I was anchoring a panel last week—on parenting in the digital age—when a panellist, a distinguished professor, said it was vital for a mother to bond with her child during its early years. Surely, I asked, a father could also play that role? She thought a bit and said either could be the “caretaker".
Despite our best intentions, we succumb to stereotypes about women, men and familial roles. Despite progress and the great expansion in female role models, the vast majority of Indian women is subject to overwhelming expectations. Even if they carve out a career, women are expected to make sure the laundry is done, the children are looked after and hot chapatis are on the table. Of all these tasks, it is cooking that imposes the biggest burden on the woman, and it is here that the Indian male fails spectacularly.
I have a sense of déjà vu as I write this because I have made the same point in a variety of ways over the years. While I have witnessed some change, it has been slow and snail-like. Some Indian men do cook, and I am always glad when some walk up to me and say they didn’t earlier but do now. Glad to hear it, I say, but do you clean up? The sheepish responses indicate they mostly do not. Too much is still left to the female partner.
I refer to this debate again because I increasingly hear women—including my own wife—ask whether we really need men. As far as my wife is concerned, I think the fact that I produce morning tea and am reasonably more confident with cooking than she is, makes me somewhat relevant—for now.
But the general irrelevance of men is something that women increasingly talk about. If you have not heard them, you are not listening. Women do a host of domestic jobs we do not even acknowledge as work. If, in addition, they achieve financial independence and can have babies without men—yes, women are doing that—then the question rises: Why do they need men?
That’s a question I found best addressed in an excerpt from the book How Not To Be A Doctor by British psychologist John Launer. “Why do males exist?" asks Launer. To combine male and female genes to increase variation, the key to survival of a species. “Unfortunately, most evolutionary experts stopped believing in this explanation over 30 years ago," writes Launer. “From a reproductive point of view, no individual is interested in anything very much beyond donating genes to the next generation. As far as whole species are concerned, they are preserved or wiped out more or less at random, largely according to the whims of climate and geology. In addition, you don’t actually need sexes to produce variation: the vast majority of organisms like microbes happily mutate and vary without sex."
Launer quotes evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith on the costs that males impose. First, why should any female discard half her genes for a male’s when, theoretically, she could just clone herself? Second, the males of many species do little except sit around and “get fat" at female expense, writes Launer. “Among some animals, such as elephant seals, the vast majority of males die as wasteful, disappointed virgins…given this wastefulness, it is perhaps not surprising that there are at least 40 species where the female kills the male during or after sex."
Scientifically speaking, we are on the threshold of parthenogenetic reproduction, or virgin births. “Parthenogenesis in humans may seem far-fetched," writes Eric Pianka, an American zoology professor, “but 50 years ago no one suspected that parthenogenesis could occur in any vertebrate: now all-female species have been documented in fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds."
Me, I am trying to stay relevant the only way I know—cooking and keeping the kitchen ship-shape. It’s not easy. My two main clients are female, and they are quickly bored. My eight-year-old takes my culinary efforts so much for granted that she likes to point out what I could have done, what I should have done. After being presented with what I thought was a particularly nice stuffed omelette—with cheese, ham and fresh basil—she took a few bites and said, “Aw, I wanted salami, not ham."
So, to keep them interested, I am always on the lookout for interesting recipes. I never believe they should be happy that I am doing at least this much; indeed, it is the least I can do—for myself and the survival of my kind.
BANGALORE EGG ROLL WITH ROAST MUTTON
3 parathas or chapatis
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp garlic
2 tbsp onion, chopped
1 tbsp tomato, chopped
2 tsp sunflower oil
For the roast mutton
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
Salt to taste
1/2 cup water
Marinate the mutton in soy sauce, garam masala, salt and ginger-garlic paste for an hour. Then pressure-cook it with water for four whistles. When the steam dissipates, remove, dice into smaller pieces and roast in the oven for 40 minutes at 170 degrees Celsius.
In a wok, sauté garlic in a teaspoon of oil until soft. Add onion and sauté until soft. Add tomato and sauté for a minute. Add the mutton and toss. Set aside.
Dip the paratha/chapati in the eggs until well coated and fry in 1 tsp of oil on medium flame. When the egg is cooked, remove on to a plate, place the stuffing on the paratha and roll.
Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures.
He tweets at @samar11