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Rethinking patriarchy? It’s the cupcake revolution!

Left with no option but to bake cupcakes for a hundred people , Tanushree Bhasin was forced to question her lifelong prejudice towards the kitchen.

Tanushree Bhasin  28th Dec 2013

Illustration: Rashmi Gupta | Dev Kabir Malik design

he problem with growing up around highly intelligent, radical and combative feminist men and women is that sometimes you lose perspective. Why should women have to occupy the kitchen, my mum often whined. Her argument made sense to me and the nightmarish vision I had of myself slaving away on the stove anyway put me off cooking very early in life. So little 10-year-old me decided I was never going to set foot in the kitchen. Metaphorically, of course.

Well over a decade later, I can confidently say that I do not know how to cook — at all. Sure, I can toast bread, make two-minute noodles, and sometimes even manage a half-decent cup of tea. But that doesn't really count for much. Perpetually penniless, broke and hungry, I would travel a great distance to return to Crystal restaurant in Chowpatty every night for a cheap meal when I was living alone in Mumbai. "Why don't you just learn how to make simple daal-chawal?" my mother would ask too often. But no, kasam-breaking has always been uncool in my book.

Grudgingly, I have recently begun to admit that I may have gone a bit overboard with the whole "I will never wield a belan" argument. Judging by the way contestants on Masterchef Australia swoon over food, perhaps there is a world of amazing joy to be found in the kitchen that I have so far been too determined not to notice? Since determination is obviously not an issue, though, why not apply it to exactly the opposite of what I had decided never to do?

A New Year's resolution, then — to cook all my meals myself for a week. Challenge accepted.

Sounds like a bad idea? It was. I have to admit, I failed at this miserably. Mostly because avoiding cooking — even at the cost of not eating at all — comes so naturally to me. So instead of the heavy Punjabi breakfast that I feast on every day, I have been making do with jam-toast the past week. Other than that, the only other time I actually put the pan on the stove was to make an omelette.

Just when I had begun to give up on the idea completely and make my peace with what a failure the entire exercise had been, a colleague roped me into cooking something for the Christmas party we were hosting together. No excuses accepted. I've managed to burn soup in the past, so I was pretty certain that I didn't want anything to do with entrées and mains. Dessert seemed more manageable for some reason, so I decided to try baking those utterly delectable tiny packages of heaven we call cupcakes.

ith only one day to prepare, I called a close friend and professional baker and got her simplest cupcake recipe. Flour, eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla pods; ingredients in place, I began work a couple of hours later. Baking for 100 people in one night — I was already panicking .

Predictably, the first batch was a total train wreck. There was batter everywhere, including on my dog's head. The batter itself was horribly thick, and you could use the cakes that came out of the oven to hurt people; they were that rock solid. Several hyperventilating phone calls and a few dozen more burnt cupcakes later, I pulled out my first tray with cakes that looked positively appetising!

With a little help from my sister, I even managed to get the frosting right. The best decision was to save the frosting part for the party itself, where I got everyone to pipe one cupcake each — it was fun, and the result incredible. Topped with candy sprinkles for that finishing touch, my cupcakes looked adorable. And we now had two whole trays full, ready to be placed under the Christmas tree.

Finished in minutes (I was also marketing them quite a bit to all the guests), all gone in a flash. Not to gloat, but if I could get a penny for every time someone said, "The cupcakes were yummy!", I'd be super rich by now. And to see my friends enjoy what I'd made felt great.

If this experiment was a lesson in how to keep resolutions, then that didn't quite work — I'm never going to want to cook. I still find the whole process terribly agitating. But I'm glad I took up this challenge, because at least now I know I can do it, should real need ever arise.

I associate patriarchy with the space of the kitchen and it will definitely me take time to get over my lifelong prejudice against it. But at least now I know it is a prejudice I want to get past.

Maybe one day I'll suddenly realise that I've been cooking all my meals for weeks on end, without ever bothering to notice how far along I've come. And to that day, I raise my glass.

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