I eyed the pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Close by, a steamer sent out a steady puff as its contents, white fermented rice cakes called idlis, bloomed. On the adjacent burner, an Indian lentil stew with vegetables—sambar—bubbled and spurted, hinting at the commotion in my head. The laundry sat in giant piles, the floor needed sweeping and mopping, and the wrinkled clothes, some steam treatment. I thought I needed a magic fairy to help me with my chores, but it turned out I just needed more magical thinking.
India sits at 112 (out of 153) in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2020 rankings, a framework designed to record and track gender-based disparities across the globe. As per the India Inequality Report 2020 released by Oxfam India, urban women spend 312 minutes per day looking after their home and children, while men devote just 29 minutes. Even my own husband and now-teenage son never helped while my father-in-law still lived with us. Only after his father returned to his hometown could I convince and cajole him into equal responsibilities.
When India entered lockdown in late March, children were confined to home and schools conducted classes online. My husband was buried in office work and I could not expect much from my 10-year-old daughter. The presence of perpetually hungry children at home meant I was cooking more. Our cuisine is based on the edicts of Ayurveda system which promotes consumption of freshly prepared wholesome meals for a healthy lifestyle. Elaborate meals with mainstays like the roti, an Indian bread, are a perfect accompaniment for the quotidian Indian stir-fry. And a slow-cooked curry is prepared along with a nourishing lentil soup, dal, that is had with rice. The meals I make are complex and time-consuming. And many Indian households—ours included—do not have dishwashers, which means that dirty dishes are dealt with manually.
Plus, I had to help my daughter in her online studies. With the entire family at home all the time, housework increased drastically and I missed indulging in those activities that brought joy in my life. Writing took a major backseat and simple pleasures like unwinding with a cup of masala chai became a distant dream. I longed for the much-required balance in my life.
One frustrating afternoon, I took a break to sit down with a lemonade and shuffled through Instagram. Inviting food pictures and recipes flooded the platform. By chance, I landed on the Instagram account of singer and Bollywood actor Diljit Dosanjh’s (@diljitdosanjh) and that of his production company, @famousstudios. Like so many others, he too had posted cooking videos. But unlike others, his food posts had a liberal dose of humor in Hindi and Punjabi. In his posts Dosanjh does not remember the name of the ingredients that go into his dishes. When his angry kitchen pressure cooker spurts out its content through its valve and messes his kitchen, he has no qualms in expressing his anger by mouthing a few Punjabi curse words. He further shows his displeasure by saying things like, “Hmm, who is going to clean this? Not me definitely!” He spaces out the bowls containing the ingredients used in his dishes and jokes, “You see, they need to be socially distant during these times.” His cooking videos, which are tagged with #iNeedMySpoon, are all the rage. Watching his chicken curry video left my daughter in splits.
His posts brought in lighter moments in my otherwise boring life. With the phone placed on the kitchen windowsill, I watched his videos while washing dishes, chopping vegetables, and cooking. In these tough times, his antics filled with unlimited doses of humor kept me going. His effortless comedy of errors is pure and innocent like a child. He forgets to fry the onions and ginger-garlic paste before the tomatoes in the Amritsari chickpea curry. But he is quick to tell his followers that, as only he will be eating it, he does not mind the goof up. He suddenly breaks out into a Bollywood song tweaked to reflect the dish he is cooking in his laboratory, which will leave you in splits. He comes across as a clumsy individual in the kitchen, your friendly neighborhood guy. He drops the chickpeas on the floor and prepares a runny hummus but covers the blunder by saying it does not matter, since the final product is out of this world.
Slowly, I started incorporating his attitude into my life—not the Punjabi swearing, but the idea of not letting household work overwhelm me. If a dirty kitchen countertop is not cleaned immediately, it shows that a family has relished a great Indian meal. A messy room with toys strewn around reveals that kids have been having a good time. A house need not be spotlessly clean but should be filled with warmth and love. The art of attaining balance is in your own hands, and you must define it. I understand the lockdown needs to be waited out by enjoying my time with my family. I might not be able to write, but I get great stories by living through it.