Dough your worst, we'll survive
My first time making ravioli was as much a labour of love as it was an attempt at purging the rage I felt from the #MeToo horror stories
I'll never forget watching Crazy Rich Asians because during the interval my sister had to chide me. The whole point of picking a somewhat mindless film was to indulge in some good old-fashioned escapism. I was in Mumbai. I thought I'd take my mum, sister and brother-in-law out for a movie. But I found it impossible to disengage from all that was unfolding on the M J Akbar front. My sister had to sternly tell me to put my phone away and take a break!
The last week had been even more intense than the previous. I returned from Italy and landed deep in the midst of the #metoo movement. Where before I had the luxury of negotiating how much time I would spend on activism, returning to India meant that I had to plunge into things headlong. That, like so many women who have been dealing with emotional triggers and mental exhaustion, I, too, am functional, able to commit to writing deadlines, interview people for assignments, and even form logical, coherent, sometimes beatific sentences is nothing short of a miracle. There is only one explanation for it. Other women are holding me up, refusing to let me sink into despair. It is on the level of militancy, how we are all communicating with each other, speaking truths about our lives to women with whom the only thing we have in common is a mutual aggressor/oppressor/assaulter. The sheer scale of the violations that have been committed against so many of us that had gone unspoken for decades, that had to be carefully repressed, is overwhelming. We are helping each other to heal, across caste lines, across class hierarchies, across political ideologies. It is the sisterhood at work.
The most significant lesson I have learned in the last few weeks is that in order to take care of each other, we need to take care of ourselves first. It's a loop, because to take care of ourselves first implies submitting to a network of interdependencies; which, I have begun to insist is at the very heart of autonomous living. For me, it is my mother, who has always been the epitome of caregiving. She has such marvellous intuition; she can anticipate your need before it even arises in your body. Just two days with her made me feel like a stronger person, like someone capable of now nurturing other people.
It amazes me ceaselessly how so many women find their unique ways of nurturing, often without letting on that it is a conscious activity. Last week, after I broke down, I gathered all the fragments of my hope and despair and fit them into clothes so they could be reconstituted for the sake of travel. I took three buses, then hiked through a sloping path that led through the woods, then an apple orchard, finally a concrete path until I reached Vangen, in Ritten, a village in Sudtirol, Italy. I was going to meet my friend Maggie, an amazing cook who runs a bed and breakfast, Hotel Amazonas, out of her farmhouse up in the mountains. It was the best distraction from the exhaustion of hearing all the violating, dehumanising accounts of abuse that women across industries had suffered because of male
When I finally arrived at Maggie's place, some three hours after I'd left Eppan, I found her in the kitchen making a Sudtirolean version of Ravioli. Except her pasta machine wasn't working, so she had to manually roll out the dough so she could make little pockets with the spinach, onion and Parmesan filling. I asked her if I could help. She gladly handed me the rolling pin. I began to thin out the sheet she'd already flattened out. Then, when I felt confident enough, I attempted a fresh ball of dough. I was being gentle, delicate… the way one is while making rotis. Maggie politely asked if she could show me her technique instead. I was happy to learn, I handed her the pin. She held it between her palms and attacked the dough with it so that more of its surface could be coerced into a state of being flattened out.
"Ahh!" I said, totally excited by the prospect of having found a way to channel all the rage that I had been holding within every cell of my being. Everything that I had repressed and internalised, all the shame and humiliation, the guilt of complicity, the fear of ridicule, internalised self doubt, the bottomless pit of inferiority complexes, all of it began to manifest in each violent swoop of the pin against the dough until it was desirously thin, and could contain the filling.
For a debutant, I made very impressive looking ravioli that evening which Maggie then cooked in boiling water until it floated to the surface. She scooped them out in individual plates, topping it off with lightly burnt butter and Parmesan gratings while Simone, her partner, stood beside her roasting chestnuts. It was not just an exquisite, laborious meal, it also assumed for me the stature of a parable, which I hand over to you to decipher.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to email@example.com
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Pig brain, rat meat and frog legs are delicacies in these Indian states!