(As told to Anupama Kondayya)
My husband and I are having lunch at a friend’s. Our friend’s mother-in-law has made a delicious chutney that we cannot get enough of. My husband loves it so much that he asks Aunty for the recipe. And Aunty gives it out. To me. Without once looking at my husband.
As far as Aunty is concerned, my husband is almost a son-in-law to her, being her son-in-law’s classmate. And generally, mothers-in-law from small-town India don’t discuss anything close to recipes, especially recipes, with sons-in-law.
Related reading: My mother-in-law did what even my mother wouldn’t do
Unlike my mother, who happily and comfortably gives out recipes to my husband. Because she has seen him cook. She has seen us cook together. Everyday.
It wasn’t easy for her, seeing her son-in-law work in the kitchen. She would fret and fuss, and try to take over for him. She began to relax and enjoy my husband’s cooking only after we explained to her that this is how we function, and we’d both like to cook for her on her vacation in the USA.
USA. That’s where the story began when I migrated from India after getting married. In the roughly 24 hours that it took for me to get from India to the USA, my life changed utterly and completely. From barely having free time on hand with a full time job, B-school, friends and freedom, I went to having absolutely nothing to do in a suburban home in North-Eastern USA. A hectic B-school schedule had left me burned out so I couldn’t read or write for leisure. So it was natural for me to try to fill my time either with wifely duties, primarily cooking lunches and dinners, or by binging on Netflix and potato chips.
Soon it felt like it was all I was doing in the day – cooking lunches and dinners. If I decided to watch Netflix to pass long afternoons, I lost time with my husband in the evening. Having had all elements of my identity taken from me, and a ladle handed to me instead didn’t feel like a good bargain at the time. I tried to summon the image of Goddess Annapurna but only my new reality stared back.
So, here were the facts of my life:
a. I wasn’t a cook by choice but it became my identity in my new marriage.
b. In the harsh winter, there wasn’t much for a newly married couple to do outdoors. Indoors, we could (again) binge-watch Netflix (minus the potato chips).
c. My husband cooked well. I had discovered his extremely delicious Biryani, Baingan-ka-Bharata and Aaloo-Matar Sabzi on the one-off days that he cooked.
So I decided to ask the husband for help. Sometimes sweetly, sometimes beseechingly, I explained my point of view. And I proposed that we cook together every day.
He was on board with the idea from the start. Putting it in action took longer and was more challenging. He was willing at the level of logic, but centuries of social conditioning about gender roles, passed on through the generations made it difficult for him to adopt this new lifestyle wholeheartedly. He would get on the bus every time I called it out, and then slowly veer away by habit. But we were trying.
Related reading: A symphony in love
The only thing that may have helped my husband cross over to the kitchen counter from the couch, to the kitchen from the living room, was that we began to have great fun cooking together. It obviously made life easier to have two hands on the deck than one. It didn’t make me feel singled out for the task. And it allowed us to bond…
Bond over a love of food, that he passed on to me. I have acquired a love of food and cuisines, living with my foodie husband, and so we love to explore new cuisines in our cooking. We bring home new ingredients (our favourite example is Cactus) to work with. We go on world tours in our kitchen – starting with our own Andhra or Iyengar South Indian Meals, to Maharashtrian, Bengali, Gujarati, Malayali, North Indian and even Mexican, Cajun, European and what not. On days that we are bored, we experiment, and fuse influences – the Polenta with the Andhra Pulusu, or the Manchurian Sevaiyyan Upma.
Now, I have come to love cooking since it is with him and for him at the same time. It gives us a few hours every day to spend together…chopping, mixing, boiling, tempering, baking, brainstorming, experimenting, sharing, dreaming…it all happens in the kitchen. Every meal becomes either an experience or an experiment. It is either pure pleasure or learning. We both take the credit, we both share the blame. And we create something fundamental to human survival every day, having fun while doing it. In that, Cooking is our favourite creative together-thing to do.
Who needs Netflix anymore? Tonight’s entertainment is Cooking!