Yes, I love to cook…so?

I intended to link to this post a long time ago. I kept putting it off until I decided it was too late to link to. But, something happened this afternoon that made me blog it (rant?) with a vengeance. I was at Alliance francaise. That’s not unusual. But, someone I knew a long time ago came up to me and said hi. I was not exactly thrilled to see this person, but I said hello nevertheless. I was trying to fight tiredness and sleep, and get home soon, when she started talking.

“So, what did you do in France?”, she asked.

I explained that I did my Masters in International Affairs. She rants for some time about being away for long, touring the world with her sailor-husband, and then asks me how I managed being a vegetarian.

“I cooked”, I said.

She looked at me with stunned disbelief.

“You cooked?”

“Well, yes…I did.”

“You still do?”

“Of course I do.”

Then she launches into this tirade about how women are forced to cook for their gluttunous husbands and how they normally hate the job. She then looks at me, and in a rather patronising voice states,

“I think you should refuse to do such nonsense. You are a post-graduate after all.”

Eh? Pardon me if I am being ignorant, but just what does being a post-graduate have to do with cooking. What irked me even more was that she cloaked her general inability/unwillingness to cook in the garb of feminism and free will. I have said it before and will say it again. I am not a feminist if this is what feminism means. I believe in equality of the sexes but that’s it. And yes, surprising as it may seem, I actually like cooking. Just as I like teaching, listening to music or reading. It’s a hobby, a passionate interst and an essential survival tool.

Nita talks about the devaluation of cooking, and I see it happening everywhere. Today’s incident reminded me that cooking is not just devalued but actively scorned and criticised as useless and as a waste of time. I disagree. Cooking can be therapeutic for someone who likes to do it. There is nothing more satisfying that a well-cooked meal. To me, it is a labour of love. I don’t cook for every passer-by. I only cook for those I love. And if I have cooked for any of you at any point in life, it probably means we share a lasting friendship, at the least. Lastly, I cook. But that does not mean I am incapable of doing other things. Conversely, the fact that I am capable of doing other things does not render my ability to cook meaningless. I love to cook. Period.

Of etiquette and stupid advice

I came across, not one, but three posts, all ranting about a Mumbai Mirror article by a professional counsellor and psychologist, Uttam Dave. All three are perfectly justified in their ranting. I am equally outraged by all the stupid, sexist and absolutely one-sided advice that Dave is spouting, in a newspaper no less. But, when I first read Chandni’s post, I was dismissive of the article as the rants of an old man who was yet to get out of the 13th Century. I am assuming he is old, but if he is younger, then I am even more scandalised at the attitude. I have nothing to add to what Chandni, Nita and SC have to say.

But then, what outraged me more than the article was this site, that Nita pointed me to. This “finishing school” trains women in “etiquette” and “home management”. Now, wait a sec. I do understand that getting married means taking on a lot of responsibility, most of the time, of the kind we are not used to as we live with parents who do the job. But, does that not apply to men too? A lot of men have no idea about home management, budgeting, entertaining guests or organising parties either. And, just why is this kind of work considered the exclusive domain of the wife? If marriage is a partnership, both partners must learn how to manage a home. If there is a finishing school that teaches women how to cook, clean, change sheets and go grocery shopping, men must learn them all too. After all, men must contribute, at least partially, to housework right?

As Nita says, the woman (more often than not a girl in her early 20s) leaves familiar surroundings, parents, friends, her home city and even her country to go and settle down with a family that is so reluctant to accept her. What she needs, is not stupid advice telling her to “adjust”, but a reassurance from husband and in-laws that all will be well. The article, while sounding sexist and one-sided, also portrays all in-laws as cruel and insensitive. To their credit, many modern families go the extra mile to make the transition easier. It’s time we stop giving such sexist advice and understand that it takes two to tango.

You are not Brahmin? Stay away!

That’s the message a Hyderabad-based company is sending out to the millions of normal people out there in the world. I came across this post by MumbaiGirl on Blogbharti. This company, called Dhanwantri Foundation, proposes to develop a gated community exclusively for Brahmins. I am just so outraged and disgusted that I don’t know how to go about this post any more. DNA published a report on the gated community, as did the Deccan Herald. I could not find the original article on the Herald’s site and so I am linking to the Sulekha forums. I am shocked and surprised that no news channel picked it up and reported it as the illegal act it is. They had better things to talk about, didn’t they? Like Shah Rukh Khan’s six-pack abs and the millions our cricketers made?

The "Agraharam" as it is called, derives from the traditional meaning of the word, which was a Brahmins-only area, prevalent until the mid twentieth-century. The abolition of untouchability, Indian independence and social revolution meant that these Agraharams started disappearing in the late 1950s. Now, this Foundation is acting as if they are the saviours of Brahmins all over the world, by recreating a concept that has no place in a modern, egalitarian world. What the hell? And they wonder why nobody likes them? The site claims that,

"Since the traceable history known, Brahmin Community has led a Serene & Sacrificial life wishing welfare of entire Society irrespective of Caste, Religion and Region etc. Leading mostly spiritual life they have not given much importance to materialistic gains. Bestowed with intellect & working for Spiritual elevation of entire society, they were respected & nurtured by rest of Society in reciprocation. However, Western Culture, vote bank based democracy of India leading to Caste-based selfish motivated politicians have cornered the Brahmin community, leaving majority Brahmins in pathetic condition irrespective of their position. Added to above external threats & adverse situation, the feeling of ego and so-called intellect has not allowed the community to function as a systematic organization leaving individuals to suffer."

Serene and sacrificial life? Who are they kidding? And what the f*** do they mean, "bestowed with intellect"? It is precisely this attitude, a disgusting and unpardonable superiority complex that led to the anti-Brahmin revolutions of the 1930s, and the Dravidian movement with a total negation of caste-identity. Let’s make one thing clear. Intellect and intelligence is not the exclusive domain of the Brahmins, as they (or should I say we?) like to believe. The motives of the Foundation are certainly not as noble as they may seem. It claims to promote "mutual understanding". Tell me, just how do you promote mutual understanding when you exclude about 98% of the Indian population?

What nobody seems to get, on the Sulekha forums or elsewhere, is that the very act of building a gated community that excludes people on the basis of caste is illegal. Article 15 of the Indian Constitution clearly states that,

    1. The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.
    2. No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to-
      1. access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment; or
      2. the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public.
    3. Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.
    4. Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

What the Dhanwantri Foundation is doing is precisely this: discriminating on the grounds of caste and creed. While a private enterprise has every right to do business the way it deems fit, it cannot deny the right to buy a plot there on the grounds of caste alone. The registration form alone is enough to make me see red. Gotram indeed! Well, I refuse to acknowledge that I have one. Unless we start protesting against this kind of casteist and discriminatory bullshit, we will never really progress. Let’s face it. The society we live is definitely caste-based. But that does not mean we deliberately exclude people on the basis of something as unacceptable as caste. This attitude of the Brahmins simply sucks.

Devaluing education

The past week has been both exciting and hectic. Sometimes, exhausting too. But, in four days, I learnt more than I have over the past year. It’s been absolutely wonderful in some ways, and annoying in others. One particular incident made me see red. P is someone I met over the last week. She is a teacher. Just like me. She has a daughter, who studied at Sciences Po. Just like me. She learnt that I too belonged to her daughter’s alma mater and that somehow pricked her over three days before she finally broached the topic with me.

"You studied at Sciences Po, right?" she asked, in a rather patronising tone.

I looked up startled, wondering what I did wrong by studying there.

"Yes, I did," I replied.

"So, what the hell are you doing here at the Alliance?" she volleyed.

Eh? What did my working at the Alliance française have to do with my studying at Sciences Po? I asked her that and she came up with the weirdest explanation I have ever heard. As I said before, her daughter studied there and came back home, having changed her mind about the direction her life was going to take. She did finance, came back, and decided she did not want to work for any company any more. She was going to work for an NGO and do some social work.

So, what is the problem? Precisely that. Her parents could not digest the fact that she chose to come back with a Master’s degree in finance and choose not to work in a company and make loads of money. Why? Two reasons:

  1. They spent 12 lakhs on her education and expected to get some of it back
  2. She was a girl, and the fact that they spent so much on sending her to Sciences Po meant they could not get her married with as hefty a dowry as they could have.

So, why did P have a problem with me? Because she sees me working as a teacher at the Alliance and decides I have lost focus by virtue of having spent two years at Sciences Po. Just like her daughter did.

"But," I protested violently, "I have not lost focus.I have just decided to diversify."

"Ha! Diversify indeed. That’s just a bloody euphemism for losing focus," she retorted.

By this time, I had lost my patience and simply walked away. I don’t need to justify my life’s choices to some random stranger who thinks I am ruining my life. But, this incident set me thinking. Why exactly did P think her daughter was wasting her life? Was it really money? Or dowry? I doubt it. I think this reflects a deep-seated attitude in the Indian psyche that only education that results in monetary gain is worthwhile. It was never supposed to be this way. Education is supposed to enlighten. My heart bleeds to see well-educated people equate the value of education to the quantity of money you make. I may not make millions. I may not even make a few lakhs. But, the fact remains that I love my job. I chose to do what I am doing today. I was not forced into it. Also, I believe that no education is useless. I have learnt something every year of my life, irrespective of the effect those years have on my financial status. Why do we forget that every little piece of information adds value to our lives? Why do we forget that no education, however "useless" it might seem is really so? Education has a value that is far beyond simply monetary. I only hope parents realise this truth when there is still time. It makes me grateful to have parents who think like me. Life would have miserable otherwise.

Plagiarism, cyber-stalking and crime

I was pointed to this post via Neha’s blog. To say I was appalled would be the understatement of the century. To steal content is one thing. That, in itself, is condemnable because it amounts to, as Inji Pennu puts it, daylight robbery. But, to threaten bodily harm and heap abuse on a blogger because she dared to complain about it, is quite another. While the first is a violation of intellectual property, the second is criminal intimidation. How exactly can we, as bloggers, netizens, or even common people take such abuse lying down?

There are several initiatives out there on the Web to counter this kind of cyber-theft. The least we can do is to support the cause, write about it, and make as much noise as possible. Bloggers like Inji Pennu deserve all the support they can get. It is not easy to handle intimidation and it is our duty, as fellow bloggers to give support, albeit moral. These two sites are dedicated to fighting copyright violations. Check them out for further information.