My grandmothers were excellent wives, mothers and grandmothers. They ran their households like tight ships. Their houses were clean. There was always fresh food on the table. Hot breakfasts, heartwarming lunches and comforting dinners aside, they also made their own chutneys, pickles and hold your breath, milled their own flour. Come summer, masalas were made at home, so were papads. Rainy seasons were all about fresh veggies and seasonal food and festivals meant homemade modak, karanji, patole, sanjorya and the works. If they happened to have some free time, they’d fry up some nuts, or make some laadus, or simply sit sorting the grains.
If we were hungry, no problem, they would rush into the kitchen and rustle up a snack. Pohe, Sheera, sometimes a toop sakhar poli. It was delicious and we never wanted for any food. It was always there, waiting to be eaten.
They effortlessly swirled around in their kitchens. Multitasking around the stove, tempering a bhaaji, chopping, kneading. All at once. They made cooking seem so simple that we never thought for a second that we were bothering them. Nimmai would come back from the market having bought the vegetables for the next day. She’d barely have sat for a minute and sipped water when one of us would demand something. And she’d get up and head into the kitchen as if it were no biggie.
I got married 4 years ago. For the past four years, I’ve been struggling to run a house. I still have no clue how it’s done. I love to cook but I can’t cook 4 hot meals a day like my grandma did. There is always dust settling in some corner of my house. If I clean the bedroom, the mess in the living room gets out of hand. Both me and my husband work towards making domesticity sound like a breeze but it isn’t. When I run out of a spice or oil or sugar, I think of how Manuaai’s kitchen was always properly stocked. She never ever ran out of stuff. A range of shiny German dabbas held whole spices. Glass barnis were filled with masalas, lid shut with a small sheet of plastic/butterpaper sealing the aroma in. Grains were stored in big biscuit tins from the yore. And there was always butter in a beautiful clay barni, in a corner cabinet, waiting to be filled to the brim until it was heated with turmeric leaves to make toop or ghee (me and the sister would occasionally get this delicious loni sprinkled with some sugar on a soft slice of Wibbs bread). I can barely keep track of the veggies in my house. Yes, things have changed. My grandmothers, both homemakers, were aware of the ambitions they never had the choice to have. They were completely dependent on their husbands for money, identity etc. (however, both their homes depended on them for so many things and far more than they knew). Both these women would talk to their granddaughters about getting education, earning financial and emotional independence. None of them talked to us about getting married and running a household.
Both Nani and I learnt how to cook with Manuaai (one of my biggest regrets is not learning it from Nimmai because she left far too soon), but it wasn’t because she thought ‘a woman must know how to cook’. She happily taught us because we loved it. And because independence in the kitchen was also a mantra that she believed in.
I have a husband who helps me in the kitchen and otherwise. This was something that Nimmai would tell me all the time. When you decide to get married, make sure you marry a man who can chop onions for you, she’d say. Both the ladies admitted that they should have raised their sons to help out more. And told us that we must marry men who do.
Manuaai was very proud of my salary, Nimmai never got to see that but I’m sure she’d have been proud too. Manuaai was proud that her little granddaughter, Nani, lived in a foreign country all by herself, and earned well enough to call home every single day 🙂 in my grandma’s world that was ‘grand’.
But some days, I wonder if she will shake her head at my disorganised kitchen or my messy wardrobe. I wonder if i’ll be able to cook the delights like they did for my children. And then I remember, she will be ok. Because it doesn’t matter how you do it, but the fact that you’re doing it is important. I think the fact that their granddaughters have gotten the freedom Manuaai and Nimmai were so casually denied must make them feel good about their own sacrifices. And a messy kitchen or a wardrobe is a small price to pay for that isn’t it?
To the best grandmothers ever, I am not sure we were even half-decent granddaughters. But thank you for nourishing our bodies, minds and souls…