How smart will the government's Smart Kitchen be?

How smart will the government's Smart Kitchen be?

If there’s anything Indian housewives are obsessed with, it’s their kitchen. Their lives revolve round their rotis, rice, curries and kichidis. Most often than not it’s a one-person show, managed by the woman of the house who unabashedly puts on the mother hen act to feed her family. All talk of shared work has gone for a toss with drudgery being the sole kitchen reality and women accepting it all as an unquestioned duty.

Things seem to be set for a makeover with the government deciding to implement a novel “Smart Kitchen” plan with a view to easing back-breaking labour and cutting down on the number of hours a woman spends in a domain where she’s not remunerated. The plan is to implement the scheme before Onam.

But a lot of issues, social, economic and others need to be addressed before the scheme can hope to make an impact.

It was an animated bunch of women who shared their views on the Smart Kitchen move with Onmanorama. Here they go:

What’s a smart kitchen?

The cardinal principle is to introduce the concept of mechanization and implement it to complete kitchen chores. The KSFE has been entrusted with the task of initiating smart chitties in a bid to promote the concept. Under the scheme, people can buy kitchen appliances of their choice and pay back in convenient instalments. There will be subsidy on the interest rates with consumers required to pay only one third of the interest rate. The government and local self governing bodies will share the responsibility of paying back the rest. There’s no call either for sureties if loans are availed of through Kudumbashree initiatives. A sum of Rs 5 crore has been set apart for this in the first phase of the program. The committee set up for this has been asked to draw up guidelines for the Smart Kitchen program before July 10.

Time saving techniques

Cooking is not as simple as it looks on YouTube. Videos which make things look too simple are misleading. The ones which ask you to go for it with just the three ingredients in your kitchen are just tall claims.

Ask Bindu, a housewife from Kollam about the art of making piping hot crispy dosas. Making them is fine, she says. But how about the long drawn out process of getting dosas ready? The rice and urud dal need to be soaked for hours before they are ground and left to ferment.

As for ginger-garlic paste! Not for us, say old timers who insist that shop-sold ginger-garlic pastes are not a patch for freshly peeled garlic and ginger. The same “golden” rule applies to curry powders as well. Matters come to a head when folks at home refuse to partake of the previous day’s food. This is tough on women who need to be out of their kitchens and be present in workplaces by which the family is assured of an income.

Though there are kitchen appliances to suit every need, most of them don’t reach Indian kitchens for various economic and social reasons. The funds factor has a big role to play in this scheme of things.

Changing perceptions

Kitchen work has undergone changes, albeit cosmetically. Movies which once stereotyped the kitchen concept have of late brought in changing themes that view shared work in a different perspective. However, all said and done, when it comes to ads displaying kitchen appliances, the models are all women which once again go back to stereotyping age-old concepts of the woman inside her kitchen.

Today, housewives, working women and students ask the same question: What’s the idea behind mechanizing kitchen work or bringing in appliances? Can machines alone ease the burden of kitchen work? Is this what it’s meant to be?

Former Finance Minister Thomas Isaac had strong views on the issue. With women power going up in workplaces, they would be compelled to turn to machines to finish their chores with as little time as possible. He said the very concept of Smart Kitchen was to help women effect a fine balance between work at home and tasks at the workplace.

The Great Indian Kitchen

It’s no surprise that the recent runaway Malayalam flick 'The Great Indian Kitchen' struck a chord with women the country over. “That’s the kitchen in every Indian home”, they chorused. The usual flurry of activity, the daily routine of chopping veggies for a curry or sambar and the insensitive reception to a housewife’s genuine concerns were a reflection of their lives, said a whole lot of women.

The film also faced flak for its visuals of constant dish washing and table wiping. So boring, went the lament. If the visuals are boring, how about the reality of such boring routines, retorted women. Heated arguments took households to the idea of dishwashers!

So it’s back to the same old question: Can kitchen appliances truly be a woman’s extra arm or a robot that could ease her drudgery?

No magic wand, machine or robot will help unless perceptions and attitudes change. What’s to be tossed out along with the garbage are fetishes fed into folks of the way good food and flavors were cooked before modernity swept in.

How can you answer people who insist on the unmatched taste of chammanthi ground on the grinding stone, rice cooked over firewood and curries readied in earthen pots? No mixies, no blenders, no rice cookers and no non-stick pans. Welcome to the Great Indian Kitchen! Hail the government’s “Smart Kitchen”!   

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