The Vessel, the Wife and the Wagon

By: Mohini Mehta  

This paper explores the question of sustenance tackled by the Punjabi migrant women as part of the rehabilitation in Delhi after the Partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947, which led to creation of India and Pakistan as separate nations, along with the large-scale displacement, violence, and uprootment. Through the lens of food, it looks into the assertion and reclamation of agency by the women from the very kitchens where the gendered division of labour often relegates them to. This gauges the process of changing gender dynamics within families, along with a change in the perceived notions of femininity and womanliness of the displaced women. The argument is twofold—contextualizing the creation of a new cuisine which neither was the part of the displaced community nor was consumed by the previous inhabitants of Delhi, but later went on to become synonymous to the quintessential "Punjabi" food, and; exploring the simultaneous evolution of food and identity of the migrant women as a character. The debate on the authenticity of the cuisine is questioned and challenged by employing the socio-cultural dynamics of nostalgia, and the economic implications of recreation and innovation. These arguments address the question of reading through the gendered culinary subaltern history of Partition around which there has been a looming silence. Woven strongly around oral narratives, the paper aims to look into the voices of the subaltern—the women—reflected in the recipes they had written, narrated or prepared in a bid to preserve, and adapt to the changing idea of "home."

Agency, Subaltern, Cuisines, Oral Narratives, Gender
Food, Politics, and Cultures
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Mohini Mehta