulders. In turn, should the men also not start shouldering responsibility for their own upkeep and needs? And hence, why should a man not know how to cook too?

Of note, when I raise this question, I’m often hit with the argument that most of the world’s best cooks are men. That is so not the point. I am not talking about finesse in an art, I am talking about possessing a basic survival skill. It does not matter if all the best cooking in the world is done by men. At an individual level, are you able to manage your own needs without depending upon another person, whether you are a man or a woman? I’ve just admitted freely that I am not a great cook. I do not possess talent but I have sufficient skill that I can take care of myself. And that in my mind, is true independence.

And finally, the Knife has my sympathies for facing such blatantly ignorant stereotyping. I have great regard for people who can do things that I can’t and what’s more a man who cooks well, is someone who has overcome both the fears I have as well as social norms. Men in the kitchen, bravo!

The Death Of Prince Charming

It occurs to me that I’m in the final stages of recuperation. Or rather, I’m like someone who was ill for a very long time without knowing it, then hospitalised, recovered, had a relapse and is now watching the last of the scabs fall off, the scars fade away.

Melodramatic, isn’t it? That’s what the decade of my life has been, vis-a-vis relationships. Full of ups and downs. How bloody cliched. I bet it actually sounds desirable for a lot of people. It’s not. Go back and read my first paragraph. It hasn’t been a fun ride all through. Well, I suppose I have no regrets; I can’t see it having turned out any other way.

I haven’t been in a relationship or even in love or any form of it for months now. There was a 6-month spell last year, right after a period of recovery but that’s over now. I actually do feel like I said above. You know, stronger, healthier but a tad…vulnerable? Like I know now just how easy it would be to fall again and what a pain in the neck (not to mention heart) it would be.

I don’t particularly hate men. In fact, I don’t think I ever did; I was just hurting too much from a particular man at a particular time and they were all too close to each other so it just built up into an unmanageable mass of hysteria and resentment and pain. Over.

I wonder now whether I am ready for a relationship. On one had I do, in the same way someone who’s just been discharged from a hospital may feel hungry, even ravanous for some normal food.

On the other hand, I’ve really have come to a point where I must wonder whether it is worth it at all. It isn’t fear per se. After I suffered gastroentitis over 2 years back, it has considerably dampened my raging appetite for greens and junk-ey food. This is akin to that. Exciting (read ‘toxic’) men and the acidity and heartburn they inevitably cause can stay well out of my staple diet, thank you very much. I have no more desire for that kind of a thing anymore.

The trouble is that they all looked and sounded perfectly ‘normal’ and healthy if you may at the start. Who’s to tell how a leaf of spinach will turn in your stomach? Or a respectable, educated, intelligent and charming man will mess up your heart? You know, I just don’t know.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

A couple of weeks back I met this guy who asked for my number and has been persistently wooing me out since then. Last evening too, he did. But all I can think of is, they are all that interested in the start. And the about-turn happens so fast, you’re never even given a chance to recover. What’s more, the more persistant the guy in the start, the quicker he will turn.

Confucius he say, man who fall in love quickly, fall out of love just as quickly.

Well, I didn’t really find him all that interesting anyway. So thank you but no thank you, I’d rather curl up with a good book or spend the evening with a good friend.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Earlier this week, I was out with a girlfriend when she was interrupted by a call. Knuckles at her eyes, she gestured that whoever was on the other end was crying and would I mind if she just took that call. I wasn’t trying to listen in but well, it’s hard to ignore the only voice inside an autorickshaw. One side of the conversation was enough to give me a picture of what was happening. Girl in question being f-witted out of her brains by man, obviously completely broken up over him while he ‘tried to make up his mind’ and ‘was afraid she would try to change his mind’.

I didn’t even want to hear anymore and I was guiltily glad when my friend hung up. Enough already. I’ve been there enough of times. Don’t men ever hurt? Doesn’t it ever prick them to think of how much damage they are causing to another human being? Don’t they stop to think even for a second, whether they are serious about a woman and what they’ll do if she says yes? Not, apparently. I’m done with ranting about men. How can you change what is? I’ll just have to protect myself from hereon.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Yesterday I was speaking to a guy friend. In light banter, he mentioned that he often followed women on Twitter if he liked their profile pictures. And then, he grouched,

Every woman I follow, sooner or later, everyone else also starts following! I mean, wtf??!!

I laughed and told him that when any of his followers saw a conversation happening between him and someone they didn’t know, the automatic impulse was to check the other person out and then presumably other men followed the same practice as he did. Since he was still grumbling, I suggested that he send direct messages (private) henceforth rather than publicly tweet women he was flirting with. That’s what a lot of my followers did I said and the minute those words left my mouth, I knew it was true. I was sometimes surprised when I received DMs especially from people I barely knew. My friend smirked and said,

Just protecting their territory!

I wonder if that should have incensed the rabid feminist side of me but it just made me laugh. The things men do!

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

At the end of it all, I suppose this sounds very much like any woman who’s had some bad experiences with men and has gotten over it. But you know what the difference between me and a lot of my single friends is? I see them all in a renewed mood; hopeful they call it (while they call me cynical). They’ve dusted off themselves after their various falls and are now staring steadfastly at the horizon for their princes to come. Me, I’m looking there too but I think I’m just going to enjoy the sunset and the rest of my life. Because I don’t believe charming princes exist any more.

I Say I'm Fine

Rambler raises an interesting question in his comment to my post.

You know its interesting at the brink of relationship, twenty somethings like me, really have this question. Men have always been known to not trust women, and women on the other hand trust men, but in this age, how does it really work out?, hows the new age indian women when it comes to trust her partner. In the age of prenuptial agreement, and pre marriage sexual health certifcation, it looks really important how much do we trust each other in terms of our emotional side, would we for example share a difficulty or a mental crisis we have been having without hesitation?. would you?

That’s exactly what I was observing in my last post though I didn’t delve into the details.

How much do we trust? Do we even remember what trust is about? I guess none of us are born cynical. But with the experience of disappointment, comes withdrawal and fear.

The last guy I felt close to would often complain that I never shared my problems. My rationale was that I didn’t want to burden my troubles on someone else, especially so when I could handle them myself. And he would tell me that it made a person feel wanted and needed to be able to help.

One particular episode stands out in my mind. Over six months back, I developed a sudden ache in the side of my neck, which I put down to sleeping in a wrong position. I applied some balm and decided to forget about it. Except that it got worse and upto a point where I couldn’t hold my head up without supporting it on the palm of one hand and even that ended in excruciating pain. Rather reluctantly I went to the doctor who (prone to freaking out over things, I must add) pronounced,

It’s arthritis!

I gaped. Arthritis in the neck…and at my age?

It was a horrible moment, one of those few ones where I really wanted to curl up and cry and be told that it would be alright. My best friend was not reachable just at the moment, mum’s phone was switched off and dad was in a meeting. That took care of the three people that I would unquestioningly trust. With no choice and not very happily, I dialed his number. He wasn’t reachable either.

I don’t have a logical explanation for what I did next. I just switched off my phone, stumbled home and went to bed. The next morning I woke up with the same ache but I held my head up stiffly and went to work telling my parents that I was fine and not to make a big deal out of it. He tried calling me through the day but I didn’t answer. I wasn’t angry with him. I just needed to sort it out in my head. I wasn’t ready to talk about it to anybody else and I actually didn’t.

Two days later, the tests revealed that all was clear and I was just suffering from that affliction of most computer users – overexertion and resulting stiffness of muscles. A bout of physiotherapy exercises put me right back on my feet (or my head in place). It was only then that I felt comfortable enough to tell him what the doctor had suspected. I still wonder why. Arthritis is painful but it isn’t a disease with any negative associations and it certainly isn’t fatal. I guess I was just not ready to admit that I was less than perfect – and even worse – how vulnerable and afraid that made me feel.

It was a tricky situation and one that was never resolved satisfactorily. At the root of it, I think, lay a fundamental mistrust. I didn’t mistrust him, per se but I just didn’t have the faith that anyone else could be expected to understand my problem and also be involved enough in it to provide a good solution. The only person with a real stake in the problem was me and hence the best solution would also come from me.

Like I said earlier, none of us are born cynical or mistrustful. My attitude may stem from my experience where most other people have not been of help or support and in some cases have worsened the situation for me, deliberately or otherwise. I find it is just easier to not depend on anyone else and take care of my own self now. At least my mistakes are my own and there’s no one around to blame me or make fun of me for them.

The more difficult part was the other side of this policy, viz. other people. I have no issues helping the people I’m close to with their problems and in my mind, sharing one’s troubles isn’t like a mathematical equation, a proverbial, “I’ll tell you my sorrows if you tell me yours.” thing. If you don’t want to tell me, I’m fine with that too. I trust that you know who is the best person to advise you on your trouble and if you think it is just you, who am I to dispute that? But if you think I could offer help, feel free to ask. The trouble is a lot of other people don’t see it that way and seem to feel affronted that I don’t ‘pay them back’ by sharing my own troubles.

It is a dilemma and one that I don’t have answers for. I don’t know if I necessarily speak for other ‘modern women’ when I say this. It does seem to go hand in hand with being in a relationship and for a fact, I haven’t really been in an honest-to-goodness relationship in ages. All I know is that when I’m asked how I am, my default setting is to say that I’m fine.

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