Tag Archives: curry

Rebellion Simmers Alongside Curries In The Great Indian Kitchen

Every woman, who has slaved in the kitchen like her grandmother and great grandmother before her, nurturing her family with the hard labor of her cooking and care, day after day, year after ceaseless year needs to watch Jeo Baby’s The Great Indian Kitchen.  This film makes dry statistics leap out of the screen. A 2020 Gallup poll found that women still did a majority of household chores in the USA, which is supposed to be a bastion of gender equality.

 If American women can’t get their partners to share in mundane chores at home, what chance do Indian women have in traditional settings?

The Great Indian Kitchen addresses the subtleties of gender inequality with a strong feminist message; but it’s less about flashy, strident feminist rebellion in short skirts, and more about the nuances of self-respect shredding and sweaty, grueling hours of labor being taken for granted,  simply because you’re female.

The film is in Malayalam and I don’t speak the language, but that didn’t detract from the essence and great acting.  It didn’t reduce the subtlety and realism of the emotions as a young Malayalee girl with a fierce independent streak, grapples with the reality of an arranged marriage into a conservative family.

Nimisha Sajayan plays the new bride. She is a typical middle-class girl in Kerala raised in a relatively liberal household. She blooms with happiness when her marriage is arranged to the young groom (Suraj Vengaramoodu.) Nimisha is attracted to this stranger who will be her husband. He is soft-spoken, as is the rest of his family, and Nimisha is eager to please her new in-laws in the way many Indian women are conditioned to. 

She doesn’t mind the weight of household chores expected of her almost immediately. The movie creates a clever, visual impact, scene after scene, of a loaded, dripping kitchen sink, constant washing and cleaning up of messes that men in the family left behind, and of Nimisha sweating over a stove, making endless cups of tea for her husband and father-in-law. 

In the beginning, Nimisha’s mother-in-law helps with the daily drudgery, but when she goes away to her daughter, the household burdens fall on Nimisha

A major strength of the plot’s message is the lack of drama.

Nimisha isn’t abused – she is cajoled and shamed when she doesn’t live up to her in-law’s narrow, self-serving expectations. Her new husband takes her for granted and isn’t sensitive to her burden. 

Innumerable Indian women will identify with the slow stoking of Nimisha’s rage as she is manipulated and sometimes overtly humiliated in a way that is considered socially acceptable. In one scene, a cousin who is visiting her in-laws with his wife tells Nimisha off for giving him black tea without cardamom or spices. He lectures her on the recipe, puts his wife down when she attempts a feeble defense of Nimisha’s tea-making skills and offers to have the men take over the kitchen for cooking duties that day. 

Switch to scene two – the men have cooked and eaten but left dirty plates on the table for Nimisha to clear. The kitchen is a disaster of dirty pots and spilled food, doubling the work for Nimisha. When she finally brings tea for the men and excuses herself to go clean the kitchen, the cousin laughs and says, “What work, we did the cooking today!” Scenes like these, of ordinary, everyday insensitivity with which female audiences will immediately identify, are the reason the Great Indian Kitchen has a four-star rating.

In a nod to the Indian Supreme Court’s 2018 decision to strike down the Sabarimala temple edict (which banned women of menstruating age on their premises), the film also takes on traditional superstitious rituals – like the banishment of women from the kitchen during their periods. Nimisha has to shut herself in a little room when she has her period and suffers the humiliation of being treated like a leper. As events pile up, and the grueling hamster wheel of daily household chores continues unabated, the movie speeds toward its climax.

The end is inevitable, and when it comes, there is shock and catharsis and a wise nodding of heads. The irony at the end is a perfect coda to Nimisha’s saga. 

The Great Indian Kitchen is available to stream on Neestream.


Jyoti Minocha is a DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents.


 

The Facebook Group That Your Kids Love To Be Part Of

If you haven’t heard of Subtle Curry Traits by now, either a) your kids aren’t on Facebook or b) they don’t want you to be on it. If your answer is the latter, please click next and ignore this article – I’ll be in big trouble otherwise.

Subtle Curry Traits (SCT), a Facebook meme group founded in October of 2018, serves as a platform for youth from the Indian diaspora worldwide to share humorous content. The page, which receives over one thousand submissions a day, strives to bring people together on topics such as identity, heritage, and family. The group’s official mission is to “Be the voice for the unspoken to eliminating cultural boundaries that distance us from our potential.”

Noel Aruliah, an Australian student and founder of the page, recounts its genesis. “One day I was in my room looking through other popular meme pages, and I realized there was a gap in the market for South Asian content.” He started a Facebook group, intended for his close friends, and saw its membership skyrocket to over 10,000 people in just a few days. Aruliah was shocked. “I had second to no experience with content creation. I just like to crack some jokes.” Today, over 365,000 people worldwide enjoy the online community he has created.

 

The page is a virtual platform to reconcile the challenges of being a part of two cultures. The South Asian diasporic identity spans several countries and continents, but the undercurrent experience is the same. Aruliah says, “Humor is good because there are a lot of things that subcontinental descendants relate to- we are the same, we have similar sorts of struggles.” Subtle Curry Traits often illustrates the good, the bad, and the quirky of South Asian heritage. From reconciling the expectations of the older generation to handling the way the Western world perceives us, South Asians have a unique struggle. Forming community around this experience is a way to show that no one is truly alone.

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Comedy, however, is not without its own slew of challenges. For a page dedicated to an ethnic identity, it becomes difficult to toe the line against “problematic” humor.

Example of meme that was removed

While the moderators have an internal compass that dictates what can and cannot be posted, it is not always easy to predict how people will perceive the content. Aruliah says that they “aim to post wholesome content,” and “try to steer clear of offensive memes. As much as possible, we try to keep it a family-friendly environment to broaden our reach.” However, subliminal racist, colorist, and caste-ist jokes often find their way onto the platform. While the admins are committed to taking such posts off the page, this points to a larger question about the role of internalized prejudice in our culture, which starts within India and is carried over into the diaspora. 

While Subtle Curry Traits exemplifies the good and the bad within the diasporic community, it serves as a technological bridge for the new generation. Ironically, it fills the very role that it often makes fun of. Prime comedic targets of the page are first-generation parents, whose sense of humor and congregation are often laughable to their children. Maybe Subtle Curry Traits is nothing but a glorified WhatsApp group of its own, complete with a worldwide network.

Subtle Curry Traits has developed its own subculture uniquely identifiable by its members. As humorous content evolves within the page, it has become more specific to itself. Memes often build off of each other, and the content’s format develops in a way that only existing members would understand. In other words, the group has become a massive inside joke. This has allowed for people within the site to feel a stronger sense of community with each other. While this subculture has an online presence, it has moved offscreen as well. In Melbourne, the moderators of Subtle Curry Traits organized an in-person meet up, which was very well received. The group continues to build spaces for its members and the diasporic community as a whole.

`Noel Aruliah is thrilled by how far the page has come. “One of the most rewarding experiences was when Hassan Minhaj wanted to host an ‘Ask Me Anything’ session through the page. That’s when I knew that we had made it big.” Aruliah has also been surprised by how many offshoot pages have stemmed from his original creation. Subtle Curry Dating is a page tailored towards helping young desis find romantic partners, while pages like Subtle Tamil Traits and Subtle Telugu Traits have built even more specific communities. The demand for such offshoots shows how SCT has paved the way.

Content from Subtle Tamil Traits

As for the future of Subtle Curry Traits, Noel believes there is a lot of potential. The group has made a commitment to help remove the stigma surrounding mental illness within our culture. They have partnered with renowned acapella group Penn Masala to produce a video “focused on mental wellness in the South Asian community.” Aruliah would like to keep engaging in such content creation and build a stronger, more supportive group. He sees more in-person meetups and maybe a merchandise line in the near future for SCT.

“Subtle Curry Traits is going to be for the people.” 

Swathi Ramprasad is a rising junior at Duke University studying Public Policy and Computer Science. She hopes to continue to learn through the lens of her Indian-American heritage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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