Why do Indian women eat last
The story was that the five warrior heroes of the epic were doomed to wander in the forest. Their wife was the princess Draupadi. She fretted that there would not be sufficient food to feed her family and any visitors. Their humble dwelling had no mod cons.
The gods, pleased with her devotion, gifted her a vessel that would never run out of food. The caveat was that the vessel would remain full only as long as she served other people. As soon as she ate herself, the vessel would become empty until the next day. This meant that she would have to feed an entire family and any visitors and be the last person to eat every day.
On the surface this is a beautiful story and shows the way for every good woman to take care of her family and guests before looking after herself. She is the veritable queen of the home, in charge of the entire household’s nutritional requirements! However, the reality in many Indian homes is somewhat different.
Traditionally in India, the lady of the house does all the cooking but only gets to eat last. Unlike Draupadi the typical Indian bride does not pack an Akshay Patra in her trousseau. A new bride is expected to do all the cooking, unhelpfully aided by more experienced older women in the household. When she has finished the cooking, she must then proceed to feed all the others in the house. She cannot even think of eating herself.
A popular image in Indian movies depicts a fond and sensitive husband (usually a rare commodity) deliberately leaving left-overs on his plate, so that, while clearing up, his hungry wife can later consume a few morsels. Any woman who dares to eat before the men and senior ladies is quickly branded as a trouble maker and not an ideal wife.
For a large part of her life, she does most of the cooking, but remains hungry and underfed. This the cultural norm and has the backing of eons of tradition. Hungry, malnourished women all over India must be fondly wishing that they had access to that legendary vessel of plenty.