The Burden of Cooking

The first time I cooked for myself,
It was exhilarating.
Of all the grown-up things I have done,
In my 20 some years of existence,
This was extra special.
No one remarked how this achievement,
Deigned that I was old enough,
To be put up on the marriage market,
Nor did I have to bear the caustic critics,
Who faced constipation,
If you changed the fibre content of their diet
By a smidge,
This meal, I made it just for me.

You see, I have known people whose whole lives were consumed,
By the hiss of spices on cast iron pans,
The whistle of pressure cookers,
Like alarms ringing out,
The clatter of dirty dishes under running taps,
Do they sound like mocking laughter,
Do they resemble the raucous taunts
Handed out to them by people
Stuffing their faces, with the food salted with their sweat.
Day in and out, a vicious cycle.
And I’ve wondered how they carried themselves,
With so much grace, so much elegance,
When all their labour went unacknowledged,
Often dismissed as so inconsequential,
By others who would face extinction,
If someone else didn’t fill their tummies.

You see, I have known people
Who, even though, they had a life of their own,
A sizeable bank balance
And considerable pull on the purse-strings,
Were still expected to not question the norm
And quietly resign themselves
To being the one at fault
When no one realised they had run out of salt,
Or milk, or rice or eggs.
Whose brain was expected to calculate
How to schedule meetings and deal with clients,
Alongside what to cook for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
And I wonder how they do not resent their snoring partners,
How close they must have come to kicking them in the shins,
On the mornings when they gave up sleep,
To fix the day’s meals.
It’s funny because they are so close to breaking,
So tired from being hassled from all sides,
So close to bursting,
Yet they hold on terrified of falling short
Of the grand old lie,
This unattainable level of perfection.

And then, I know people who cook as a hobby.
When they feel like it, when they want to,
On special occasions, and only their specialities.
They appear once in a blue moon,
Crave praise, crave to be congratulated
On their excellence.
And their experience begins and ends at the stove,
All the dirty dishes, all the spilled ingredients,
Are you serious, it could never be their mess,
How dare you expect an artist of such calibre
To clean up after their shenanigans?
I’ve looked at them and wondered,
How wonderful it must be to not have to think,
About your meals for the next day,
Focussing all that energy on your career instead,
And leisure must be so much more magical,
With no whistling cookers to demand attention.

I wish I could treat cooking like that,
But you need a special kind of privilege for that,
One that absolves you of all domestic responsibility
One that allows you to watch the game,
When someone cooks you dinner every night,
One that lets you wave bye-bye to your dirty plate,
And wait for it to magically reappear, gleaming clean.
One that lets you act like it’s the fault
Of everyone else except you,
When household supplies start getting lean.
To them, cooking must still hold the same mystic
The same exhilaration as I felt today.
Maybe someday, they’ll open their eyes,
And realise everyone deserves to feel the same way, every day.

Lekshmy S. Nair can be found on Instagram @shadows_and_smiles.

Featured image credit: Pixabay