Monday, October 15, 2012

Ten years of being a wife...

If I was playing a word association game with the word “wife”, I’d be a mass of conflicting feelings and ideas and agendas. I write this as I come to terms with having been one for the last 10 years. Is there an ideal for this word? And more importantly, do I want to be one? (IDEAL wife, that is. I am not questioning my current matrimonial status or choice of spouse).

When I think of being a wife, the two obvious women who come to mind are my mother and grandmother. Two entirely different kinds of wives, both strong and smart women. My grandmother (Ma) was my primary daytime care-giver till I was about eight, so of course the sun and moon revolve around my memory of her. She was married at the age of 16 (most likely) and had moved to New Delhi to set up house with her new husband by the time her first child was born (my mother). I remember all my uncles and aunts being married out of her house, which back then was my second home. I still think of her food as the true bengali home cooking, not my mother’s (who could never live up to Ma’s standards of clean Bengali flavours). I remember her tiny galley kitchen with its two burner gas stove and rows upon rows of baby formula cans (probably mine) that had been commandeered as storage jars for her staples. She had this tiny wooden pantry with a mesh screen to keep prepared food for the meals. Three meals were always cooked from scratch, so refrigeration was not a big factor except for milk. Even so, with all the power cuts we faced, milk was boiled several times a day. She made a pretty mean fish (Rui or Rohu = Carp) curry that I have never had the likes of, never. I have managed to almost copy her cauliflower curry (phoolkopi), fried eggplant (beguni) and egg curry (dimer dalna). She kept to a stricter order of brahminical food, that is, she would eat fish but not eggs and I am unsure of her stance on mutton (pathaa). Inspite of her aversion to eggs she would make this amazing pound cake for me on a stove top bundt pan, of all things. My grandfather, who was a national trade delegate to foreign countries, must have brought it back from one his many trips. My maternal grandparents had five kids, all successfully launched into the world, despite the fact that my grandfather (dadu) was mostly an absentee parent. Ma must have handled all the schooling, grocery shopping, household management all by herself, on foot. I would accompany her to the library once a week, about 30 minutes walk away, I knew she was well read and very knowledgable about world events. She also introduced me to the bengali children's fantasy literature. Much, much grimmer(!) stuff than the Disney princesses. Dadu was the traditional financial provider, but Ma held down the fort as a single parent all the months he was gone on his trips. She was universally respected, but not feared, a difficult balance to master.

My mother on the other hand was a light housekeeper and a full time working mom with a rich and busy socio-cultural life. Definitely universally feared and perhaps envied at times. She squeaked-by on, what I thought then, the bare minimum of mommy-wifey things. Now as an adult, with the primary responsibility for bringing in the bacon in the family, I realize that three meals a day from scratch are never going to happen in our household, not even on Christmas! My mother was married five years before she had me and I am an only child. My father contributed to all the time honoured things (read traditional) like family finances, doing all the banking, grocery shopping, dealing with trades and them some, like entertaining and rearing the child (while mommy was at rehearsals), squabbling with the local street sweeper and starching and ironing my mother's clothes being her prep cook, and sometimes shoe-sine boy.

Our own household is rather lax by comparison, much to my parents' consternation as laundry and cleaning never seems to happen on schedule. However, every so often, I will go overboard and cook something super elaborate that I would have spent the entire friday afternoon sourcing. Running around Winnipeg trying to find fresh goat or prawns are pretty much impossible tasks and can take up all day inspite of the internet and phone. Last month I made kulfi and faluda to satisfy my craving for introducing Indian "ice-cream" to Tara. Thankfully both the little ones are adventurous eaters, I cannot abide mac-n-cheese kids. I have even gone so far as to make rava dosa from scratch with coconut chutney. Now these are things I would have never learnt to cook had I lived in India. Women like me, in far flung places away from their homeland, post recipes for all manner of tradional cooking. God (?) bless these intrepid bloggers, unknowingly following in the tradition of Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management.

In the vein of word associations, Mrs. Beeton, who died of childbed fever with her fourth, brings to mind my latent armchair feminism (she died as a result of the condescension and ignorance of a breed of "gentlemen" doctors who felt they need not wash their hands before a delivery as their status as a gentleman percluded their hands from being dirty). I work in a field still rare for women and I have to admit willing oppression and callous disregard of female life brings out the tiger in me. I refer to the shooting of the 14 year old Pakistani girl for advocating education for girls. Then there is the 15 year old suicide from BC who was being bullied and blackmailed online... I hope I can provide a better world for my girls and open their eyes so that they are strong and ready to face the inequities of the real world that is still just as patriarchal and sexist as ever. This, despite the few good men in our lives. Amen, to the few good men.


  1. This is really nice. I knew Mukta but perhaps never met you at SPA.--- Rajat Ray
    Do you live in Manitoba or Calcutta ?

    1. I have lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba for the past 17+ years. I hadn't yet found my voice in SPA days,back then I was just the keener... I have now.

    2. Also, thanks for the kudos. I have actually never lived in Calcutta, I visited once as a teenager for a few days but our family was a probashi family for a couple of generations before I came along. I'm a Delhi girl.


About Me

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Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
I am a forty-something mom of two girls, an architect by profession and an avid sci-fi and My Little Pony fan. I love to cook, but only occasionally and am in the middle of rediscovering my heritage through food.