1. a pickle of Indian origin, made from fruit, vinegar, spices, sugar, etc: mango
2. a type of music popular in the Caribbean Asian community, much influenced by calypso [C19: from Hindi catni and Urdu chatni; of uncertain origin] First Known Use: 1813
In Indian cuisine, a chutney is a spicy condiment made of chopped, sautéed vegetables or fruits, cooked with spices and tamarind. “To be made chutney of,” as the expression goes in Tamil, is to being pureed down to one’s raw juices. Every few days, I’m so nettled by someone that I want to make chutney of him or her. A few days ago, my target was my husband.
The problem with sautéing and dicing the husband is that at the end of all the grilling you must cross his path again and again—in the bedroom, the kitchen and the family room. I made up with him after about 1.75 days of stony silence during which time I steered clear of his orbit around our island kitchen. I lurked in the penumbra called our guest bedroom until my home began feeling like a bargain Costco coffin on Pluto.
Days later, I found myself wanting to make chutney of a woman. This time, the object of my wrath was a Princeton alumna named Susan Patton who informed the young women of Princeton that even though Sheryl Sandberg wanted them to lean in to their ambitions, flex their muscles and speak up so their voices were heard, in Patton’s opinion, finding a husband before graduation was the most important thing they could do for personal fulfillment: “Forget about having it all, or not having it all, leaning in or leaning out—here’s what you really need to know that nobody is telling you.” (My husband actually agreed with the pitiable woman and that realization alone was sufficient to cause a second nuclear fission in our home but I decided, it being Sunday evening and all, our garbage takeout day, I should just wait until Monday to resume our fight.)
In that letter to the editor of The Daily Princetonian, Ms. Patton claimed that the only way for women to guarantee they got their “equal” was to find their Prince Charming right within the ivy-laced walls of their campus, the place that would guarantee them their intellectual match: “As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again—you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.”
At a time we were thinking, all of us, of “leaning in” with Ms. Sandberg, Ms. Patton told our girls that all they needed to do instead, was to just get a degree, lean back in bed and let a man, worthy of both their degree and their degree of intellect, lean forward and mount them. Like many female readers, young, old, straight or gay, I was ready—to use several idioms from Tamil—to puree Ms. Patton into chutney.
I wanted to tell Susan Patton that while I too had a husband who had married “down”—that is, he did not get betrothed to his academic equal if you considered our educational degrees—he had done perfectly well for himself. (I haven’t asked him to corroborate this.) While he is a smart guy and his clear thinking stuns me sometimes, I’m equally baffled when he cannot see the nuances that I perceive in our daily lives. I wish Susan Patton understood that it is not about finding your intellectual equal all the time, in any generation, past or present. Marriage is about having the wisdom to accept each other’s strengths and weaknesses and making peace with it.
I thought of my parents’ marriage. My mother did not complete 4th grade. She didn’t speak English. She was probably the only one among the mothers of my school years who did not speak the language. My father’s family, on the other hand, cared a lot about education because he hailed from a background of teachers. Yet, she went abroad with him twice and made a life with him far away from her comfort zone managing to talk to household help in pidgin English and rustling up a good life for us wherever we were. When I listen to my father talk about his late wife, I realize how proud he was of her pluck, insight, resourcefulness and wisdom.
Unfortunately, the school you attend does not often give you the values for life. I believe that while the college my daughter attended gave her skills that will carry her through her career, the values she learned at home will help her navigate the course of her marriage and, ultimately, her life.
Certainly, Patton made some valid points about finding a mate with whom one shared similar values but she upset many women with her myopia with respect to intellect, gender and, most importantly, choice; furthermore, just as I felt, there was “elitism oozing out of every pore of that letter”, according to yet another woman, a journalist who also happens to be an alumna of Princeton. In the last many days, Patton’s letter has stirred up so much chili pepper and horseradish in the media that I worry about the state of her stomach. It thrills me that there were many men and women who chased her with a pen doubling up as a Cuisinart blade. They made mincemeat of her in their opinion pieces.
I have no doubt that by the time this story appears in print, Patton would have been just one in a diorama of perceived offenders in my life. It is such a matter of comfort to know that there’s always an accessible target for some of my pungent chutney in the form of a good, loyal husband whose biggest sin yet is that he posts minute-by-minute updates of his daily peregrinations even when he knows it violates all the laws decreed by the Home Command.