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Does the Great Indian Kitchen Lead to the Great Indian Marriage?

While I ran about in the sprawling open courtyard of my mother’s house in a somewhat sleepy little village in rural North Bengal, I remember my granny sitting on a low stool cooking in the dimly-lit kitchen. It was already dusk and a few hours later, a tasty dinner was served. My parents had gone down to spend a few days during the Durga Puja holidays. 

After my mother’s family moved to Kolkata, I often used to visit my maternal uncle’s place. Here, the kitchen was big and bright, but granny still continued to cook. Her specialty was a chicken dish which no one ever in my family has been able to replicate. Maybe it was the spices she used or her loving and caring hands that were behind the deliciousness. 

Granny is now no more. She passed away a few years ago, but I still remember her chicken curry. Today, after watching The Great Indian Kitchen, a Malayalam movie earning rave reviews from critics, I realize how I never knew my real granny: what was she like, her likes, dislikes, desires, and aspirations. Maybe none of these things ever mattered to anyone in the family.

And this is what makes the ‘great Indian marriage’ such a fearsome thing to enter into, especially in an arranged marriage set up, where women are mostly expected to cook and clean and act submissive. Exceptions are always there. In my family, I have seen my father making tea, cooking rice, and even doing household work. An aunt of mine who lives in Delhi was horrified when she learned that I had praised her husband’s culinary skills in front of my other relatives. It was a most shameful thing for her and she reproached me for making the hush, hush fact “public”. 

I can understand her consternation, the great dilemma she felt because women are expected to cook for their families. Little do they realize that in doing so, they become fettered and chained forever. 

A scene from the Great Indian Kitchen.

I am no great cook, but I can make basic meals for myself and during the lockdown prepared a few dishes, among them egg biryani twice. My friend Neeraj, who is a great cook himself, keeps on sending me recipes and colorful snaps from his kitchen from time to time. He once taught me to cook the perfect rice over the phone. 

Cooking is art no doubt, but as the movie shows it can become a tedious routine. The movie’s female protagonist, Nimisha Sajayan who plays the docile wife and later leaves her husband to follow her dreams, is expected to cook rice on the firewood, besides making a variety of tasty dishes and serving food to the men. In almost all the scenes featuring her, she is shown cutting, chopping, and dicing vegetables, besides making hurried meals, attending to the faulty kitchen sink in need of urgent repair, cleaning up the kitchen, dusting, and washing her hands frequently.

I entered into a brief marriage only to regret it to this day. My in-laws expected me to shift to a small town where they lived, take up a part-time job or better still become a housewife and cook for the family whereas I wanted to pursue my dreams. So, I packed my bags and came to Delhi when I was offered a transfer. 

Cooking is not an issue. I prepare food for myself every day and quite enjoy doing it. But slaving away in the kitchen is quite another matter. In the movie, the men are shown relaxing, doing yoga, and reading newspapers whereas the women are portrayed tirelessly working in the kitchen. The most evocative scene in the film is the one where the women eat food at the table made dirty by the men with spilled over and chewed food. When the wife confronts her husband about it later at a restaurant over his bad table manners at home, he gets angry.

For most women, cooking and doing housework is a routine and they are not supposed to complain. It is for us to decide whether to follow our dreams or please the men. If you want the first, just let it go like I did eight years ago, or else give up on your desires and aspirations. 

My next-door neighbor back in Kolkata could not fry papad properly and they always used to get burnt. She was always the subject of criticism in the neighborhood, but nobody praised her ever for being an excellent teacher, her love for Bengali literature, and intelligent conversations. 

Women in our kitchens have become such a regular fixture that we never pause and question their narrowed existence. All my childhood memories are centered around the great Indian kitchen: my granny on her low stool, my father’s mother stirring the milk tea, my aunt chopping vegetables, my mother making sweet delicacies in winter, the neighborhood aunty (she was called Ronny’s mom after her son’s name as if her identity never mattered) making parathas so that we children could enjoy it on Sundays.

Welcome to the great Indian kitchen. If you don’t like it, you are free to leave like Nimisha’s character or me. After so many years, a remark by my erstwhile husband came back to me. He had remarked once, “You never served me tea (in Bengali of course).” But you see I was born to rule and not to serve. I served him coffee, of course, but he conveniently forgot all about it. But what I remember is that he never made either tea or coffee for me and that’s what made all the difference.


Deepanwita Gita Niyogi is a Delhi-based freelance journalist.

Covid-19 Blues: Was It Love or Lust?

Based on a true story…

After a really long time, I fell in love with my mirror. When I stood in front of it yesterday in my black top, I saw a radiant and gorgeous girl. Yes, a girl; a mixture of sweet and saucy, and not a woman. That’s how I would like to describe myself these days. But I guess my girlishness bloomed after the first lockdown was announced in March of last year. 

Soon after its announcement, the guy living in the next-door flat fled to another place, leaving the entire balcony to me, prancing amidst my aloe vera plant growing out from a large pot in profusion. As my neighbors grew tired of being locked up in rooms, they slowly started coming out in balconies. Some of them waved, greeted, and smiled for the first time. Among these were a few that I had never set my eyes on before. Covid-19 was finally bringing the community together in an unexpected way. 

I spotted a guy with a beard practicing arm exercises one late afternoon on the balcony, sometime in April, while I was watering my plants. His was the flat next to the one opposite mine; he waved and smiled. I waved back. A few days later more waving and more smiling followed and we tried to communicate using signs from our respective balconies.

After this, meetings took place regularly on the road running along the backside of my flat inside my Delhi colony. It is a beautiful spot for late afternoon walks in the summer, lined with tall trees on both sides. I had spent many moments on my own musing on its beauty and humming to myself “I walk a lonely road”. On this road, I walked listening to music on my phone while he paced up and down in his gym vest. At times, we would stop and exchange a few pleasantries. 

I thanked my stars for sending me this new diversion during such a difficult time. I dreaded calling my mum for she always fretted and worried. On top of this, too much work burden made me morose at times.

One night after 10 pm, he suddenly called me and demanded to meet at the same spot. It was a silent and dark night with silence weighing heavily all around. The oppressive April heat made my face mask cling to my sweaty face. Not the best romantic situation, but still it couldn’t be helped. We started sauntering and he described his experiences at the hospital (he was a trainee doctor) and I remarked on his bravery. The guy, then, suddenly knelt down on the road and I kind of blushed. His next words were so ridiculous that I burst out laughing. “Will you accept my jujubes? I had kept them in the fridge and thought of gifting you today.”

Before I could say something, the night security guard came running and dispersed us, saying the new rule demands people should not come of their homes late at night in view of the pandemic. I did not accept the jujubes and we ran to our places with the guard at our heels.

Reflecting on the incident later, I felt that my vanity was hurt. He wanted me to accept his jujubes after all and not him. What an immature boy he must be, I decided, and sort of cooled off towards him. Phone calls and balcony meetings became less frequent.

Around this time, a writer entered my life via social media, and that’s pretty common these days, isn’t it? I have always been partial towards poets and writers, and to top it all, this man was super hot. The man-boy doctor soon faded away. Perhaps his biggest fault was he never once complimented me. On the other hand, the writer called me wild and sexy. Needless to say, I was blooming under his compliments. 

Soon I discovered my naughty side. I started flooding his phone with my glam pictures wearing makeup and clicked in low light. The lockdown made me experimental and bolder with my clicks. Soon love talks followed, romantic chats filled up my FB messenger, and the doctor guy permanently exited from life. He called a few times but I kind of avoided talking. One fine day in November last year, I discovered the doctor was gone from the neighborhood. I also realized I hadn’t even saved his number. He was sweet and innocent and brought in his wake a taste of budding childhood romance. My girlish side misses him at times. 

Ironically, I haven’t met the writer guy yet and don’t think a meeting is likely in the near future. He is too mature and aloof, but he brought out my wilder side. Come to think of it now, both were good short-time romances or whatever you call it and helped brighten up the stressful Covid-19 period. I am too much into myself these days to bother trying to put things into place anymore. I have put away my heart in a locker where it will remain, Covid-19 or no Covid-19. 


Deepanwita Gita Niyogi is a Delhi-based freelance journalist.

Featured Image shot in Hyderabad by Deepanwita Gita Niyogi.