My mother thinks I’m trying to make a feminist statement. Down with domesticity. Against the homemaker’s daily duties. No man will ever be able to say to me, “A woman’s place is in the kitchen,” for I could go there and mess around, but I wouldn’t know where anything is and I wouldn’t be able to produce much more than a cup of coffee.

I can’t cook. At all. When it was my turn to prepare dinner for my college roommate, she had to be content with oven-baked fish sticks and pre-packaged greens. And though I make this admission with a touch of perhaps misplaced pride—I feel like the last woman standing, a conscientious objector when everyone around me has gone to war—I am starting, as I get older, to become a little concerned about my own ineptitude.

There are those who don’t cook on principle. Like many young women with professional aspirations, I cringe at the male-breadwinner/ female-breadmaker cliché, but I realize that there is nothing particularly empowered about eating Ramen Noodles five times a week. I don’t relish the prospect of having to “cook with my dialing finger.” And I know the value of healthy, home cooked meals in a world of processed, packaged, and modified foods.

Many people truly enjoy cooking, find the process creative and fulfilling, even therapeutic. Putting food on the table is a way to nourish and sustain oneself and other human beings in more than one way. So what’s my problem?

It’s not that I’m not interested in food. On the contrary—I relish elaborate, multi-course feasts and simple, one-dish meals alike, colorful on the plate, textured on the palate, with the right combination of spices. Like Chef Anthony Bourdain, I have “no reservations.” When I travel, I try everything: ugali in South Africa; churrasco in Brazil; scorpions from the night markets in China. Unlike Bourdain though, I’m content to eat somebody else’s preparation.

Is it laziness? Obstinacy? Fear? I don’t mean fear of accidents in the kitchen—of burning myself on the stove (which I am likely to do) or chopping my fingers along with the onions—but the closer I get to the prospect of running my own home, the more I realize that I am afraid of failure.

It should be of some comfort to me that, unlike my grandmothers and their grandmothers before them, I will have a veritable army of sous-chefs in my future kitchen: Parampara, MTR, Shaan, Shastha. I can download recipes on the internet. I can make idlis in the microwave. Still, I am afraid that I will never be able to produce authentically Indian food, that I will not be able to pass on a vital part of my cultural heritage.

So I wait without learning, for necessity or inspiration to strike. And if all else fails, I’m hoping there’ll be a 21st-century man to turn to: one who knows his place is also in the kitchen.

Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan was Editor of India Currents from July 2007-June 2009.
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