On the Loose: Dude Food
Nobel Prize winner Abhijit Banerjee’s accomplishments aren’t limited merely to Economics. According to his brother he’s also an “astonishingly good cook” who can effortlessly conjure up a four-course meal, as good as anything by the participants on Master Chef. No doubt Nobel laureates are exceptional creatures. Banerjee must be applying the same scholarly discipline to his dishes as he does to his research on poverty alleviation. As much as he deserves accolades for winning the most prestigious award the modern world has ever known, Banerjee must also be feted for being among the rarest of the male species; willingly poring over a hot stove, a place where few (Indian) men dare to go.
This incredible combination of an erudite husband who’s a skilled gourmand —Banerjee’s wife has completely lucked out. Though, hypothetically, if such an option existed (alas, one can always dream) that you had to choose either quality in a spouse, I’d go for culinary genius over renowned economist, any day. There was a forward floating around recently on WhatsApp that went: “Who knew the hardest part of being an adult would be figuring out what to cook every night for the rest of your life, till you die?” Profound, indeed. A man willing to shoulder this burden is to be treasured (and guarded) because he is sure to be in high demand. Even if you like to cook it becomes a daunting chore when you have to do it everyday. Like many other types of household drudgery, homework, for instance, largely falls on the women.
It’s a fact that married men of a previous generation in India wouldn’t be able to boil water if they had to; however, that didn’t stop them from being vociferous food critics with strong opinions. They were spoilt rotten by doting mothers, all of whom, somehow, managed to be excellent cooks. This has (mercifully) changed forever. Modern moms have careers, they don’t have the time or inclination to lovingly prepare their childrens favourite delicacies. To be fair though, marital relationships function on a division of labour. Perhaps the fact that men weren’t pressured to enter the kitchen harks back to the image of man as hunter — as the saying goes — bringing home the bacon. Though we routinely see male celebrity chefs on TV shows and plenty of male contestants in cooking contests, this hasn’t really translated into the average Indian man contributing to the kitchen in any substantial way.
Most of the men I know who cook are enthusiastic weekend chefs, shopping and prepping with gusto (usually, the whole exercise costs more than eating out). It’s treated like a leisure activity, a good way, I suppose, of approaching a painful but necessary task. But frankly, any dolt can follow those foolproof YouTube recipes and come up with something new and interesting, once in a while. A good cook is somebody who can make an ordinary dal taste good; with whatever’s lying around in the fridge.
There used to be a show on Star TV where the celebrity chef and TV host Martin Yan encouraged men with the tag line “If Yan can cook so can you.”
Cooking at home shouldn’t be masculine or feminine, it’s an essential skill, though for some of us females, a torturous one as well.
I hail from a long line of indifferent cooks and it took me a while to understand that average tasting food makes most people very unhappy. I often find myself yearning for the India of old, where if we complained about dinner, we were sternly told how grateful we should be, considering how many children slept hungry. That logic doesn’t work with kids these days who kick up a huge fuss because as parents we made the mistake of introducing them to so many cuisines, their standards have become impossibly high.
Since domestic responsibility includes producing halfway edible, healthy dishes and preferably some variety, it’s not surprising to read that a big reason marriages in the West split up is because one person is not doing their share of housework. Because one of the answers to the very cliched question, what do women want, often is, somebody else to take over the kitchen.