NIGELLA: An aromatic spice and a robust flower
As the goddess of great food, preparing a new dish became synonymous with love-making and the eating of leftovers from the fridge bordered on the erotic. Her voluptuous comfort with cooking and eating and with her own body in plump or svelte form remained anomalous in our times
Ratna Raman Delhi
Nigella Lawson is a food show icon who demands adulation through the seasons for a host of reasons. She owns the most fabulous and well stocked pantry in the world to which she adds more exotic stuff every time she shops. On her TV shows, she presents the most incredible dishes with effortless and practised ease. With her lovely kitchen and stunning accessories (I am still searching for that balled black pepper grinder that she owns), beautiful children and a humungous circle of friends whom she feeds with abandon, Nigella is a joy to watch.
She herself eats with equal abandon, mixing a big bun with miscellaneous delicacies in the fridge as a late night snack. She is undoubtedly the Angelina Jolie of the cooking world. While Jolie stormed into innumerable inner spaces and left people gyrating with desire, Nigella’s tempered and seasoned affairs with food had audiences salivating both on-and off-screen.
As the divine diva of desserts, Nigella’s celebration of butter, cream, eggs and chocolate distinguishes her in our repressive calorie counting and figure conscious age. As the goddess of great food, preparing a new dish became synonymous with love-making and the eating of leftovers from the fridge bordered on the erotic. Her voluptuous comfort with cooking and eating and with her own body in plump or svelte form remained anomalous in our times.
Both she and her food creations were luscious eye candy for all those poor pretty young things who could neither cook nor eat! Meanwhile, she challenged the parsimonious and stringent diet-controlled lives of her contemporaries and peers everywhere in the affluent world, and added to the consternation of health gurus and dieticians.
Nigella (also the name of an aromatic spice and a robust flower) lived in a real fairy tale with happy beginnings every cooking hour of the day. In June, dining at a sea food restaurant, still within our voyeuristic gaze, we encountered the ogre in her life. In the manner of the proverbial horror show, villainous hands repeatedly clutched our beloved Nigella by the neck and pinched her nose. Our domestic goddess’s attempts to subdue the ogre’s “playful tiff” with a kiss were of little avail.
As the divine diva of desserts, Nigella’s celebration of butter, cream, eggs and chocolate distinguishes her in our repressive calorie counting and figure conscious age
Many of us were brought up believing in the varnished untruth that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Despite Nigella’s extraordinary penchant for cooking gourmet meals, the recent restaurant wrath proved this belief was only a basic recipe for courting disaster, beguiling women to cook for thankless men. The hideous reality that cast its shadow over Nigella’s food fiesta, looms over the lives of many women all over the world.
Women, trained to cook, plunged into this sinful activity with pleasure. Yet, the men whom they often cooked for were rarely restrained from biting the hand that fed them. In Khalid Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, an ageing feudal husband (in the era of relentless Taliban brutality against women) forces his young wife to munch on pebbles and all her teeth break as a result. She is subjected to this punitive act because she had inadvertently served him rice a trifle crunchy. Closer home in Odisha, another 70-year-old recently chopped up his wife and distributed her body parts over innumerable packages.
Once, women were confined to running homes, cooking food and raising children. This is no longer the case. Despite altered social equations, the male testosterone has remained a constant. This cuts across race and class, uniting gender almost simplistically, everywhere.
Thankfully, Nigella has exercised the option of packing her bags, collecting her children and leaving the Saatchi home. This is not really an option for many oppressed women elsewhere, even to date. So what is it that we need to teach our daughters and our sons?
First, they must love food and delight in its preparation and consumption, and revel in its colours and textures. Next, action verbs, such as peeling, slicing, cutting, chopping, pounding, squeezing, scalding, burning, pinching and mashing must have a performative oeuvre limited to the processes of cooking. There should be personal, collective and shared joy in the creative, therapeutic process of cooking. When this principle is chiselled into human consciousness, the world will become a safer and happier place. Regular practice and implementation of this empirical truth is required to stop the continued decimation of women.