The Women 2018-05-16T15:44:51+00:00

Indu Sona Mane has always been smart. From the time she was little, everyone knew – her teachers, her parents, and the people in her village. But her family, who lived in the village of Sangli, in the Konkan region of Maharashtra, India, had different ideas that did not include investing in girls’ education. They expected her, like all girls, to take care of their families, help with the household, and get married as soon as possible. And so, at the age of roughly 11, like so many of the women, Indu dropped out of school. Her teachers were devastated. One even came to Indu’s house to beg her family to let her stay in school. She offered to let Indu live with her in the next village. But that was considered out of the question. Indu still gets angry talking about it, so many years later.

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Sangita Raut, a 39-year-old mother of four from the village of Loni Mavla, Ahmednagar, is not afraid of a little dough, or anything else, really. When it’s time to make chapattis, she takes a big bowl of flour, water, and spices, pulls up her beautiful yellow and orange sari just a bit, then plants herself on the floor cross-legged and starts punching. With fire, energy, and some impressive biceps, she rolls and kneads, using unbridled strength and not even a tiny inclination that she is ready to let up. Even though she only studied in school until grade six – her family couldn’t afford education, especially not for a girl -- nevertheless she lives with fierce intelligence and determination. This is a woman who knows how to get things done.

Read the Full Article

Alka, one of the elder women of the cooperative, is not sure how old she is. She got married at the age of 14, and has four children – two boys and two girls – but cannot even say exactly how old they are. Originally from the villages of Jharegaon and Karmala Takula in Solapur, Alka has been in Mumbai for probably forty years and guesses that she got married somewhere around the age of 12. Her children are now in their twenties and thirties. Alka has reached a stage in life when she is looking for something more. Her children are all working professionals, some are already married, and she is ready for new things to do. She hopes to set up a snack stand at the Gudi Padwa New Year’s festival that Maharashtrian Hindus celebrate every spring.

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Hirabai Umbarkar, a 43-year-old mother of three from her village of Mahabeleshwar in the Western Ghats Range of Satara, Maharasthra, got married at the age of 15 and moved, to Mumbai. There were many things she missed about her village. She misses plucking strawberries while she played with her friends, being close to the land and working the fields with her extended family. Like any 15-year-old girl who suddenly moved from home, she is sad about leaving her friends, although most have left the village, too. Hirabai naturally made new friends in Kalwa. “The women in the collective are dear friends,” she says. She also has three children – two girls and a boy – and her 22 year old daughter works for a hi-tech company in Mumbai.

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Kamal Kadam, a 36-year-old mother of two from the Dheru village in the Satara district, was married at the age of 15. She stayed in school until the eighth grade but left because her father could not afford the education after that. Her family pulled her out of school, and she went to work in the fields with the rest of the clan. Kamal really wanted to take her education further, and when she discovered that the family allowed her younger brother to stay in school, she was upset. “I nudged my mother a lot,” she says. “I asked her why my brother got to stay in school and not me. But it didn’t change anything.” Instead of getting an education, she got married. Today, Kamal has two children, a 20-year-old girl and an 18-year-old boy, who are both studying commerce.

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Mangal Vittal Mane, a 48-year-old mother of two has experienced tragedy. Her husband of nearly thirty years died suddenly three years ago. They got married when Mangal was fifteen years old – she stayed in school through the fifth grade – and moved to Kalwa a few years later, some 28 years ago, one of the earliest arrivals in the group. He was working in a government job, so they had a certain degree of financial stability.Still, Mangal continues to miss her village even though she has been in Kalwa for so many years. Her village of Takali has land and fields, and people come together many times a year to harvest. She, like all the women in the group, takes every opportunity to return home. “Every time you mention villages to the women”, she says, “their faces light up. Everyone misses the villages.”

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Manisha Sable, a mother of a 17-year-old son, is from the town of Satara near the Krishna river in Maharashtra. She and Sangita live next door to each other in Kalwa and are best friends. Manisha stopped going to school at roughly the age of 11 – though like many of the women, Mangal, a 48-year-old mother of two from the Takali village near Pune, Maharashtra, lost her husband of thirty years just three years ago. He died suddenly at the age of 51 from a heart attack, making Mangal the only woman in the collective who is no longer living with her husband. As she tells this story to me and the women of the collective, the women around her sigh. Their sadness, as well as their friendship and care, are palpable.

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Maya Kadu, a 32-year-old mother of two from a village in Pune, is one of the youngest women in the cooperative. She, like her dear friend Alka who is one of the elders, has had very little schooling and sometimes struggles with ages and addition. Her two children are 16 and 12 years old, which suggests that she was married around the age of 15 or earlier, but she does not really know. Maya talks fondly about Pune which is famous for fruits like anjeers and mangoes. They go back once a year for the fruit, but they stay for the family. Pune is a rice-based agriculture – as opposed to the wheat-based systems in the villages of other women in the cooperative – so Maya favors rice dishes, like the vegetable biryani that she contributed to this cookbook.

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Ragini Godbole, a 35-year-old mother of three, demonstrates how women can change their children’s destiny in the span of a generation. Her parents migrated from the village of Ratnagiri, a port city on the Konkan coast known for its fabulous mangoes. Although Ragini did not finish school and instead got married at the age of 17, her three children are taking a strikingly different path. At ages 17, 19, and 22, the oldest child is studying computers, the middle child is a professional photographer, and the youngest is still in school. This is why the women came to Mumbai – to make sure their children receive an education. And the women help each other. “We resolve one another’s troubles”, she says. “We talk to each other and help each other.”

Read the Full Article

Subhadra Khose, a 41-year-old mother of one from the village of Padali Darya, Ahmednagar, considers herself lucky. During her years struggling with infertility, her family was loving and supportive. Infertility is not a topic that is easily discussed, and is usually hidden away in women’s secret whispers Often when a woman does not become pregnant, members of the family or the community may point fingers at the woman and blame her for not doing femininity correctly. That can be really hard on a woman who is struggling with her own feelings around body, motherhood, and marriage and has all of those social norms to contend with as well. But Subhadra’s family was not like that at all. She says that nobody in her family ever blamed her. They gave her only love.

Read the Full Article

Indu Sona Mane has always been smart. From the time she was little, everyone knew – her teachers, her parents, and the people in her village. But her family, who lived in the village of Sangli, in the Konkan region of Maharashtra, India, had different ideas that did not include investing in girls’ education. They expected her, like all girls, to take care of their families, help with the household, and get married as soon as possible. And so, at the age of roughly 11, like so many of the women, Indu dropped out of school. Her teachers were devastated. One even came to Indu’s house to beg her family to let her stay in school. She offered to let Indu live with her in the next village. But that was considered out of the question. Indu still gets angry talking about it, so many years later.

Read the Full Article

Sangita Raut, a 39-year-old mother of four from the village of Loni Mavla, Ahmednagar, is not afraid of a little dough, or anything else, really. When it’s time to make chapattis, she takes a big bowl of flour, water, and spices, pulls up her beautiful yellow and orange sari just a bit, then plants herself on the floor cross-legged and starts punching. With fire, energy, and some impressive biceps, she rolls and kneads, using unbridled strength and not even a tiny inclination that she is ready to let up. Even though she only studied in school until grade six – her family couldn’t afford education, especially not for a girl -- nevertheless she lives with fierce intelligence and determination. This is a woman who knows how to get things done.

Read the Full Article

Alka, one of the elder women of the cooperative, is not sure how old she is. She got married at the age of 14, and has four children – two boys and two girls – but cannot even say exactly how old they are. Originally from the villages of Jharegaon and Karmala Takula in Solapur, Alka has been in Mumbai for probably forty years and guesses that she got married somewhere around the age of 12. Her children are now in their twenties and thirties. Alka has reached a stage in life when she is looking for something more. Her children are all working professionals, some are already married, and she is ready for new things to do. She hopes to set up a snack stand at the Gudi Padwa New Year’s festival that Maharashtrian Hindus celebrate every spring.

Read the Full Article

Hirabai Umbarkar, a 43-year-old mother of three from her village of Mahabeleshwar in the Western Ghats Range of Satara, Maharasthra, got married at the age of 15 and moved, to Mumbai. There were many things she missed about her village. She misses plucking strawberries while she played with her friends, being close to the land and working the fields with her extended family. Like any 15-year-old girl who suddenly moved from home, she is sad about leaving her friends, although most have left the village, too. Hirabai naturally made new friends in Kalwa. “The women in the collective are dear friends,” she says. She also has three children – two girls and a boy – and her 22 year old daughter works for a hi-tech company in Mumbai.

Read the Full Article

Kamal Kadam, a 36-year-old mother of two from the Dheru village in the Satara district, was married at the age of 15. She stayed in school until the eighth grade but left because her father could not afford the education after that. Her family pulled her out of school, and she went to work in the fields with the rest of the clan. Kamal really wanted to take her education further, and when she discovered that the family allowed her younger brother to stay in school, she was upset. “I nudged my mother a lot,” she says. “I asked her why my brother got to stay in school and not me. But it didn’t change anything.” Instead of getting an education, she got married. Today, Kamal has two children, a 20-year-old girl and an 18-year-old boy, who are both studying commerce.

Read the Full Article

Mangal Vittal Mane, a 48-year-old mother of two has experienced tragedy. Her husband of nearly thirty years died suddenly three years ago. They got married when Mangal was fifteen years old – she stayed in school through the fifth grade – and moved to Kalwa a few years later, some 28 years ago, one of the earliest arrivals in the group. He was working in a government job, so they had a certain degree of financial stability.Still, Mangal continues to miss her village even though she has been in Kalwa for so many years. Her village of Takali has land and fields, and people come together many times a year to harvest. She, like all the women in the group, takes every opportunity to return home. “Every time you mention villages to the women”, she says, “their faces light up. Everyone misses the villages.”

Read the Full Article

Manisha Sable, a mother of a 17-year-old son, is from the town of Satara near the Krishna river in Maharashtra. She and Sangita live next door to each other in Kalwa and are best friends. Manisha stopped going to school at roughly the age of 11 – though like many of the women, Mangal, a 48-year-old mother of two from the Takali village near Pune, Maharashtra, lost her husband of thirty years just three years ago. He died suddenly at the age of 51 from a heart attack, making Mangal the only woman in the collective who is no longer living with her husband. As she tells this story to me and the women of the collective, the women around her sigh. Their sadness, as well as their friendship and care, are palpable.

Read the Full Article

Maya Kadu, a 32-year-old mother of two from a village in Pune, is one of the youngest women in the cooperative. She, like her dear friend Alka who is one of the elders, has had very little schooling and sometimes struggles with ages and addition. Her two children are 16 and 12 years old, which suggests that she was married around the age of 15 or earlier, but she does not really know. Maya talks fondly about Pune which is famous for fruits like anjeers and mangoes. They go back once a year for the fruit, but they stay for the family. Pune is a rice-based agriculture – as opposed to the wheat-based systems in the villages of other women in the cooperative – so Maya favors rice dishes, like the vegetable biryani that she contributed to this cookbook.

Read the Full Article

Ragini Godbole, a 35-year-old mother of three, demonstrates how women can change their children’s destiny in the span of a generation. Her parents migrated from the village of Ratnagiri, a port city on the Konkan coast known for its fabulous mangoes. Although Ragini did not finish school and instead got married at the age of 17, her three children are taking a strikingly different path. At ages 17, 19, and 22, the oldest child is studying computers, the middle child is a professional photographer, and the youngest is still in school. This is why the women came to Mumbai – to make sure their children receive an education. And the women help each other. “We resolve one another’s troubles”, she says. “We talk to each other and help each other.”

Read the Full Article

Subhadra Khose, a 41-year-old mother of one from the village of Padali Darya, Ahmednagar, considers herself lucky. During her years struggling with infertility, her family was loving and supportive. Infertility is not a topic that is easily discussed, and is usually hidden away in women’s secret whispers Often when a woman does not become pregnant, members of the family or the community may point fingers at the woman and blame her for not doing femininity correctly. That can be really hard on a woman who is struggling with her own feelings around body, motherhood, and marriage and has all of those social norms to contend with as well. But Subhadra’s family was not like that at all. She says that nobody in her family ever blamed her. They gave her only love.

Read the Full Article

Indu Sona Mane

Indu has always been smart. From the time she was little, everyone knew – her teachers, her parents, and the people in her village. But her family, who lived in the village of Sangli, in the Konkan region of Maharashtra, India, had different ideas that did not include investing in girls’ education. They expected her, like all girls, to take care of their families, help with the household, and get married as soon as possible. And so, at the age of roughly 11, like so many of the women, Indu dropped out of school. Her teachers were devastated. One even came to Indu’s house to beg her family to let her stay in school. She offered to let Indu live with her in the next village. But that was considered out of the question. Indu still gets angry talking about it, so many years later.

Today, Indu, has two children, aged 17 and 19, and she is determined to enable both children, the boy and the girl, to get as much schooling as they want.

Indu, got married at around the age of 17 – relatively late for a girl in her village – in an arranged marriage. Right after her marriage, some twenty years ago, Indu moved to Mumbai. Her husband, whom she had just met, had a job in Mumbai in the food services industry. “I had never been to Mumbai before,” she says, “and I didn’t know what to expect.”

Life in Mumbai is different from life in the village. “In the village, our family would get together regularly and eat,” she recalls with great fondness. “In the city, everyone stays in their own houses and people don’t get together. In the village, we would cook together, and then we would sit together and eat. I miss that experience.”

Indu has many memories of village life, especially visiting neighboring villages for fairs. Even though there are no roads between the villages making the trek challenging, the village fairs were a highlight for her. She especially enjoyed the annual Nag Panchami festival – worshiping the snake god – which takes place every summer. “The men all take a snake and put it around them,” she laughs. “It was a lot of fun.”

She also remembers the food from the festivals, like the puran poli – like sweet chapattis made with gram flour – that everyone looked forward to eating. “It’s a big thing in the village.”

“And when mango season starts, the food becomes very exciting,” she says. “You can eat the pulp with many dishes – puris, chutneys, lassis, and more.”

Indu loves cooking, and she especially enjoys feeding the children. She contributed many recipes to the cookbook, including carrot halwa, bharwa bindi masala, methi poori, puran poli, pav bhaji, mango lassi, and others. Her favorite recipe is biryani.

“Being with the women is exciting,” she says of the Delicio kitchen cooperative. “It is giving us a push. We are proud of that. People are coming to eat our food, to see what we are doing. We can say with pride that our food is good!”

Indu has a dream for a future: She wants to open a food stall in Kalwa in the evenings. But she wants to make sure that all the women are on board first. “Once you join hands with these women, there is no going back,” she says. “There is only moving forward.” But she says she can’t do it alone.

Sangita Raut

Sangita is not afraid of a little dough, or anything else, really. When it’s time to make chapattis, she takes a big bowl of flour, water, and spices, pulls up her beautiful yellow and orange sari just a bit, then plants herself on the floor cross-legged and starts punching. With fire, energy, and some impressive biceps, she rolls and kneads, using unbridled strength and not even a tiny inclination that she is ready to let up. I watch her in awe as she spends half an hour whipping into shape a particularly feisty dough, laughing with her friend, Indu, and not getting even a drop of flour on her sari. This is a woman who knows how to get things done.

Sangita, a 39-year-old mother of four children – three girls and a boy. “Like me,” I tell her, and Sangita gives me a sly, knowing smile. Coming from a large family in the village of Ahmednagar in Maharashtra about 120 kilometers north of Pune, Sangita’s mother taught her how to cook. But when her husband got a secure job in the service industry, they moved to the Kalwa slum. Sangita was 15 years old, and had just gotten married to her husband, whom she met on the day she married him.

Sangita dropped out of school at the age of 12 because her family couldn’t afford her education. She did not know anything about what to expect after she got married even though she had older married sisters – including one who got married and moved to Mumbai a few years before her.

Life in Kalwa is very different from life in the villages, but she admits that it is getting better. Recalling that there was no water and electricity, filth thrown on the streets, and no road to make walking to the nearby train station simple, they had to trudge into the city to get everything they needed, even the most basic supplies. But twenty years later, Sangita describes there being many more resources available in the slum including shops, vendors, and building – so daily life has gotten better. The place has also grown. In 2012, there were 120,000 people living in the Kalwa slum. Today, there are 200,000 – that’s nearly double within five years.

Sangita’s children are all in school with the oldest two in college. They are already more educated than she is, which makes her very happy. She says she would not be opposed to a marriage based on love – as opposed to an arranged marriage – an attitude that reflects some of the many changes that have taken place over one generation. Still, despite the educational opportunities that she has given her children by leaving her village to live in the city, she feels like she would go back to the village if she had the means. Her village is the place she truly loves.

Sangita loves to cook, and has been cooking since she was a girl. At first she would make her mother’s recipes. But since then she has tried many dishes on her own, experimenting and trying to improvise; clearly the recipes have changed and that is something Sangita is proud of.

Sangita, is one of the managers, along with Indu, of the Delicio kitchen Masala Mamas cooperative. She has contributed some of her favorite recipes to the Masala Mamas cookbook: besan dhirde flatcakes, kanda lasun chutney made of garlic and onion, alu wadi rolls, and mattar paneer made of flavorful peas.

Alka Harishchandra Gaikwad

Alka, one of the elder women of the cooperative, is not sure how old she is. She got married at the age of 14, and has four children – two boys and two girls – but cannot even say exactly how old they are. Originally from the villages of Jharegaon and Karmala Takula in Solapur, Alka has been in Mumbai for probably forty years and guesses that she got married somewhere around the age of 12. Her children are now in their twenties and thirties.

Alka’s life is the story of a woman who did not go to school. Yet, in this space of the women’s cooperative, Alka is revered for her life wisdom attained not in a classroom but at home from her mother and the community of women around her. She learned to cook when she was very small just by being around her mother. She was never formally taught, but learned by observation, osmosis and later on experimentation. The women in the cooperative not only look up to Alka and seek her guidance, they also positively adore her.

Alka is originally from the villages of Jharegaon and Karmala Taluka near Solapur. She loves her village and goes back regularly for festivals and occasions like weddings where she gets to celebrate with her extended family. “People are usually very busy working the field,” she explains, “so they relish the opportunity to come together.”

Alka has land in her village where they grow many varieties of fruits like bora berries. Since they did not grow rice in her village, she has fond memories of wheat-based dishes, like the Puran Poli that is a favorite of so many women. The cooperative has become a place where recipes are shared and cultures are exchanged.

Alka has contributed some classic Maharashtrian favorites to the cookbook: Tikki Bhakri, Curd Kadhi, Maswadi, Egg Curry, and Balushahi.

“I love it over here,” Alka shares with me comparing her life now as part of the collective to the years before it began. “I’ve always been alone, at home, and now I have the opportunity to do something – to show what I can do.” She likes coming out to the group and “opening her mind and trying new things.”

Alka has reached a stage in life when she is looking for something more. Her children are all working professionals, some are already married, and she is ready for new things to do. She hopes to set up a snack stand at the Gudi Padwa New Year’s festival that Maharashtrian Hindus celebrate every spring. The work with the cooperative gave Alka the courage and the push to imagine more for herself, and I imagine that Alka’s example will lead other women of the collective to do the same in the coming years.

Hirabai Vilas Umbarkar

When Hirabai was growing up in the village of Mahabaleshwar in the Satara district of Maharashtra, India, there was no school nearby. The children would go to the temple, and the man who was in charge of caring for the temple would sit them down and tell them things, whatever he knew to tell them. He was the closest thing she knew to having a teacher. And this is what they would call school. Around the time she would have been in the third grade, the man stopped doing that, and that was the end of her education.

When Hirabai was 15 years old, she got married and moved to Mumbai. There were many things she missed about her village. She has memories of plucking strawberries while she played with her friends. She misses being close to the land and working the fields with her extended family. Even though it was hot in the fields, she loved the experience of being at work with her whole family.

She also misses her friends. Like any 15-year-old girl who suddenly moved from home, she is sad about losing those important connections. She says that almost all her friends have left the village, and none live close by. Hirabai naturally made new friends in Kalwa. “The women in the collective are dear friends,” she says. “We talk and share recipes. The group is very important to me.”

Today, Hirabai is 43 years old and lives in Kalwa with her husband and their three children. The oldest daughter, 26, is married. The second daughter, 22, works for a hi-tech company in Mumbai. The youngest boy is in college. Over the next few years, after all her children are on their own, she plans to move back to the village. She hopes her son will come too.

Hirabai’s favorite foods are the faral foods that are made for Diwali, although she also makes it during the year, too. Faral is actually is a combination of lots of sweet things. Her recipe for shankarpali is included in this book, along with a whole series of sweets: badam halwa, modaks, basundi, coconut barfi, and apple kheer. She serves the faral for tea-time or for a snack. But there is a special experience of exchanging the sweet snacks along with sweet blessings for one another.

Kalpana Gawde

Kalpana, from the village of Akeyand in the Satara district of Maharashtra, says she is roughly 37 years old, she thinks. Her oldest child is 21 and she was married, maybe, at the age of 19.

Though the math clearly does not add up for the dates of the most significant events in Kalpana’s life, I understand quickly that the women’s ages are not always recorded or remembered as part of their life stories.  But also, Kalpana shares that she also cannot add numbers so that something so basic as narrating her own life story becomes a challenge. Like many village girls in India, Kalpana only stayed in school through first grade and therefore does not know how to read, write, or do basic math. Thankfully today, this has changed in many parts of India.
In the end, Kalpana’s children – all of whom are now receiving excellent educations – help us resolve the dates in her life narrative. With their help, we are now fairly certain that she got married at the age of 15 and is now, indeed, 37 years old.

Kalpana and her husband moved their family to Mumbai ten years ago “for the children’s education…there were no schools in the village.” The contrast between her own story and that of her children is striking, and paints a phenomenal story of mobility, migration, and the power of women to change their children’s lives. She has four children ages 12, 17, 19 and 21. Her son is studying to be an engineer, and all of her children are all in school. She wants all of them, both her sons and daughters, to study well and get good jobs. “Of course, also get married,” she adds quickly. But her biggest dream for them is to have the kind of economic stability that comes from getting a good education leading to professions where they will earn a high salary. Thus far they are all on that track, thanks to the determination and willpower of their mother.

But there are things Kalpana misses about village life – like “being in the sun.” She remembers how her family would be out in the fields all day growing potatoes, rice, strawberries, onions, and more. She misses the fields, the fresh food, and the fresh air.

She also misses her extended family although is fortunate to have a sister living in Mumbai. “When I first came, I missed my family terribly,” she recalls. She was homesick, lonely, and on her own. But since joining the women’s collective, she has made friends and found her place. “We get together, we talk and we cook.”  Clearly, the role of the collective has been transformative to her.

She would like to move to a better place herself, but her dreams have transferred to her children. If her children are able to build better lives for themselves, she will be happy.

Kalpana contributed some delicious recipes to the cookbook: Aloo Paratha, Raw Tomato Chutney, Karwande Lonche  Kala Chana Amti  and Palak Paneer. Everything she knows about cooking, she says, she learned from her mother.

Kamal Shivaji Kadam

Kamal, the 36-year-old mother of two from the Dheru village in the Satara district, was married at the age of 15. She stayed in school until the eighth grade but left because her father could not afford the education after that. Her family pulled her out of school, and she went to work in the fields with the rest of the clan.

Kamal really wanted to take her education further, and had every intention of getting back to studies. When she discovered that the family allowed her younger brother to stay in school, she was upset. “I nudged my mother a lot,” she says. “I asked her why my brother got to stay in school and not me. But it didn’t change anything.” Instead of getting an education, she got married.

Today, Kamal has two children, a 20-year-old girl and an 18-year-old boy, who are both studying commerce.

Kamal misses her village. Even thinking about the village perks her up and brings out the fire in her eyes. “I miss working in the fields, even in the heat,” she says, “because you are with everyone in the family. You have fun and enjoy each other’s company. You go to the shade in the middle of the day and eat and make jokes.”

She also misses the fairs, the friends, and the fresh air.

When Kamal first arrived in Kalwa nearly 20 years ago, there were no roads and it was impossible to get around. Now the road situation has gotten much better, but they still face problems with water and electricity. They only get water a few hours a day, and electricity only a few hours a day. The other main obstacle for her is hygiene and cleanliness. Although this, too, has gotten a bit better over the past twenty years, it is still a challenge.

Kamal learned how to cook right before she got married. Her mother taught her to make puran poli, a favorite dish that is also very tedious. “My mother told me that this is the most important food to learn because if you can master this, then you can master everything!”

Kamal contributed some delicious recipes to the cookbook, including methi samosas, coconut-cauliflower curry, capsicum-potato masala, and palak paratha, as well as the vibrant spice mix kanda lasun chutney and the drink aam panha.

Kamal dreams about returning to the farm in the village. Her husband not only pays the rent in their house in Kalwa but also pays to maintain the farm. Once her son and daughter are married, she hopes to return to the village – with her son’s future family – where they can have a better life.

Mangal Vittal Mane

Mangal, a 48-year-old mother of two from the Takali village near Pune, Maharashtra, lost her husband of thirty years just three years ago. He died suddenly at the age of 51 from a heart attack, making Mangal the only woman in the collective who is no longer living with her husband. As she tells this story to me and the women of the collective, the women around her sigh. Their sadness, as well as their friendship and care, are palpable.

Mangal was married at the age of fifteen, and stayed in school through the fifth grade. She and her late husband moved to Kalwa 28 years ago, one of the earliest arrivals in the group. He was working in a government job, so they had a certain degree of financial stability.

Still, Mangal continues to miss her village even though she has been in Kalwa for so many years. Her village of Takali has land and fields, and people come together many times a year to harvest, even though it is hard and what she refers to as “sweaty work.” She tells me that what she misses about her village is the coming together of her entire family.

She, like all the women in the group, also loves the festivals at her village and she takes every opportunity to return home. “Every time you mention villages to the women”, she says, “their faces light up. Everyone misses the villages.” What is so apparent to me is that though many of the women like Mangal have lived in Mumbai for many years, the villages that they left remain a focal point in their lives.

Working in the women’s cooperative marks the first time in Mangal’s life that she has ever worked out of the home, and Mangal likes that. “I am often alone,” she says, since her husband is gone and her children are grown. Her 27-year-old son works in the railway and her 23-year-old is a pharmacist. “Getting together with the women is very nice for me. Plus, I earn some money. Mostly, I love being with the women.”

Ultimately, Mangal dreams of her children getting married and finding homes of their own. Once the children are settled, she plans to return to her village. “I came here for my children,” she says, “to help them build a life for themselves. Once that is done, I can go back home.” Having thought very carefully about this, she tells me that she plans to go back to her village and work in the fields herself rather than hiring others. She no longer wants to be dependent on anyone to help her. It is clear that the women’s collective has facilitated her independence even in the midst of her tragedy. She is going to do it on her own.

Mangal contributed paneer masala, paneer parathi, savory appe, and safarchand barfi to this cookbook, which are some of her favorite dishes.

Manisha Sable

Manisha is from a town called Satara near the Krishna river in Maharashtra. Sangita and Manisha are best friends. They live next door to each other in Mumbai and their husbands work together in the same hotel. But Manisha and Sangita did not know each other before they moved to Mumbai. They became friends in Kalwa.

Manisha is unusual in that she has only one child, a son who is 17. She and her husband made the decision to have only one child in order to be able to provide for him economically in a substantial way. Manisha wears simple saris for work but has special golden embroidered saris for weddings and festivals.

Manisha shared that she stopped going to school when she got her period and that this is still upsetting to her.

Arriving in Mumbai ten years ago, Manisha and her husband moved because there were no schools where she grew up. Manisha is proud that her son is attending college.

In reflecting on the changes over the past ten years since moving to Mumbai, she explains that her husband now works in a jewelry factory. In addition to working in the collective, Manisha is one of the few women in the cooperative who holds another job as a cook for wealthy Mumbai families. Manisha learned how to cook from her grandmother because her mother was out working in the fields with Manisha’s father. She fondly recalls that her grandmother taught her special techniques for stuffing puran poli and making sweet flatbreads, recipes that Manisha contributed to this cookbook.

The work in the collective is very important to Manisha. “Looking at the children and giving them food is very nice,” she says. “It feels so good to give them food that we made. Seeing the smiles on their faces makes it all worth it.”

She loves the village the most, because even after you sweat it out in the fields, it is still cooler there. It is healthier in the village.

“Being with the women, you get to know them and get to know other things, too,” she says. “You learn new foods and new techniques.” She is very happy being with them and cooking with them. She has new opportunities to learn from the women and be with them.

Maya Kadu

Maya, 32, is one of the youngest women in the cooperative. She, like her dear friend Alka who is one of the elders, has had very little schooling and sometimes struggles with ages and addition. Her two children are 16 and 12 years old, which suggests that she was married around the age of 15 or earlier. She and her husband left their village near Pune right after they got married because her husband got a job in Mumbai.

Maya talks fondly about Pune which is famous for fruits like anjeers and mangoes. Every year around mango season, typically in April or May, Maya goes back to Pune. They go for the fruit, but they stay for the family. “We are both from Pune,” she says referring to her husband, “so we have double the family celebrations every time we go back.”

Even though she misses her village and finds Mumbai to be very hot, the women’s cooperative has brought Maya a lot of satisfaction in her life. “I love being with the women,” she says “and coming together.” Maya tells me that she especially likes being with elder women, like Alka, with whom she has a very close relationship.

Maya, like all the women, reminisces about the food in her village and about the experiences of cooking together. Pune is a rice-based agriculture – as opposed to the wheat-based systems in the villages of other women in the cooperative – so Maya favors rice dishes, like the vegetable biryani that she contributed to this cookbook. She also shared the recipes for ghavan, coconut chutney, muramba kairicha, potato bhaji and dudhi halwa, and tells me how much she enjoys vegetarian cooking.

Ragini Godbole

Ragini is unique among the women of the Kalwa collective because she is the only one who was born in Mumbai. Unlike the other women, her parents were the ones who migrated from the village of Ratnagiri, a port city on the Konkan coast, known for its fabulous mangoes.

Ragini, 35, got married at the age of 17 to a carpenter and they have three children ages 17, 19, and 22. The oldest is studying computers, the middle child is a professional photographer, and the youngest is still in school.

Once a year, Ragini travels to Ratnagiri, which she really enjoys because she misses her family dearly and loves eating the local fruits. As she and I sit on the floor with the other women of the collective, Ragini explains that she learned how to cook from her mother-in-law. All of the women laugh in surprise because her own parents never allowed her to work and treated her like a princess; she never even knew how to make tea.

Since then, Ragini has become an expert cook. Before joining the Masala Mamas, she worked as a cook in other settings. But Ragini especially loves working with the women of the collective. “Most of the women are from different villages and I enjoy hearing their stories and learning about where they came from.”

Ragini also talks about how the women support one another. “We resolve one another’s troubles”, she says. “We talk to each other and help each other.”

Ragini contributed many recipes to this cookbook – especially the mango-based drinks such as mango lassi and jal jeera. She was also one of the few women to contribute fish or lamb recipes. We converted Ragini’s non-veg recipes to veg, using ingredients such as soy, seitan, and tofu.

Ragini is a much beloved member of the Masala Mamas group. Her easy smile, quick humor, and bright eyes always liven up the group and bring people together in laughter.

Subhadra Khose

Subhadra, 41, has one 16-year-old son. This was not her original plan, and in fact having only one child is unusual for the women. For the first few years of her marriage, she did not conceive, and only after visiting a doctor did she become pregnant. This is not a topic that is easily discussed, and is often hidden away in women’s secret whispers.

Subhadra considers herself lucky, though. She says that usually when women do not become pregnant, members of the family or the community can be mean. They may point fingers at the woman and blame her for not doing femininity correctly. That can be really hard on a woman who is struggling with her own feelings around body, motherhood, and marriage and has all of those social norms to contend with as well. But Subhadra’s family was not like that at all. She says that nobody in her family – on either side – blamed her.

Subhadra describes her family as particularly kind. For example, girls are expected to learn how to cook from an early age from their mothers. But Subhadra’s mother did not pressure her. “My mother told me that if I don’t know how to cook, I shouldn’t worry because my future mother-in-law will teach me.” Still, she ended up learning how to cook from her mother from the age of ten. She has memories of her mother teaching her how to make vegetables and other dishes.

Subhadra also has village memories of sitting with 25-30 members of her family to eat. She misses that more than anything.

She also misses wedding season. Every year, during April and May – the Maharashtrian summer – is when the weddings take place. People return to their villages during that time and it is a huge celebration.

When Subhadra was a child, a wedding would last eight days. It includes a halad, in which the women bathe the bride in turmeric paste all over her body. This is followed by a series of puja ceremonies – one for the house, one for the wedding, and more. Then there is the wedding ceremony itself.

And of course, there is the food. Special wedding delicacies include sweets like gulab jamun and jalebi, as well as an array of main dishes – pulaws, biryanis, and curries – and naturally a range of chapatis and puris.
“But the best part of this is the whole family coming together,” she says wistfully.

These days, some of this tradition is eroding. The weddings are no longer eight days long but more like three days. Still, even if it’s only three days of the family getting together, it is what she looks forward to all year long.

Subhadra contributed the delicious medu vada, shepu bhaji, and idlis to this cookbook.

Subhadra dreams about returning to her village. Her plan is that when her son gets married, they will all return to the village and enjoy their farm.

The Staff

GPM Educational Program Director Hayley Dsouza, a very beloved staff member who, among other things, coordinates the GPM school programs in Kalwa, has been working with GPM for nearly five years. She loves the children, and is motivated by the ability to make a difference in their lives. “I don’t consider this a job anymore,” she says. “It is something I love to do. Seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces brings me lots of joy.” Hayley was invaluable to the Masala Mamas cookbook project working as unofficial translator and cultural interpreter for the women. Her coordination has been key in enabling us to turn the women’s knowledge of food and culture into recipes that the world can learn about and appreciate. Hayley’s love for the people she works with comes through in everything she does.

Elana Maryles Sztokman, PhD, is an award-winning author and anthropologist specializing in the lives and cultures of women in traditional societies. Her first two books won the National Jewish Book Council Awards. She writes and speaks all around the world on issues of gender and society, and has been involved in many different women’s organizations in New York, Israel and Australia. This is her fourth book, and the first one that focuses on food, and also the first that focuses on Indian women. She is married to Jacob Sztokman, founding director of Gabriel Project Mumbai. They have four children and live in Modi’in, Israel.

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