Sunday, February 1, 2009

“Where is my Coffee?”

The other morning my husband Mowgli (not his real name) came downstairs, looked at the empty, idle coffee maker, and said, “Where is my coffee?” I was still a bit sleepy, so I just repeated his question back to him with a bit of incredulity added. If I had been more alert I might have said, “Why don’t you ask the maid?” As it was I acted like a parrot and then shuffled off to work.

His question is not without merit. There are many mornings I do make coffee for him, partly because I know he is slow to wake and needs all the help he can get. But I’m also motivated by some kind of primal desire to take care of him, and sometimes I think perhaps I am setting up a bad precedent by doing this or that for him. If I let myself stew in my head about this, I arrive at a picture of him expecting me to bring him coffee on a tray, in silver and china cups, with milk bikkies on the side. He would absolutely love that, but me, not so much.

When we were in India, my Amma (mother-in-law,) was in a semi-constant state of hostessing, offering people (including me) drinks and food at all hours. Because we were there for our own wedding reception, and I was meeting everyone for the first time, and members of my family were there as well, she had hired a cook to help prepare the necessary masses of food. Still, as the mistress of the house, she spent large chunks of time conveying plates to the washing-up sink outside, buying things from the veggie vendors who rolled their massive handcarts down the street, and serving family and guests.

When I say “serving” I mean it very literally. In traditional Indian homes, women serve meals and snacks to men and female guests, hovering nearby and heaping dal and idli, dosas and upma until additional helpings have been refused several times. The woman of the house only eats once everyone else has finished. This was the case not only in Amma’s house, but in ours when she and Naina (my father-in-law) were here after our wedding.

This custom unnerves me. When I’m in a fancy restaurant, or one with a particularly servile server, I feel slightly unworthy of the fawning attention even though I’m paying for it, so when it’s coming from a family member, it’s just plain uncomfortable. Whenever Amma heaps things on my plate, I thank her repeatedly, and she tells me not to say thank you. It’s a sort of Mexican standoff, but it works.

In our house, I am the cook and usually the server, and Mowgli thanks me. We’ve arrived at this system through a series of discussions, one of which was an actual fight early in our relationship over a rather impressive dessert. Maybe I’ll write about that another time.


  1. Loved it. You made my morning! Susan L

  2. Mowgli... hehehe... Best suited name. We were watching "Jungle Book" last night. From now on everytime I watch "Jungle Book" my cuz would come to my mind anytime Mowgli's name is called... BTW I love your blog sista...

    Cuz Tom

  3. Loved it. Looking forward to reading more. How's Mowgli feeling about this? I think if Ahmed (not his real name) started a blog about our marriage I would have to demand editing rights. :0)
    Michelle E


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