Cultural differences

Owl vs Lark

12:17 PM

India is a country of Larks, aka people who wake up very early in the morning. And Judging by all the pressure cookers and kling klangs going on in my neighbour's kitchens, this syndrome is affecting women more than it affects men. 

A good Indian housewife must be awake before everybody else in the house. By 6am the kitchen generally bust with activity between the mixer-grinder, the perssure cooker, and the pots and pan piling up in the sink ready for the maid to wash. While everybody else is in the process of waking up from a good night of sleep, the housewife is jugling several tasks at once : cooking breakfast, cooking lunch, oiling hair, giving instruction to the maid, storing food, making sure her troops (the familly) is having their tea ready, answering questions from all sides "Where is my..." "Maaaa the water has run out" zipping all through the house spotting clutter and tasks to be taken care off preferably before 10am and keep a sharp ear to spot the voice of her favourite vegetable street vendor patroling the streets among the concerto of outdoor screams and shouts (from the paper guy to the sabjiwallah, passing by the coconut seller and the fruit vendor).

All this happen at a time when I, the ultimate Owl, try to get my act together to send my own DH to work with a full belly and a warm packed lunch in his hand.
When I wake up at 8, struggling to keep my eye open and remembering how to operate my gas stove to make a cup of tea, I know my neighbours have by then a plate of steaming idlies, pipping hot sambar and rassam in their pans. And probably a few vegetables curries in cooking process and are making their chapati and puri to start paking tiffins for the working troops.
Once my cup of tea gulped down, I can focus on making breakfast : Fresh sliced fruit, oat porridge, fried eggs and juice while dumping the leftovers from the night before in the microwave and cook fresh rice or chapati to pack the lunchbox. Added bonus if I manage to de-clutter around while waiting for my maid to come do my dishes. After a few weeks, the routine became automatic, so I can do that more or less in auto pilot mode. And by 10 am when DH is heading off to office I generally start checking my email letting my system fully awaken. By then my neighbours are busy sorting out laundry and giving more orders to their maids while keeping themselves busy with some small kitchen work.

The situation is not different with my in-laws. MIL is awake at 5.30 or 6am, makes a whole thermos of tea so that her troops can help themselves when they get out of bed. Then she opens the gate for her maid at 6am, and by 7 she has breakfast cooking, lunch in preping stage (veggie cutting and peeling), and by 8 she can have a shower and then do her puja. By 9.30 everybody is seated down for breakfast while the lunch is cooking. By 11 everything is stored in pans or airtight boxes on the counter and the whole cooking for the day is over and done with. My MIL then can head back to her room and nap until 2pm when it is lunch time. Then it's time to rest some more while waiting for the maid to come back to make tea and wash the dishes from lunch. By then it's 6pm everybody awakes or come back from work and slurp chai (Indian tea) and munch on "Namkeens". Then roam around watching TV or reading books until 9-10 pm which is dinner time and is generally a bunch of leftover from lunch. By midnight people are going to bed again to repeat the routine the next day.
The men in the familly can get away with sleeping late, the daughters in law just can't do that, our duty is to be in the kitchen at a reasonable hour (no later than 8) and watch the maid do her work while gulping chai and do a little veggie cutting on our own (in my case it's more like trying not to snip a finger away).

I have nothing wrong against working early and be done with household chores if it was to do something constructive the rest of the day. But for most indian women, it's a franctic mad rush in the morning (and I suspect half of them are going against their own body clock) so that by noon they can dose off watching serials on TV the whole day.
And I suspect it's society that wants early risers and established that the "Early bird gets the worm" as a standard few will dare disobey that thinking that a day can't be productive if you didn't wake up with the sun. Cicadian cycles are starting to be known about, but I wonder how many will actually defy a social norm to be more in tune with their own body.

To all "false larks" out there, just read how my Indian housewife day goes and take some inspiration, you will see I achieve just the same as you would waking up at 5, without the help of a servant and without compromising my sanity, health or free time :

8am Rise and Shine time!
Tea making and reading newspaper
8.30 cook rice or make chapati
9.00 Breakfast making while reheating leftovers, the maid arrives, mop floor and washes the dishes
9.30 lunch is packed and breakfast is gulped down.
9.45 -10 DH leaves for office
10.00 water plants, and de-clutter while the dog calms down
11.00 shower time and then computer related work or reading.
12.30 time to fix my own lunch and eat it,
13.30 I'm done with lunch, and watch a little TV or read, or work, depends the days.
14.00 Nap time
15.00 or 15.30 Dog walking
16.00 Afternoon tea and reading or handicraft project
19.00 evening tea and watching Friends on TV
19.30 Dinner making
20.00 I'm done for the day, I spend time with DH and eat Dinner no later than 8pm

On a laundry day, I will run the washing machine while working on the computer and hang them in the afternoon. On a translation work day I spend less time reading and watching TV so that at least 3 hours of my day is spent on the translation assignment, often I will wait the evening to do it though because I perform better then. Grocery shopping is done once a week, as I know vegetables can last a couple of days in the fridge and if in need of something urgently the general store down the street remain open until 10pm. Contrary to a popular indian belief left overs are still healthy to eat after one day if stored in a airtight container placed in the fridge, no need to cook 3 square meal from scratch a day, and certainly no need to achieve a day worth of work in 3 hours to prove you are a good housewife.The worth of a husewife should never be measured in how much work she can squeeze in between 6am and 10am.

My house is clean, my cooking good, and I'm healthy looking without beating the rooster in the waking up race...Time to acknoledge that owls do as good as larks at catching the worm people! Well actually owls do not care about worms, they go for bigger preys...HA!


  1. Anonymous10:08 AM

    Well, at least part of the reason why my mom and my friends' moms would try to get all their cooking done so early was because of the intense heat later on in the day. They just did not want to be dealing with thatespecially in the ferociously hot north of India, so it was better for them to finish the cooking part (as you know, Indian meals are a multi-course affair) as early as possible. That was usually the main reason. Now you, being in Bangalore, perhaps the heat is not so bad so you can be more relaxed about your cooking and when you do it. But I agree with you, that if only Indians would stop wanting all three meals to be hot, then the ladies of the house could all relax a little.

  2. 3 hot meals when it's 45 degrees celsius outside is quite horrible I agree.
    Plus a big salad is soo healthy and yummy and easy to fix. I bypass the hot breakfast and do fresh sliced fruits, and cereals most of the time, in winter I cook eggs but that's fast. When I tell my neighbours that my lunch was one big salad and a sandwich they think I'm nut.
    There is also the notion that food should be freshly cooked of the day or thrown away which means my MIL will not cook big quantities and think of microwaving it the next day to save herself some time.

  3. That anonymous comment was me. I'm a bit lazy about logging in, etc. But yes, there is this whole culture of eating only fresh-cooked food in India. I think that too comes from it being such a hot country and food getting spoiled easily. Even now when people have fridges and microwaves, the old mentality persists. Perhaps our generation will not mind so much about eating leftover food. Mind you, when I go back to India for vacations, I *never* discourage my mother from cooking fresh food, LOL, because I get enough of eating leftover reheated food here in my adopted country. By the way, I am so sorry to hear about your problems with your racist, badtempered, abusive neighbor. Hope the situation gets resolved. He sounds awful!

  4. No Issue Fairfield :-) I don't mind anonymous people LOL

    I'm not a fan of leftovers, but 24h or 2 days is still fine with me, my mother in law think that even rice that is more than a couple of hours old is spoiled which I think is insane, because when I have lots of people around I load the pressure cooker in the morning, cook it, and pack DH's lunch then put what's left in a huge plastic container that I put at the bottom of the fridge and by dinner it's generally all gone.
    My neighbours seem to leave me alone those days, but I'm still disgusted at his attitude, especially when just a few days ago another person's dog went peeing on the sand pile in front of his house!

  5. Wow, throwing away 2 hour old rice! That's extreme! By the way, as a westerner in India, do you manage to cook any western food at all? My mother would make Anglo-Indian food as she calls it once in a while but the lack of an oven got in the way of making anything too complicated. So usually, she made a chicken pot roast with potatoes, onions and garlic with some Worcestershire sauce thrown in. It came out pretty well in the pressure cooker. I've never been able to replicate it here. Oh well.

  6. Cooking western food is THOUGH and shortcuts are impossible so I don't cook it often. Plus some of the ingredients are way overpriced :-(

  7. I found this other Bangalore blog on the internet. Thought it might interest you as the entry does talk about where to get (some, not all) ingredients for western cooking. But, as you live in Bangalore, you will know better than me whether the markets mentioned here are overpriced or not (I was last in Bangalore when I was two years old!).

    It's funny, I found you through ivillage but I now communicate with you primarily through your blog.

  8. Thanks for the link!

    I know quite a lot of the markets she bought her stuff from, :-) Some are a bit pricey but Yup the Nilgiri on Brigade road is a treasur chest, it's there that I found my cookie cutters last Year after being resigned to the idea od not making fancy Christmas cookies!
    Bangalore must have changed an AWWFUL lot since you've last been there

  9. It was nice reading how you manage without throwing urself out of bed at sunrise every morning. I am an Indian, 32 year old woman working in Munich, and have had problems getting myself out of bed before 8-8.30 a.m. for most of my life. Except for a few bouts of 'I want to do nothing' I manage a clean house, simple but I'd call healthy meals for me and my hubby (mostly pastas,pot roasts, big salads with rice beans etc., and curry about twice a weak). Breakfast is always cereals, bread, eggs, porridge, fresh fruits etc. There was a time(when I was into ayurvedic way of living) when I was racing against time preparing hot fresh meals every time, hardly ever eating out, never using the microwave etc. And of course that struggle to wake up early !! But instead to feeling fresh and happy, I was exactly the opposite. So now, I just let myself be. I don't beat myself up, my hubby couldn't care less whether he is eating left overs or a fresh meal, as long as he doesn't have to cook it, bless him :). So finally I feel realaxed. The so called healthy way of life may not necessarily be healthy !! I get out of bed no earlier than 7.30 a.m. on a working day, aah, bliss :-) and sleep as long as I want on weekends without a trace of guilt. After all this life is to enjoy 'the way you see fit'. And just to confirm, I'm physically fit, look pretty good ;-), and feel good most of the time.


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