My mother in law had acquiesced to my marriage with her son. No big news there, I was aware of that. I was poles apart from her conventional expectations, and after two love marriages (where partners are chosen by parents with a strict adherence to customs and traditions) of both her daughters and the resultant compromises that she had to undertake; she swore to keep her son’s wedding within institutional horizons.
Anyways, it all happened too quickly and before she knew it, a week after the wedding I was in the kitchen, adjusting to my new joint family (where parents and kids live and dine together) attempting to make an omelette for my husband’s packed breakfast. She was already there, eyeing me closely and watched while I removed the eggs from the fridge, some onions and tomatoes, chillies and black pepper, coriander for garnish.
“Use this bowl for the eggs”. She passed me a steel medium sized cereal bowl and gave me a spoon.
I then realised, she had separate utensils for non-vegetarian dishes, and they were seriously limited. The spoon was meant to beat the eggs with. I tried looking for a fork, as it was apparent that she did not use egg beaters.
“I’ve always used a spoon to beat the eggs”, she said imperiously, with a mild hint at my need to adapt to my restricted resources. As soon as the eggs were beaten and as I fetched the board to begin chopping the onions, tomatoes and chillies, she intercepted me sharply –
“Wash those hands before you touch the veggies!”.
The order came as a surprise. I had not touched the eggs, and the food was all going into the same pan anyways. Nevertheless I was in no mood to start an argument nor question the reasons, so I obeyed and began to move more quickly as possible. As I prepared and finished the omelette in forty five minutes, while she stood watching over my shoulder for any defilement on my part between my “egg hands” and her clean ingredients, my husband was ready to leave for work. He looked confusingly at my restive expression, and my heart sank as he took the packed breakfast and left. No, I wasn’t missing him already. I was worried what more I was to expect that day without him around. He had definitely not prepared me for this. I began to clear the dishes.
“Use this sponge.” She pushed a decrepit looking sponge at me and indicated the diswashing soap. I was to keep the egg utensils separate from the others in the double drain kitchen sink that we had. The sponge smelled foul and slimy to touch, probably from being used too long without any attempt at changing it. It certainly wasn’t hygienic to continue with. As a novice to pure vegetarianism, and without sounding too fussy and demanding, I attempted to suggest a new sponge.
“But why?” she asked in utter surprise, “It’s non-vegetarian anyway.”
Again I continued as told, losing my appetite for breakfast already. It all came to me now. She had a misplaced attitude towards non-vegetarian or “dirty” food as well as to all non-vegetarians, with the exception of her sons and daughters. I was then told to take a shower and to change my clothes before appearing in the prayer room for the morning pooja.
“You may wear those clothes whenever you need to cook non-vegetarian dishes again, or during your menstruation,” she retorted as I hurried to the bathroom.
Before I wedded, I remember coming here often, to a lady who spoke endlessly about spirituality and equality. I rested upon her candour and mutual respect. But marriage changed everything. She was now a peremptory mother in law steeped in Hindu fanatism. Do not get me wrong. I respect Hindus and their respect for all things sacred. I respect their respect for all things living and breathing. I admire their maxims and quest for divinity. But such incidents, in addition to the mob lynchings in India over those who eat, trade or rear bovine cattle focuses on the myopic respect for life. Meat is abominable food and so are the meat eaters, who probably are judged like they have no soul or no right to live like normal individuals. We killed to put food over our plates, and therefore deserve the same fate.
Ironically, in the vicious circle between the good, bad and ugly; between the worshippers of the living and the killers of the living, between the divinity and the divine, between the real and the unctuous – the killers use the same slippers made from animals to kill the men who ate them for food.