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In Defense of Never Learning How to Cook

Credit…Alistair Matthews for The New York Times

I found it while walking through the home-goods section of T.J. Maxx, the American retail equivalent of the Garden of Earthly Delights, at 8:00 on a Tuesday night in 2015. It was two days after Easter, and in this Hieronymus Bosch land of shopping anarchy, the shelves were stocked with pastel-colored objects of uncertain usefulness: sacks of fruit-medley popcorn dyed green and purple; a giant tub of millennial-pink Himalayan crystal salt. Somewhere among these novelties I spotted a carelessly abandoned gadget calling itself the Dash Rapid Egg Cooker. The cashier who rang me up did not share my enthusiasm for the cheery cockiness of its packaging, which proclaimed that it “Perfectly Cooks 6 Eggs at a Time!” Baffled, she asked me a question, the answer to which would have embarrassed anyone but me: “Don’t you know how to boil water?”

No. I didn’t.

And at 22, not only did I not know how to boil water, I didn’t even know how to turn on a stove. Now, these may both seem like gaps in knowledge that could have been easily rectified with a 60-second trip to the kitchen, but you see: I did not have one.

Earlier that day, I had finally moved into my first solo “apartment”: the garden-level basement of a Manhattan brownstone that was rented to me by an absentee owner, which, in lieu of a real kitchen, came outfitted with a minifridge, a hot plate and a microwave. That evening, after a long day of unpacking, I sat down on the building’s stoop, ate my way through a bag of discounted Cadbury Mini Eggs and, after 20 minutes spent wallowing in disbelief at where life had deposited me, broke into a series of earthquake-size sobs. But it wasn’t misery making me dry-heave — it was relief.

In 2013, I fled my old life for New York, the promised land for stunted young adults evading responsibility. I had spent my childhood, teenhood and earliest adulthood consumed with daydreams of an imaginary future in which I lived alone — my only ambition in life. In these painstakingly detailed fantasies, the greatest luxury I could imagine was that my space and my empty hours all belonged to me and me only. In these visions, there was no one snatching “storybooks” (the beloved Indian-parent euphemism even if you read adult fiction) from my hands and barking at me to get up and make tea whenever guests came to visit, or grating at me to bring out hot rotis straight from the stove and put them onto the plates of fathers and uncles. The milieu I was raised in tried to drill into me the idea that keeping a home, and the domestic labor it entails — the cooking, the serving, the dusting, the wiping — were acts of profound nobility. That they were crucial to the formation of the only life I was predestined for, one that came prepackaged with a husband and children, two species, I had been warned, that were equally incapable of feeding themselves, and whose supervision would fall to me.

In rebellion, I refused to learn even a single tenet of good housekeeping. If I remained useless in the kitchen and egregiously incompetent at household chores, then I could at least retain some control over my life — and no amount of yelling, berating or shaming from parents, elders or concerned strangers could sway me from this zealotry.

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