Down memory lane, I once left my six month old son with my mother for a few hours. She said, “Tell him that you are going for a wedding and will be back soon.” I replied, “I’ve told you Mama. Why do I have to tell him? Anyways he is too little to understand.” She said, “No, he understands everything. If you tell him while you’re going out, he will learn that this has to be done. When he grows up, he too will tell you wherever he goes.” Perfunctorily I told my son as directed by my mother. Today I realise that what I started and followed up each time, led to my children learning the value of accountability.
My husband Sanjay, remembers that as a teenager, he had a favourite film star. He pasted a poster of her on a wall in his room. When his father saw it, he tore it off the wall. Sanjay was upset to say the least. He said, “Papa, what’s wrong in putting it up? And if you had an objection, you should have told me. Why did you have to tear it off like this?” His words fell on deaf ears. Papa said nothing. But his message was loud and clear. He would allow no nonsense in his house. He nipped the evil in the bud. Sometimes we give in, when children are unreasonable. But where discipline is concerned, if you give an inch, they’ll take a mile. Don’t lower your guards!
When I got married, I could cook fancy stuff but I did not know how to make basic food. One day my father-in-law asked me if I knew how to make Dal. I was too scared to say that I did not. That afternoon, I learnt how to make Dal, over the landline phone, from my mother and presented a bowl of well-made Moong dal at dinner. The afternoon cooking classes with my mother continued and my culinary skills, became respectable. I realise now how valuable that learning was.
The kitchen is a very important part of Indian homes. It’s a place where mothers give shape and flavour to their love. Ever heard of, Maa ke haathon ka swaad?Families bond best, over food. Oodles of love flow when mothers talk sweet-nothings with babies and hand-feed them. Values are best imparted in tandem. Now with most mothers working, the focus on the kitchen has become a thing of the past. Ordering food through Zomato, Swiggy etc. has become a norm. But, where will this land us?
The breakup of the family system in the West, started with the closure of the kitchen. The trend of not cooking at home, swept the American economy in the 1980s. One study says that more than half of American marriages end up in divorce. One third of children are born to unwed mothers. Is that what we want for our progeny?
The downfall of the kitchen in affluent homes could be catastrophic for us too as a society. It is becoming the trend for all be closeted in their room, with a personal TV/Laptop, ordering food that suits their fancy. Money can give the buying power to eat at the most expensive places but it cannot feed values to children.
Sri Sathya Sai Baba says, “The intake by the senses, are part of the food that builds the individual. The sounds heard, the sights seen, the tactile impressions sought or suffered, the air breathed, the environment that presses for attention, appreciation and adoption - all these are food.”
Parenting is serious business. Children should be fed sweet-nothings through the mouth, eyes, ears and the aura of the house. Children need to be polished into the precious gems that they are. The polishing may be painful, but it has to be done! If the parents don’t do it, who will?
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This article has been published in HT on 11.06.2023.