Coming into their own

Homemaker's Recipe

There is peace here,” says Ishrat Parveen, a former nurse who now has taken the role of a professional cook at Dastarkhan, the newly built canteen in the premises of Jamia Milia Islamia University. The menu is brief and does not promise a delicious treat.

 But there is more to this building, whose tender was recently won by a self-help group which works with women residing in the Muslim dominated Jamia Nagar area. “It doesn’t even feel like I am employed here. All of us are like sisters. We come in the morning, cook, share a few laughs and relax during the small breaks we get,” said Parveen who is in her 60s. 

Parveen told Metrolife that after her retirement, she would take care of her household and hoped to be left with ample time for herself. Soon, she realised that relaxation too is a privilege enjoyed by few. “I had become a homemaker and soon I realised that I would have to take up a job. That was something I wasn’t prepared for. But I had never imagined that this opportunity would come my way,” Parveen added. 
The canteen constitutes women who were either housewives or had left their previous jobs due to various reasons, one being self-esteem. Take for instance Shahana Khatoon, who had worked as a domestic help in the Jamia Nagar area most of her life. “The privileged can never imagine how it feels like to clean a home which is not theirs. It’s not always a good feeling. Cooking here is like rebirth for me,” Khatoon said. Meanwhile, her friend who has been a homemaker since her marriage in the same area takes pride in the fact that her chicken korma is getting famous in the campus. “We all cook together and it’s such a delight to see children taking two, sometimes three servings,” Khatoon added.
But it’s not all smiles at the counter of the same canteen which deals directly with the customers. “Some have been kind to us, maybe because they know the struggle and the efforts by the women who cook here,” said Parveen Jahan a student of the university. Jahan, along with Haseena Khan, another student, volunteer at the Dastarkhan. Both are responsible for taking orders and bringing out the food from the kitchen to the counter from where students help themselves. 

“We opened on the 16th of this month but haven’t got enough of a response. The women are not trained cooks, and it may take a little more time for them to mould into the role of a chef,” Jahan added with a smile. She also mentioned that some in the campus have, in fact, busied themselves with giving a hard time to the canteen staff. “The other day someone threw tea right in front of us stating that it wasn’t good. Who does that,” Khan remarked during the conversation. 
“I am not sure why, but maybe it’s because some just can’t see women empowered,” Jahan said trying to make sense of the ‘bad attitude’. She also expressed her fears about the funding problems that the canteen might have to encounter in the near future. The women inside the kitchen; however seemed to live in the moment. “We will soon introduce our special biryani,” came a voice from the kitchen soon after Parveen finished talking about the funding issue.

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