Sightings from my Great Indian kitchen
I came back home to find 2 chapatis missing again today. I went to sleep hungry but something was definitely off. It’s been over two weeks since I finally gave in and reduced my eating portions, not that I ate a lot anyway. There have been complaints of food disappearing in my house. Of snack boxes being emptied out, dinner portions being reduced by a quarter and used cutlery being found on kitchen slabs even before the rest of the family has sat down to eat. It looked like a crime scene whenever I walked in to the kitchen. I treaded carefully to leave the evidence behind for my mother to see. I found it rather strange but ma seemed to know something that she just wouldn’t reveal. She smiled and nodded before she went on to prepare the two additional chapatis for me every night.
“Why can’t we just solve the problem instead of overcompensating on our end”
“Just shut up and eat”
These dialogues almost played out like it was a script rehearsal in my house. Questions were adding up and the answers didn’t follow suit. So I decided to take things into my own hands; I declared to the family that I will be preparing dinner for the coming week. Ma heaved a sigh of relief, my baby brother chimed in to be my sous-chef, my Thatha didn’t flinch, my Paati, she gaped at me like I had more to say and my younger brother, well its been days since he emerged from his man-cave. I stared back at each one of them, glaring into their eyes; I was going to solve a crime and I was going to do it soon.
“NO MORE MISSING CHAPATIS” was my silent war-cry, of course I didn’t say it out loud, I’m not a psycho, thank you.
I learnt hacks to leave work on time rather than lounging back for beers. I didn’t bother enough to argue with auto-drivers. After all, the least I could do was to spare a few hundreds for justice. I gleamed as I internally double-checked the tasks on my plan of action. I reached home, freshened up and entered the battle field with my game face on, it’s now or never. I knead the dough like it was a punching bag.
“Dont take your work frustration out on food, it won’t digest for any of us” I heard Paati raise her frail voice in protest. I took it easy on the dough after that but my enthusiasm raged on.
I lit the stove, stationed the pan, glossed it with some oil and went at it. I accomplished a grand total of 22 chapatis in 20 minutes. I was so darn proud of myself. As I patted myself for the good work, I sensed a puny little figure creep up behind me. I turn around and notice Paati with a plate held out and not even making eye contact.
“2 extra chapatis for your brother. I’ll go serve him, poor thing doesn’t eat all day. There might less for the rest of us, but you and I can manage ” She went on to righteously pick up 2 extra chapatis from my share and walk away before I could even respond.
Aha! I caught her, Paati was the chapati thief all along. But, the process felt underwhelming to say the least. I stood gawking while she used all her energy to knock on my brother’s room door while holding out his dinner.
“LEAVE IT OUTSIDE AND GO” he bellowed from inside, not even thanking her. I was fuming by this point.
Paati went on to place the plate outside his door uttering a croaky “Okay, kanna” before walking back. She makes brief eye contact with me, asks me to clear up the kitchen and proceeds to pull out her chanting beads and continues her prayer.
She didn’t end up eating that night. The plate remained outside the room for a good hour before a large hairy arm swallowed it through the door’s open crevices. I was at a loss for emotions or words. Ma who had put down the book she was reading by then had witnessed the incidents that unfolded. She walks up to me, pats me on the shoulder and helps me clear up the kitchen before finally sitting down to eat.
I don’t think my eyes even blinked, my eye balls seemed to protrude in a fiery rage as I ate my single chapati in silence.
“Okay, calm down. She isn’t aware” ma broke the silence as she brought out a Tupperware box with the two chapatis she probably made for me.
“So she does this every day and you don’t say anything?”
“She just loves your brother too much, she is old, she is concerned”
I look into the prayer room and Paati’s chanting has now elevated into a mild murmur. I went to sleep hangry that night. I do not exactly know where the anger emanated from; was it the fact that Paati was being distinctly favourable to my thankless brother or was it the fact that my exciting mission concluded in an uneventful manner? I just couldn’t point out.
When I finally did come around to watching Jeo Baby’s feature-film, The Great Indian kitchen, it initially felt very cut off from my seemingly “very urban, very progressive” reality. Watching the young woman slave inside the confines of that grimy kitchen with sweat patches and knife cuts being the only accessory she adorned, I couldn’t have been more disconnected from a story’s character and yet, I found myself teary-eyed by the end of that film.
The clock-like rut of belonging to an orthodox patriarchal framework, the duties assigned based on genders, the daily cacophony of the unknowing enablers who have conditioned this as a normal way of life; it all seemed to hit too close to home. How far do we really think we have progressed? Or have we only haphazardly created social distractions in the name of structures and allowed ourselves to turn a blind eye to a problem so deeply ingrained into our systems? As always, I had more questions than answers. But hey, as Indians, we’re truly the masters of deviating our problems and trying to overcompensate for it in ways that don’t add up. So, I bank my questions for another day and proceed to help with dinner for now.