I never wanted to cook. When I did, I would always burn something or hurt myself. Several accidents later, I decided that I simply wasn’t going to cook – my way of helping in the kitchen was washing dishes and cleaning up. I was fortunate to have roommates from grad school to law school who were happy to cook. Amy, my law school roommate, even learned how to make Indian food. My ex-husband Daniel did all the cooking through our 20-year marriage. It was almost a feminist badge of honor – that I didn’t have to be in the kitchen where all the women hung out.
And then two years ago, I remembered a long buried childhood memory that helped me to understand why I had so many accidents in the kitchen. When I was seven, my grandmother’s cook, Bahadur, started to sexually touch me. My grandmother lived in the top floor of our family building, and Bahadur would take me to the staircase leading up to the roof. Those moments became our secret. My seven-year-old mind did not know how to process anything. I had no words to explain the shame and naughty secret of what was happening. He often smelled of onions or different kinds of oil and masalas; as a result, I began to avoid going into the kitchen.
That experience had all kinds of repercussions on my life – that I could not cook was only one. The memory of those staircase moments with Bahadur emerged during a healing circle where dear friends held me as I sobbed.
I share this story because the work we do is to discover the effect of gender on our lives. These individual stories and experiences live on in the forms of trauma. They live on through cultural norms and values based on fear and scarcity that dictate what boys and girls should do and how men and women should live. They become processes, structures and systems that lead to multiple forms of violence and abuse and inequity. Enough is enough. It’s time for culture change.
When we share our stories, we generate new possibilities. When we share our stories, we heal, connect at an emotional level, and find shared meaning. When we become storytellers, we begin to create new stories – ones that give birth to new norms and new ways of being. Stories can transform culture so that we shift narratives, and change behaviours, practices and structures.
A few days after the memory of my sexual abuse returned and I connected the dots to my kitchen accidents, I received an enormous kitchen knife from a friend in my healing circle. It took a little time to shift the muscles in my body to get comfortable while I chopped and stirred. And I still burnt a few things. But now I can have three things on the stove while I sip from a glass of wine and chat on the phone.
You all know me as a warrior and a strong advocate for human rights. And now you have also met the molested little girl who healed that wound – and you’ve met a woman who can make a mean dal.
I invite you to open your hearts and to share your own stories with one another. As we heal and create new meaning, we will be the generation that dreams a new world into being. One that is built on respect, love, and compassion for all humans and for all the incredible beings with whom we share this beautiful earth.
Every day, I close my zazen meditation with this mantra:
Lokesh Samastah Sukhino Bhanvantu
May all beings everywhere be happy and free. May all my thoughts words actions contribute in some way to the happiness and freedom of all beings.