By Zehra Kazmi:
I don’t think iftaar for me would ever be complete without my mother’s cooking laid out on the dining table. It has always been Amma’s responsibility to cook in our house; not without the assistance from the domestic help though. She wakes up to prepare sehari for us, however many a time Abba just cooks a packet of oats on his own. After a day of fasting, Amma is in the kitchen a good ninety minutes before iftaar, busy preparing a little feast. She says that she enjoys cooking this month since it allows her to try out new dishes.
It seems unfair that she has to cook so much even when she is fasting, but Amma refuses my help even when I offer (not that I am too useful in the kitchen anyway). Like most Indian women, Amma internalized her role in the home, of the caretaker. As a feminist, the awareness of my complicity in a scheme that relegates my mother to the domestic sphere makes me very ill at ease. I console myself by thinking about how I always help out. My “help” involves fetching vegetables and curd from the fridge, setting the table and on occasion, spending an hour cutting apples for fruit chaat. A guilty voice in my head reminds me how that is clearly not enough.
My best friend Adeeti’s home is suffering from a maid crisis. I will not get into an argument about the necessity of domestic help, but the way families are structured in India and the kind of cooking women are expected to do, for a lot of people domestic help becomes an imperative. Adeeti tells me that even though her mother might complain about handling all the work herself, she doesn’t like it when Adeeti decides to do more than what is required of her.
Adeeti and I are both daughters of educated women who graduated sometime in the mid 1980s. We’re members of the educated, privileged, comfortably well-off class and both of us don’t deny it. So were our mothers. However, there is a stark difference in the way both generations were raised. They were expected to conform-compromise, an arranged marriage, children were realities they accepted. These women didn’t raise their daughters, to have those concerns in life. Not that my mother wouldn’t want me to get married someday and for her, to someone preferably within the community, but there is no sense of immediacy. For my mother, third in a line of four sisters, she must have been quite aware at my age about how marriage was a future that awaited her. The other day, I was supposed to be fasting but my father came home to find me munching away on a guava. He looked surprised and raised his eyebrows. I shoved away any embarrassment I felt to inform him with a straight face that I was on my period. He nodded and patted my head. In our family, we don’t discuss the inner biological workings of the human body unless we can help it. It’s a bit… awkward.
We criticize our parents’ generation a lot but I can’t help thinking that maybe we have the courage to rebel because their generation came very close to it. In a way, we’re their darkest and truest doubles.
Certainly, the above is true only for a certain class. I remember the word Shagufi, Naseem’s (a driver for the Forest Department) daughter, used when I asked her what she prayed for this Ramzan. She told me she wanted to be “settled.’’ She is in 9th grade.
As I write this, I can hear hot oil hissing away in a pan in the kitchen. I ask Amma what she is cooking and she tells me that it’s kaddu ki sabzi. My heart sinks a little but I give her an uneasy smile.
I wonder what I would do if I had to prepare iftaar meals every day. Would I stick to tradition? Traditions evolve and dilute with every generation and I am sure when I am my mother’s age the scene would be different from the one I grew up with. If someone gave me the responsibility of iftaar now I’d either bake some pasta or just order a large pizza. The prospect of eating the same thing everyday doesn’t sound that appealing, even if pizza is my one true love. I will learn to cook, definitely. Not for other people but for myself, first. And I would give my brother the same advice.
This article is part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s special coverage of Ramzan this month. Follow Ramzan With Zehra for more.