I decided to write about women this month. If February is associated with love, then surely March is associated with talking about women right? It being International Women’s day and all? So I decided to dedicate an entire month to thinking about women, standing up for us, celebrating us, and basically trying my own version of Women’s month series 🙂
When I was little and lived with my parents and my little sister, my father had this rule at home. Everyone will eat together, the food will be laid on the table, and whatever mom cooks will need to be eaten. So especially during dinners and weekends, all of us would help laying the table, and then we’d eat together – dad, mom, me and my sister. We helped lay the table and eat together. Dinner was my favorite meal of the day.
Then I became a little older and on one summer vacation at my grandparents house, I realised that the table seated only six. How could all of us sit on the table together and eat? To my dismay, I found out that the problem was solved by serving the men food first. And not only did they have their food served first, it seemed they also deserved the best pieces from the meal cooked. Then the children were asked to sit and were served. And finally, my grandmother and the mothers sat and ate – way late into the night, with what looked like leftovers and only gravy to eat. When I asked, “but mummy, don’t you have any chicken or paneer to eat?”, she shoo-ed me away saying, go play with your cousins. I walked out wondering why my father didn’t serve food to mom, like we did back home?
Then I went into my teenage phase and started questioning everything. I asked my mom, “why do you have to eat last at grandparent’s place when we eat together at home? Shouldn’t grandmama eat with grandpapa too, if its the elders we are thinking about? Doesn’t she get hungry and tired too?” She would either look harassed with my questions or give me a kindly smile and say, “its just for a few days. Let’s not hurt anyone’s feelings by our questions, alright? At home, we will eat together, I promise.” But whose feelings were we hurting? Who decided that only women would cook and only men would eat?
In my twenties, I got married. I knew the guy I had married and I thought surely in my time, things will change. The only advice my mom gave me before I left for my in law’s place for the first time was, “Be respectful of their feelings and follow their traditions. You will be there for a short while, so try not to hurt anyone.” In the first week, I realised, that I was re-living my mother’s life. While my husband had the best intentions when we were at our own home, when we were with the elders, it was back to the men first and the women last. I couldn’t bear to let his mother eat alone. So I thought to myself, the same thing my mom said to me, “Its only for a while. I can adjust.” And I ate last with his mother.
When I became a mother, things changed. At least until the baby was a baby. I was asked to eat more and eat better than before. But once my daughter grew out of her baby phase, things went back to the previous expectation. It was then that I realised that I didn’t want to set the same example for my daughter. I had had enough. I was not going to eat last. I was going to eat with her. And if I could manage it, I would make everyone eat together.
Now, the elders or some family members sometimes pass snide remarks about my decision to eat first. Sometimes I end up eating before anyone else. I eat with my daughter and I ask everyone to eat with me. When I’m at my parents or in law’s place, I tell them, I need to eat on time and I need to eat right. When they still don’t understand, I tell them, “Remember how the air hostess says, during turbulence, wear your oxygen mask before assisting a child or an elderly with theirs. Its the same with food.”
I eat on time and I eat well, because I care about my health as much as I care about my family’s. Its high time that we question the tradition of eating last and eating leftovers. Don’t you think so? 🙂