Cooking on the bright side

Our Indian Life columnist on the generational gap between those feminists who have shunned the kitchen and those who have embraced it.

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I am guaranteed a sympathy vote from my mother if she calls when I am cooking dinner. Across phone lines, she tells me how bad she feels for me. How hard my life is that I have to prepare my own meals and how she wishes I would just hurry up and get a cook. I enjoy cooking but she sees it as a chore. My mother, unlike most Indian mothers, does not cook. She has no interest in stepping into the kitchen unless she is constructing a stuffed roast chicken (one of my fondest dinner memories ever). Every week, she simply follows instructions from our cook, Rosario, and in turn, he makes sure she eats three square meals a day. Without him, she'd live on over-boiled rice and burnt toast.

She imagines living abroad hard enough, but for her daughter to have to chop, slice, dice, stir and measure ingredients almost every day fills her with sadness. When visiting me, unlike most Indian mothers I know, she does not stuff my freezer with six months worth of frozen curries. Instead, I feed her with sandwiches, salads, and sometimes even Indian dishes. Once she hesitantly stepped into my kitchen in Toronto and asked if I needed any help as I furiously tried to emulsify a salad dressing before heading to work. She answered her own question, saying I looked like I was in control and retracing her steps.

I found a series of cookbooks that my father had bought my mother just before they married. In it he said something about the way to a man's heart being through his stomach. He was well aware of her lack of culinary skills but as a man who loves nothing more than to eat, I think he secretly harboured a desire that his future wife would have a change of heart and take to the kitchen. My aunts and mother grew up in a household with a father who prefered they were accomplished women in the arts; each of them earned a masters degree before they were married. My mother, the youngest, went on to become a doctor. She didn't have time to sit by my grandmother's side and learn to emulate her dishes.

She also hails from a generation of feminists who shunned the kitchen. And her only child, me, hails from a generation of feminists who have embraced it. As a kid I was rebuked for lingering in the kitchen. She always said I would find time later in life to take a class or two in home economics. Now my bookshelves are lined with cookbooks and I am ever grateful to my friend's mothers who have taught me how to sustain myself. But my mother still thinks I should use my time for more creative pursuits. She has yet to understand that cooking is, well, creative.