In a curated pop-up kitchen staged across four months at the Colour Box, eight Dharavi women presented live cooking demonstrations with mentor-curator Prajna Desai. Amidst laughter, conversations, and the aroma of mouthwatering dishes, Dharavi Food Project 2014 was designed to engage vocational cooks in a self-reflexive endeavour showcasing the artful dimensions of domestic labour.

In one session, guest consultant Veena Yardi, a nutrition expert, shared her insights on food choices. The session was a collective venture to encourage participants to introspect on their food experiences. Questions revealed the underlying decisions that motivate home cooking as well as the guiding principles of cooking with nutrition in mind. Seasons, festivals, cultural mores, and religious fasting are all driving forces.

With recipes as varied as the ways of draping a sari, the cooks whipped up a combination of little-known rural dishes drawn from regional cuisines, as well as more common household preparations. The ingredients and utensils were sourced in Dharavi and replicated the ones used in the collaborators’ daily lives. Bharti and Jigna Majewadia, whose families are originally from Kutch, caught the others’ interest with rustic foods that required the use of clay and preserved ancestral traditions of therapeutic cooking tailored to the well-being of new mothers and young children. On a different occasion, Rajni Bodse, a 54-year-old Anganwadi worker, justified the nutritional focus of her culinary style with this affirmation: “I don’t like having instant noodles. Having learnt how to make rice noodles here, I treated my parents to them.” 32-year-old Kavita Vishwakarma, who lives in Rajendra Prasad chawl, was fascinated by the use of earthenware and expressed her amazement at the prevalence of coconut in Maharashtrian cooking. Keeping the theme of recycling alive, the cooks shared some secrets on preventing waste by reusing leftovers to prepare new dishes.

While cooking is important for health, good cooking recognizes the relationship between health and pleasure. The concluding sessions of the Artbox were designed to explore precisely this nexus. Counselling Head at SNEHA, Gauri Ambavkar, along with mentor-curator Prajna Desai, opened a discussion about the relationship between food and sexual health. One participant who teaches family planning aired her views about how garlic, sesame, and garam masala impact sexual health. Notwithstanding some coyness about sex, bewilderment at the idea that women don’t always need men for pleasure, and vast cultural differences within the group, the participants of Dharavi Food Project 2014 gave each other something well beyond cooking to think about.

Voices from the street

Mentor Curator 

Prajna Desai

Participant Cooks

Bharti Majewadia, Jigna Majewadia, Kavita Kawalkar, Kavita Vishwakarma, Rajni Bodse, Rizwana Qureshi, Sarita Rai, Usha Singh

Health Expert

Prof Veena Yardi, College of Home Science, Nirmala Niketan Institute

Gauri Ambavkar, Counsellor, Prevention of Violence against Women and Children, SNEHA