I watched a disturbing movie called The Great Indian Kitchen yesterday, which made my blood boil at every instance of atrocity met out to the protagonist of the movie, a young girl who just married into a supposedly prestigious family. We see her being taken for granted, as she dishes out one food item after another, and is also made to clean up the mess the adult men leave in their wake; we see her being gas lighted when she expresses her discontent, in light-hearted manner, on the messy behavior at home; and we see her being maritally raped on several days, when she is made to have sex when she doesn’t want and in ways she doesn’t enjoy. She tolerates them all and even puts up with more atrocities that come her way when she is asked to not work outside of her home, when she is treated with contempt for something as natural as menstruation and even when she puts something up on Facebook that doesn’t go well with her family. When she finally walks out, she does so with her head held high, no longer afraid to call out patriarchy when she sees it, even at her home. What a relief it is to see such movies, with bold lead characters and with an even bolder message, being made. This movie, unashamedly, shows us all a mirror to the way society actually works and what is reality in many households, even today, especially today. What this movie is, is a tight slap on the face of every one with a patriarchal mindset, which includes many men and even many women.
My growing up (and grown up) years are filled with abundant instances of cringe-worthy patriarchal practices followed by people in my close circle. I remember how as kids, we girls were admonished if we did not clean up after ourselves soon after every meal, but the boys of the same age were not even given a stink eye whenever they made a mess and left the spot without any care for the world. In fact we girls were asked to clean up after them too. We grudgingly complied then, because we only met those entitled boy cousins once or twice a year, during extended family gatherings. Sometimes I wonder, would my parents have been as progressive during our growing up years as they were if I had a brother? I hope a boy in the house wouldn’t have changed a thing, but then, I would never know.
In many of the “Arranged” meets I have had with the prospective grooms’ family, I was always first asked whether I can cook and whether, as a vegetarian, I am flexible enough to dish out a non veg dish or two for the husband (and his family) whenever there is a craving. Only when they were convinced that I am a good enough cook (and can make super delish chicken and mutton gravies without breaking a sweat) did they move ahead with the next less important steps, like allowing me to meet the guy, know if our wavelengths matched etc. I thank my stars everyday for many a grand escape that I have had from many such families.
Even as recently as last year, I came across a well-educated family which still keeps their women away from the kitchen and most “auspicious” places of their home whenever they are menstruating. What’s worse is even the women in many such homes believe that they are impure just by virtue of going through the most natural process of shedding an unfertilized egg. Today, we may seem a lot more advanced when compared to our ancestors, but in many ways we sadly remain the same, despite all the knowledge and exposure gathered over several lifetimes!
I know all this – being contemptuous about incongruent patriarchal moves, talking about outdated concepts still being followed, and even cringing at instances of such atrocities I see around – is coming from a point of privilege that many women in India are denied even today. It might take at least another couple of generations (maybe more?) to set things right. But until then, like they show in The Great Indian Kitchen, no matter who the woman is, whether she is someone who chooses to stay home; or a school teacher; or even for that matter a self-reliant entrepreneur, she is going to be harshly judged only by her ability to keep the house in order (while shutting down her opinions), no matter how she feels about it.