Once upon a time, and not so long ago, my husband was working and living by himself here in Dhaka. A friend of mine, feeling very sorry that he had no wife around to feed him, sent him a delicious home cooked meal. My appreciative husband prepared and sent her back, an equally delicious (that is what he claims) collation.
She was rather impressed with his culinary skills and called to thank him, mentioning rather deliberately that he did not need a wife. He replied that he married not because he “needed’ a wife, but that he wanted one.
For those of you who know me, I am a big foodie, I love to eat. Yet food production and presentation is not my forte. Prepandemic, we would eat out once or twice a week, and now we order takeaways instead. For our home cooked meals, we opt for simple and fresh food with small portions, for health reasons and also because I despise food wastage.
Consequently, I am no great hostess. To begin with, I rarely ever entertain at home; and on the seldom occasions I do, I am not one to fuss over whether my guests have eaten and if so, whether they have been satisfied.
As much as I admire and am awestruck by entertaining styles, they do not evoke any competitiveness in me. I am like, here is the food (no sumptuous arrangements or fabulous feasts), help yourself.
If my guests decline the eats, that is fine; and if they condescendingly take in a few mouthfuls with some haughtiness attempting to display some sophisticated royal lineage, when in fact they are unsure of how to respond to my callous overtures, that is fine too.
I am not possessive about my kitchen.
I do not get the territorialism of scullery control and secret family recipes, especially not after great restaurants, caterers, home delivery, and friends and relatives (male and female) who produce marvelous dishes. And then of course let us not forget there is my masterchef husband.
I do enjoy engaging in cookery ever so often but for the love of the creative process, not as a measure of femininity or as a performance. Incidentally, both my daughters cook and bake, and I am delighted that they have acquired nutritious cost effective skills for their own well – being.
I notice others are delighted too when I inform them of this fact, but not for the same reasons as I am. Two young deshi girls brought up in the Western world and cooking curry of their own free will is looked upon as a sign of conformity to the classic gender roles not as artistic or epicurean pursuits.
My announcements of my own forays into the kitchen too are met with approval and encouragement, much more than my opinions on politics or my critiques of society. I am always given overt admiration for preparing a meal, and implicit disapprobation for voicing my judgements.
I have often wondered why is it when we are having the conversation about empowerment, that women are still assessed by their ability to produce food to satisfy the men, children, inlaws and guests of the household.
Why are girls encouraged to be porashonay bhalo, only to be ultimately pundits in home economics? Why does being sharp and analytical and savvy veer to the chalak? A good cook and a great hostess equates with being a good enough wife, and therefore a woman of unimpeachable character.
Why does a man “need” a wife to look after his basic needs? Why does he require a wife to whip up a feast to put on display that others can deem him well settled or well taken care of? Why does he not need a companion with a well-informed mind with whom he can partner, grow, lean on emotionally, discuss his financial affairs, and sort out his problems? And if they so wish, they can cook together. Or not.