You know what you think is just an obsession is actually a legitimate fetish (if there ever was one!) when your friends and family begin to contribute to it. It used to be elephants and my hAAthi-obsession, not so long ago. I
must have been am the easiest person to buy gifts for. It just needed needs to be something mildly-hAAthi-esque and it would have me has me beaming, in raptures. In the recent past though, things have changed mildly. Last year I was loaded with things in various forms of my beloved pachyderm. But this year, the birthday gift list included: a Microplane zester, an apple cutter and pineapple slicer, IKEA trivets, The Bread Bible, The Recipe Project and The F-Word. A definite has occurred. The husband who is sick of the multiple elephants in all shapes, sizes and forms that deck the corners of our home, is pleased. But before you jumo to any conclusions, I have to say that I also received silver hAAthi toe-rings and a kurta with the most adorable hAAthi print. That evens it out no?
The sister has always been big on gifts. Meticulous, thoughtful and precise she has never failed to pick the right gifts for me. Ever since she was like 5 or 6! I on the other hand am an abomination when it comes to gifts. Its like I’m missing the gene altogether. I invariably forget to buy people gifts, when I remember I struggle to think of the right thing, and then I am horrid with timing. The sister? She has a gift ready for every kind of occasion. Birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, even! despite the fact that we dont really celebrate it. Heck she even comes stacked with gifts for me, the home or my kitchen whenever she visits me. Its how the walls of my home have turned out beautiful. Her art decks up a few nooks and corners and somehow they seem to get the most praise from visitors and friends alike.
This year, as usual, the sister had a plan. She gifted me The F-Word by Mita Kapur, a book that arrived after a misguided journey after being sent to the wrong “home”. But when it finally arrived, complete with a trademark sister-style, hand-drawn card and a completely honest greeting, it was hard to reign in the waves of nostalgia.
As usual, she picked well. In fact she couldn’t have picked better. Because it brings together two of my biggest current preoccupations. Food and words. The F-Word is a food memoir and bravely steps into territory that I haven’t seen many Indians go into before. Cook books, research about Indian khana and cuisine, studies on ingredients and spices, I’ve seen aplenty. But stories from real kitchens, that are told well, mingled with simple recipes is a formula I’ve only the likes of Julia Child, Dorie Greenspan and David Lebovitz (to name only just a few) venture into. Apart from Vir Sanghvi and to some extent Madhur Jaffrey, I cant think of anyone else who has brought food stories alive and made them accessible. It could also be that the idea of a food memoir from an Indian kitchen has been brewing in my head for a while now, and this book seemed right up my alley.
The book is a light read, as most things about food should be I think. Simple, straight form the heart and honest. For me those ingredients are what bring the words and recipes to life. I raced through the book fairly quickly, stopping only to wipe a bit of dribble off the side of my face, especially when reading the chapters on meat and dessert. Mita Kapurs fauji (of the armed forces) background and typical North Indian sensibilities really shine through and imbue a special kind of warmth and hospitable vibe into her words. In parts, it felt like I was watching the proceedings of a desi kitchen pan out before me. The quintessential home in the fauji quarters, complete with several rooms, with children crawling around, the evening drink, followed by a meal that brings everyone together not just physically, but gastronomically too. A process that is not complete unless the women of the house worry themselves over the menu should consist of, in order to cover all the varied tastes and culinary needs of the motley crew that is the typical Indian joint family.
The stories flow easily, without too much fussy writing. Some may find the writing too simple. But its the kind of writing I expect in a food-book. Maybe only the foodies amongst us will really enjoy it because you have to be willing to let the food-based stories tickle you, make you smile, chuckle, shed a tear. It did all that and more for me, even to the point of having to shut the book and rush off the make this, because I couldn’t bear to just read about it, without a bowlful of halwa in my hand.
Added Indian touches like references to Grandma’s andaaz, or the innate sense of proportion and precision that most of our grand mothers and mothers are born with, the communal making of laddoos and sweets around festivities, the Indian obsession with keeping ones stomach happy and healthy, really left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling right through the book.
By the end I was convinced that if I ever write a book, a food book more specifically, this is the kind of book I would like it to be. Food has and always will be as much about the stories and memories they carry, rather than clinical recipes and precision and technique. If food, whether eaten or read about, manages to transport you to a time and place away form your own, either in the past, or a reverie about the future, that is more than half the job done.