This is a story about a boy who wants to become a chef and the struggle he faces when he refuses to join his father’s business.*
My birth was a reason for a mega celebration. My sister’s wasn’t. It is not that my parents did not love her but they made it clear that they loved me more. My relatives told me that since I was to take the family name and business forward, I was the one to be loved more, ‘naturally’.
I was 13 when I began observing my mother in the kitchen. The colourful vegetables and the lovely aromas of food drew me to the kitchen every now and then. I began spending a lot of time in the kitchen with my mother and sister. When this went on for a longer period of time, my father objected. My mother began telling me to learn something about finance (she was never clear about what exactly) because cooking was a woman’s job, according to her.
No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t focus my mind on finance. When my entry into the kitchen was banned, I bought cookbooks and began keeping them in the middle of my academic books and read them at peace. No one noticed until 3 months had passed. But when they noticed – there started a very customised Mahabharath in my house.
My father’s elder brother intervened. He thought that I was gay since he was sure that I wasn’t a eunuch. I still don’t understand how liking to cook made me gay. But when that possibility was ruled out, they began exercising force on me.
My father ran a family business of printing and packaging. I must say he did pretty well. When I was 18, I was asked to go to the office and sit after my college hours. Since I was asked to ‘sit’, I did just that. I didn’t learn anything, I goofed up in whatever task I was assigned to and I received a beating every now and then.
Almost every night my father got angry on me, called me words I don’t think I can repeat only because I wanted to become a chef. “Are you a woman?” he often used to ask me. He also asked me to be a man! When that did not work he sat down with me and gave me the ‘talk’. He said that a few years down the line when I would have my own family how will I provide for them if all I did was ‘cook’. He went to the extent of telling me that then my wife would be the boss of the house and I would sit and cook at home!
He simply couldn’t understand that being a chef was a dignified job! This went on till I completed my graduation. And then – hell broke loose.
Things became worse. Staying at my house had become impossible. Unable to take the stress of daily fights and arguments, I ran away from home. Yes, I just packed my bag one fine day and ran away. I am glad I did.
There was nothing wrong in joining my father’s business for a person who liked doing that. It was a lucrative, interesting thing. A lucrative, interesting thing that I didn’t want to do.
Today, I am 40. I work as a chef at a five-star in India. I earn enough to provide for my daughter and my wife. It is another thing that my wife choses to work and earns more than me. My family, softened a bit after the birth of my daughter and began talking to me again. But even today, my father thinks I am doing a job meant for women and I am a disgrace to the family being an ‘only son’ (never understood that term – so having two-three sons had less pressure?).
I had to start off small – I started my own ‘thela’ for Chinese Food. Gradually, I applied for a job at smaller restaurants – it took me an experience of 15 years to get this job. I had to make some difficult choices. But what I am glad about is that I chased my dream.
It still brings tears to my eyes that my family doesn’t accept me for what I am. But if I hadn’t run away, I would have suffocated and died while I was still breathing. I am glad I had the courage. I hope you have it too, when your time comes.
*This is a work of fiction based on true events.