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Pakistan’s fast changing kitchen-scape

Hiring cooks does not mean women, or men, are not homely any more. It is a social change, one that we must accept, and see cooking as an emerging, respected profession

The fast changing kitchen-scape

Once upon a time I used to cook up things like a mean deg of nihari, loads of bihari kabab, and the genuinely ghutta hua haleem for a dinner for 30 people quite frequently and without panicking. If I had a helper to cut up the onions and vegetables and wash the meat and do the dishes, I was good to go, taking smugly all the compliments that came my way.

But somewhere along the road, priorities changed. It was not just the fact that I became more invested in my profession. It was also not just me. The emergence of “cooks” came to the fore.

No, these were not the live-in Khan-e-Samaan breed of cooks that our mothers and grandmothers had who used to manage the entire kitchen and cater to all food-based needs of big families. These are part-timers. A few hours a day or a week. Neatly stacked storage boxes of salan and kabab split into portions in the fridge and freezer, also labelled for convenience. This is what the modern-day cooks on urban Pakistan are like.

Often one doesn’t have one but actually many. I have one in my list of contacts in my phone that is for usual day-to-day cooking — the chawal, daal, sabzi, qeema type of stuff. Then there’s the one you call when there is a dinner at home — biryani, kabab, qorma and the likes of these. But then there’s the super fancy one — the CV or intro says, “can make Chinese, Thai and oriental food”. I have not utilised services of all but there is a comfort in knowing they are there.

In a fast-changing social landscape, the larger joint families have been replaced by nuclear families. In these urban families crunching under inflation, the woman no longer has time to deliberate about the daily menu, then cook it, and then serve it. She is as much an earning member of the household as her husband. Many a times, even the children, once they are young adults, are working part-time.

The good thing that has come out of this is that unnatural expectations from women to focus their lives only around the kitchen and its periphery are decreasing. But that also means cooks are an integral part of life. However, full-time cooks are expensive in more ways than one. Not only is it the salary, but it is also the unsaid pressure to get food cooked daily in order to justify why you have that full-time cook.

It is an expensive proposition to house domestic staff. Thus, part-time cooks seem like a great option — both for the employer and the employee. For the employee as being able to work in more than one house allows him or her more flexibility of timings, and is mostly a more lucrative option.

The good thing that has come out of this is that unnatural expectations from women to focus their lives only around the kitchen and its periphery are decreasing. But that also means cooks are an integral part of life.

A faster-paced lifestyle also means we are less discerning about many things — we don’t get our masalas pounded at home; we are ready to buy ‘heat and eat’ items, and we use a lot of easy-to-cook meat options, mainly poultry. Fried onion packets have found a way in our homes, as have frozen chopped vegetables. Plus we eat out way more than our counterparts a few generations ago.

Pakistanis are serious about their food so it is not that cooking has taken a back seat. However, other more pressing things have taken precedence. We still cook, but now it is more sporadic, and limited to certain specialties to remind our families and ourselves that we still have not forgotten how to make food. Hiring cooks does not mean women, or men, are not homely any more. It is a social change, one that we must accept, and see cooking as an emerging, respected profession.

Working mom dilemmas: A life in progress

2 hours ago

You need energy to be a caring and involved parent – simple as that!

There are too many things on my plate. That’s how it has been for as long as I can remember. Selected highlights of a typical day of mine make me feel sorry for myself. I am a working woman and this is my life.

My day revolves around handling my maid’s mood swings and training her to make Thai food or gajar ka halwa, while I make Thai food and gajar ka halwa, and masoor ki daal that happily simmers on the other stove. Amidst this cooking and cleaning, I take out an hour to do aerobics a few times a week. This involves stretches and workouts that leave me sore till the next class. As well as laugh therapy that involves sticking out your tongue and yelling out your lungs in front of a gigantic mirror in order to relieve your stress.

Next, a visit to my mom; which I enjoy best. Then comes, attending numerous calls every day –I sound like a complaint centre and a sister, a friend or a relative tells me how I must “time nikaalo” (take out the time) to meet them.

You have to spend time with family, run darzi errands, sabziwala errands, and dry cleaner errands. Inescapable are the Khadda market and Sunday bazaar errands. Changing the newspapers of the almaari or organising the bedside drawer is also on my to-do list.

Let’s not forget replenishing the kitchen ration, especially because in Karachi, you never know.

Then there is counselling a few needy venting friends partly because I love them and partly because they have to do the same for me on my needy, venting days.

Every few weeks the overhaul that makes me look human is a must at the salon. On top of it, I must read enough to be intellectual, must watch enough TV to be aware enough, and must socialise enough to be…well, social enough.

Shaadis – they are late night, exhausting and depleting in terms of energy and wardrobe. Of course, they do have the “all-you-can-eat” additional factor.

But how much can one smile? How many times can one meet the same people day after day with the same verve?

On top of that, I have a demanding day job.

Initially, the sentence “I am taking a hiatus from work” sounded as cool as saying “I am taking a gap year”. But eventually, I knew I had to be honest to myself – I’m not disciplined enough to harness my time well enough to forever work from home. Hence, I added another ball to the many balls I am juggling; another plate to the plates perched on my head as I walk the tightrope; ok I’m running out of clichés here, you get the idea right?

Due to of all of this, what ends up not getting enough time is the most important thing for a mother – spending time with one’s little one, the little one being a teenager in my case. Motherhood’s not a coercive responsibility – it’s one of the fun and rewarding ones- one that makes the world go round and the sun shine and all that jazz.

It also induces one of the worst forms of guilt; the “working-woman’s mommy guilt”. It can get so bad that a mom is tempted to indulge in self-flagellation. Yet, to stay sane and happy and comfortable, mothers often have to work full-time jobs. But everything comes with a price tag. The price tag in this case is time with your kid and that can make you feel horrible!

Answer? Manage!

Manage your time, your patience, your mood swings and your energy levels.

I have learnt over time that the person who will end up suffering the most if my kid does not see enough of her mother is none other than me. I feel depleted of all happiness and sense of purpose in life if I don’t see enough of her. Time spent together has to be ‘quality time’ which means I cannot and should not be a cranky, irritated or moody mother. Or else, I will end up raising someone who equates a mother’s impatience and grouchiness with her working.

Being energetic helps with this; you need energy to take your child for random drives, shopping sprees, the beach and photo walks. You need energy (along with patience) to be able to listen intently even when you think they are just talking about random stuff like the rage over printed pants, and remain genuinely interested, because children ‘know’ when mothers feign interest.

You need energy to be able to talk enough with your kid about things that matter like poetry, literature, culture, society and religion. Yes, all of this, unless you want to raise hermits that live in bubbles. You need energy to cook for them enough times a week to appease their appetite for mom ke haath ka khaana (food made by your mother)

You need energy to be a caring and involved parent – simple as that!

I do not find any better use of a mother’s time and energy. That is the ultimate anti-aging regenerist the world ever knew!

Read more by Farahnaz here or follow her on Twitter @FarahnazZahidi

He can change diapers, & She can get the car fixed.

Why not?

Once upon a time, men used to go out at the break of dawn. Into the jungle. With their crude weapons. In groups. They would play predator and prey, and come back with their game, proudly guffawing in happiness at the lamb or deer they had hunted. On return, they would hand it over to the women after slaughtering and butchering it. The women, who had basically been tending to the children and waiting all day for the men to return all day. They’d all happily share it, and go to sleep. And the next day would be the same.

Simple times. Innocent times. Not so anymore.

As humanity progressed, people started to need more out of life. Every subsequent generation complicated life a little further. And complicating things is not necessarily a bad thing, and is a natural part of human progression. So the demands of modern life increased. Consumerism made us want more. Happiness began to be associated with “things”. Both men and women now needed more out of life. For men, the thrill of the chase became focused at more than one goat or lamb. They needed achievements that show how well they had done in the big bad world of cut throat competition. The houses, cars, trips abroad, kids in elite schools, a beautiful wife. All these wants are today needs. Women, of course, also simultaneously evolved. More ambitious, more driven, more consciously aware of what all it entails to be socially successful. Even if you don’t have it all, you at least strive for it.

The world has changed. We all strive for a better quality of life. And for that, in a growing number of cases, one pay cheque is  is simply not enough. Thus, the working woman makes an entry into the world. She may be working in the fields picking cotton. She may be working as house help. She may be working in a textile factory. She may be a teacher, or a woman working in a salon, or a female actor. Or a banker or a doctor or an executive. Or she may be a journalist. But the fact remains that the working woman has arrived.

Women are natural born multi-taskers. They can take care of a lot more things simultaneously compared to men. And modern lifestyles are making her use this natural skill to the fullest. Even if a woman is not a working woman, she is juggling so many balls of responsibilities, it is not even funny. Ask any XYZ urban woman of Pakistan, and she will confess that she is doing so much with her life.  She is giving birth to kids, feeding them, weaning them. If they are a bit grown up, chances are that a major chunk of her time is spent on the road, picking and dropping them from school or tuition. She buys groceries. She goes to the bank for work like utility bills. She monitors the domestic staff and makes sure everything is clean right from the kitchen counters to the cupboards. She cooks, even if she has help, as her family likes that. She has to give time to her own parents and her husband’s. In addition, she must look good, so add to the list the endless trips to the tailor and the shopping sprees, and the aerobics and the trips to the salon. And she has to be a contributing member of society so chances are that she is part of some sort of social welfare activity. She entertains and socializes. She is also a counselor or a therapist to her sisters, her friends, her children, and her testosterone-fueled husband who needs loads of attention. On top of it all, she even drives! Because no driver in Pakistan today is willing to charge less than 10 k.

And on top of it all, IF she is a working woman, she also goes to work and pools into the family’s money pool!

Perhaps one of the MOST irritating questions to a woman is “so what do you do”? Even if she is not bringing in money to the table, she IS a working woman. We all are.

In defence of the men, their roles are also less simple compared to what they used to be. Their work hours are longer. The driving conditions are horrendous and it takes them often hours to get home. The work stress is not just physical anymore, unlike the stone age. The public relationing, the staying on top of the game, the making sure that he does not lose his job in these times of unstable economic conditions world over. And the joyous pain of having better halves who are much more aware, awakened and in some ways more demanding than their counterparts of 50 years ago – life is not easy for anyone.

Coming to the real point of this blog. The pertinent question here would be: What is the problem with both men and women exchanging and sharing their over-lapping roles in today’s world that is forever in a state of flux anyways?

I hope I am not misunderstood here as an angry feminist who feels that all men are out there to take advantage of women by making them slave. And I hope I am not thought as someone who sees a problem with a woman being a woman and a man being a man. I enjoy the whole routine of cooking and cleaning and looking good and being a mom. I also do not have issues with the traditional gender roles. But I am realistic in realizing that over-lapping and sharing of responsibilities in the genders is a reality.

The problem arises when “she” is expected to be super human and do it all, in addition to earning. Or he is expected to earn enough to cater to all the ever-increasing financial demands. To me, the problem arises when changing the baby’s diaper, making coffee for both of them after dinner or cooking is off limits for him. Or if she thinks that by driving or paying the bills, her femininity is being challenged or compromised. The problem for me is when, if he is taking care of the house and kids in a time period when she is preparing for her post-graduate medical studies, eye brows are raised. The problem for me is when, if she is the secondary contributor to the financial needs of the home, he is made to feel less of a man.

Balance is the name of the game. If they both can negotiate on responsibilities, and come to a mutual understanding, life is wonderful.

A couple is a team. In every possible sense of the word. They complement each other. Together they make up the whole. Alone, they are parts. In unison, they complete and bring together a home. And for that, if she sits behind the steering wheel and he sits in the passenger seat, or if he washes the dishes on a Sunday morning while she goes through the newspaper, so be it.

Working Women – They mean business

Published in The News on Sunday:

This girl means business

She is more committed to her career, and willing to step out of the safety net of her parents’ home and city

By Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam

In the bustling metropolis we call Karachi, the following scenario is ever-so common: a young woman, somewhere in her 30s, living alone in one of the umpteen apartment buildings that have mushroomed across the city in the past few decades. This woman may be sharing her apartment with a friend. This woman may be living in a hostel or a portion of a house. She does her own grocery, pays her own bills, works 9 to 7 and still manages to socialise with friends at work. Friends are exceedingly important to her because her family does not live in the city. This woman is one of the breed of ambitious career women of Pakistan who have chosen to move cities for purely work reasons. She is confident, independent and a go-getter. And she means business.

Not just in Karachi but all over Pakistan, an exceeding number of women are joining Pakistan’s labour force. Jone Johnson Lewis writes in Pakistan: Status of Women & the Women’s movement: “Four important challenges confronted women in Pakistan in the early 1990s: increasing practical literacy, gaining access to employment opportunities at all levels in the economy, promoting change in the perception of women’s roles and status, and gaining a public voice both within and outside of the political process.”

Yet, today, somewhere in 2010, work opportunities available to women are much more compared to the 1990s. This in a country where formerly only women of the lower social strata were more actively involved in the economic process and affluent women were basically homemakers. Times are definitely changing. Economic pressures, the desire for better quality of life and inflation make one pay cheque per household a less than ideal proposition. The dissolution of extended families in urban areas has made it all the more imperative for women to join the workforce.

In addition, the woman of today is much better educated and has had much more exposure compared to her counterparts some two decades ago. Hence, she is more committed to her career, and willing to step-out of the safety net of her parents’ home and city. Ironically, in the big bad world of the ‘unsafe’ Pakistan that we live in today, more and more women decide that they can and will live alone away from their hometowns and families if their work demands it. Particularly in the corporate sectors, such moves are very common. And the move is not always to bigger cities. A Lahori female executive may move to Rahimyar Khan where her multinational company has a complete setup, for that is required for her to do in order to step up the corporate ladder. In certain situations, women may even move abroad if a good job opportunity comes up. Dubai, the Far-East and the USA remain popular choices for women who want to respond to their professional calling.

When Sadia Qureshi, poet, writer and anchorperson got an option between Multan and Lahore, she chose to move to Lahore for her career. “I am from the Seraiki belt and saw hurdles for a girl in moving forward in Multan. My elder brother was then posted in Muzaffargarh, 25 kms from Multan and he also thought it would be better if I went to Multan but I wanted to work in a big set-up, in a big city,” says Qureshi with clarity.

“Lahore was not new to me but working here was new. There were many challenges. Initially, I stayed with a cousin in a hospital’s hostel. Soon I moved to APWA hostel where I stayed for four years. At the hostel, I got the most difficult girl as roommate and found aged women quite hostile. I felt quite vulnerable because of living in a hostel. I had extended family in the city but I didn’t want to stay with anyone. It would have been stifling,” says Qureshi, shedding more light on the dilemmas of women staying away from home. She recalls how at the hostel there was a girl from Multan whose parents, who were illiterate, would bring in a match for her every other month, sometimes to the hostel and sometimes to her office. “She was a girl belonging to two different worlds.” Qureshi’s comment is true for numerous Pakistani women, though gaining economic and social independence, still remain inextricably tied to their backgrounds.

Sophia Ahmed, a Chartered Accountant by profession, moved to London for a while to experience living independently. “Moving to live alone locally or abroad is a major challenge for an average Pakistani girl. My experience was no less challenging,” shares Ahmed. “Living a protected life in your parents’ home in no way prepares you for the deluge of responsibilities and recklessness that come when you’re on your own.”

For her, the experience was a combination of pros and cons. “The ‘goods’ include independence and freedom with no shackles. Being answerable to no one but yourself teaches you so much. There is immense learning involved in managing finances, discovering new friends, and coping in a new way in a new place.”

The ‘bads’, in her opinion, are, “missing being with loved ones, especially on Ramazan, Eid and important occasions; missing family get-togethers and chatting with old school pals…”. She asserts living outside the protective cocoon of your family can make you feel lonely and isolated. Yet, she feels it is all “Worth it. Big time. You discover yourself; I found the path that I wanted to be on.”

Living on your own in the Pakistani society has certain taboos involved. People assume a lot about a girl who migrates from her hometown for job reasons. The biggest assumption is that for this girl, her career is more important than her family, and after marriage she will not be able to endure the compromises that are a prerequisite for a stable marriage. Yet, encouragingly, there is a simultaneously growing breed of men who respect and understand their fiancé’s or wife’s ambitiousness and are willing to sometimes shift from their hometown because the wife’s career is demanding her to make that move.

Saima Shareef (not her real name), a media person, moved from Lahore to Karachi for greener pastures. “It was a better career opportunity plus a desire for change that provided impetus for my decision to move. I remember being apprehensive when considering the move, since it was an idea that was new to me, and no one in my immediate circle of family or friends had ever made such a move.” But her experience proved to be “wonderful, and all positive — except for one thing — finding accommodation that suited my needs, being safe without being very expensive. That is something that I think is a concern for all single women who move to another city and plan to live on their own.”

As a parent, Shareef’s supportive mother says, “It wasn’t a difficult decision to let her move. I felt the career opportunity plus the move would be a good change for her.”

Living on one’s own has definite advantages. You are taken more seriously by your bosses for one, and the senior management respects a girl who takes her career seriously. On a lighter note, you have more uninterrupted “me-time”, you have solo control of the tv remote and your routine revolves around you. You can keep your home as you like, make friends of your choice, read till late hours of the morning and stay in bed all Sunday. It can be an enriching experience in which you learn to handle things yourself. The flip side of the coin, however, is that you are in a danger of becoming an isolationist permanently. You may become so used to independent living that once you move back with your parents, you don’t know how to adjust in combined family living. When you are unwell and down in the dumps, nostalgia about moments spent with your family can kill you.

Yet, once in your life, if you get a chance, moving a city and living alone to pursue your career is a chance one should take. You grow as a person, and your career could grow with leaps and bounds as well.