The kitchen

Over the last few years I’ve seen my sister Raaga enjoy cooking and baking, but it never interested me, and when I started to think about why , I realised that there are a couple reasons.

I remember asking one of my friends what her parents do and she said to me “ My dad is a project developer and my mom gave her career up, to cook and take care of us.“

And that didn’t sound new or surprising to me, I’ve heard that more often than not, from a lot of different people.

Maybe that’s exactly why I don’t want to learn cooking.

Because in the outside world I’ve barely seen women make their own decisions, especially women who stay at home mainly to cook and take care of the family.

Cooking makes me feels as if I were giving up the power I have and my ability to do much more than that.

And I don’t like that feeling. 

And there is a poet ‘Vimala’, who didn’t like it either.

And after reading her account of two generations of women within the four walls of the kitchen, I couldn’t stop myself from adding it here:

This kitchen: how wonderful!

Wafting aroma,

how it makes the mouth water,

like an open shop of sweets.

It breathes spices, 

Incense from the pooja room,

Wakes in the morning to the noise of churning butter,

of vessels being scrubbed.

The earthen oven gets a fresh much-wash,

decks herself for the burning.

from the small change in the box of spices and seasoning.

We bought ourselves, sweets,

played house, played being cooks.

With jaggery and lentils.

It was a magic world.

The kitchen snared my childhood,

remained a spell, a passion.

Wisps of childhood shadows lifted,

It’s no longer a playground.

They taught me ‘kitchenness’ here,

my shaping started here.

Mother, grandmother, all the mothers

in the house, they say,

learned their motherhood here.

Our kitchen is now a graveyard

 with corpses of all kinds 

tins, dishes, sacks.

It hangs there in the smoke,

clouds from damp firewood.

Fears, despair, silence, lurking there,

Mother floats like a spirit

She looks like the morning kitchen herself.

Her eyes ran out of tears long ago,

Her hands are worn out with endless scrubbing.

Look she does not have hands anymore.

She looks like a ladle, a bowl,

A piece of kitchen bric-a-brac.

Sometimes she looks like a flaming oven,

Sometimes a trapped tigress

Restless, she paces the kitchen floor,

bangs pots and pans.

How easily, they say, with the flick of ladle!

the cooking gets done

None comes this way, except to eat.

My mother is the empress of the kitchen empire,

But the names on pots and plates are my father’s.

Fortunately, they said, I fell into a good kitchen:

gas stove, grinder, sink, and tiles.

I make cakes and puddings,

Not old fashioned things like mother:

still, the name on everything is my husband’s.

My kitchen wakes

to the whirr and hisses of the grinder,

The hiss of the pressure cooker.

I move like my modern kitchen;

a wind-up toy.

My kitchen is like a workshop,

It’s like a butcher’s shop with its babble.

Washing what has been washed endlessly 

cooking and serving, cooking and serving.

Scrubbing and washing

there’s the kitchen in my dreams:

the smell of spices even in jasmine,

Damm this kitchen.

Inhuman, it sucks our blood, robs us

Of hopes and dreams,

a demon, a vulture 

eating into us bit by bit all our lives.

Kitchen culture, kitchen talk, 

Reduced to kitchen maids and cooks.

Let’s smash these kitchens for making ladle-wielding our duty.

No more names on kitchen things.

Let’s uproot these separate stoves.

Our children are about to enter 

these lonely kitchens.

Come, for their sake,

Let’s demolish 

these kitchens now!

                  – Vimala 

t’s been more than thirty years since this poem was written and the fact that it is still relevant speaks for itself.

Thirty years. Everything changed. Except this.

Except that our kitchen still sucks our blood and robs us of hopes and dreams.

I don’t want to not dream.

I don’t want to smell spices even in the jasmine I wear.

I don’t want to feel content because my kitchen has electric appliances

But I want to see this poem in history textbooks.

Not relevant anymore.

Just a piece of history.

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