The kitchen, arguably the most appetizing word for humankind since times immemorial, is the place where we repose our absolute trust and hunger-related needs for the daily supply of our dishes, the more delicious the dishes the more the anticipation and satisfaction of the trust. Home is where the kitchen is, that is to say, we invariably mean here the kitchen every home has. Right from the steaming bed-tea cup in the morning to the last bites of the supper we lovingly follow the kitchen activities, every day. The aromas or the fragrances of cooking, irrespective of whether these come from our own kitchen and the kitchens of neighbors, never fail to energize us in the run-ups to the final acts of eating or devouring or gulping. When guests are around more delicacies get cooked and… well, those are the heavenly moments most of us must have experienced or still relish in life.
Taking the risk of being labelled as male chauvinist or misogynist we must say here that somehow the ladies always rule supreme in the kitchen, and in normal circumstances they greatly enjoy their authority. This fact of life must be having its roots in the traditional way of life, with special reference to India. In the olden times the father or the chief householder used to work in the fields or factories or offices, and the homemaker wife used to take care of all domestic chores, including the most crucial job of cooking. As their sons grow up the father seeks their help in the work-sphere, and in case of the girls the mother seeks their help in the kitchen and cleaning. Therefore, the ladies get an expertise in cooking from a very young age.
Males display a variety of sentiments to cooking, let it be in the olden or modern days. Some of them do have great interest in cooking and sincerely help out their wives whenever the need arises or otherwise, and constantly boast of their skills in cooking. And other males constantly boast of their total ignorance about cooking, hoping to elicit understanding laughs from fellow males through this rather discriminating sentiment. To the later variety of males, the ladies react in a hostile manner, for obvious reasons. And of course, the ladies continue to assert their authority in the kitchen-zone: pulling up the males for dirtying the kitchen or making a mess of their well-maintained kitchen-ware and all, forgetting, unfortunately, to appreciate how well the males prepared the dishes. Obviously, a bedlam would ensue if the items were unpalatable.
The kitchen is also a potential zone for conflicts of various nature. The most serious conflict occurs when there are more than one authoritative ladies in the house: like when a daughter-in-law walks into the household the established mother-in-law would normally resist any kind of interference in her favorite zone, and at the same time may complain that the daughter-in-law is useless and does not want to help her in cooking at all; the daughter-in-law may keep on trying dexterously and may or may not be able to seal her parallel authority in the kitchen, and in case she fails to have her role she would also complain bitterly of an utter lack of freedom and faith. In the Indian joint-family system of the past, all the inhabitants used to constantly focus on how to keep the kitchen politics-free and peaceful. Although we tend to feel that this kind of kitchen-politics is a universal phenomenon, we must not ignore another fact of a lot of glorious exceptions being alive and cooking.
The modern style of nuclear families has achieved path-breaking results in terms of making the kitchen a fully private zone and totally free of politics, whoever be the cook, male or female. However, some discriminating ignorant males feel that the syndrome of an extremely privatized cooking has robbed the dishes of lip-smacking tastes. Hiring of cooking-maids and the emergence of the food aggregators have further impacted the basic attributes of a kitchen. Again, this is not a generalized scenario, the essential kitchen still exists in all its charms in various homes of various styles and standards.
It has also been domestically proved that continuous exposure to the kitchen leads to the creation of ennui, anger and frustration in the cooks. In olden times eating outside was almost a crime, and every member of family going out must leave only after having his/her belly full, even if it was five o’clock in the morning, and was permitted to take outside food as an extreme emergency. Now things have changed drastically. Eating outside has become a way of life: as per the ‘exposure’ phenomenon, all cooks, male of female, must be taken out to a restaurant at least once a week. Again, there are exceptions. Some people, predominantly discriminating males, still prefer or demand only home food, in the dining table and in office tiffin boxes.
In fact, the pandemic stay-home months had contributed immensely to an elevation of the importance of the kitchen and home-food, one likes it or not. Conflicts of various types were also created in view of the ‘exposure’ phenomenon and the accessory hassles of cooking like washing of utensils and cleaning of the kitchen. Conflict is not new to humankind, and therefore, conflicts of any kind cannot in any way undermine the importance of the kitchen for humankind. The kitchen must live on for the life and sustenance of the humans, body and soul. A starved body makes the soul cringe too, say not I, say the experts.
Another universal truth starts beckoning: the moment you behold the ladies (not necessarily ladies) enter the kitchen you become unbearably expectant and feel the pangs without being hungry.