Things Your Mother Never Told You About Love, Juhi Pande
Remember Juhi Pande? It’s okay if you don’t, I don’t think she was ever that famous. I do. (If you must know why, I remember her from my days of watching Channel V and studying for my board exams, side by side. I mean simultaneously — TV on and text book open in front of me. I suppose this is proof of why I remember Juhi Pande.) She’s written a book. And its called..drum roll..Things Your Mother Never Told You About Love. Yes, predictable as fuck. But it’s precisely why something (don’t ask me what) told me the contents might not be as staid as the title.
But I was disappointed. You know how some times you pick a book, totally judging it by the cover, and it disappoints you by slowly turning into an unbearable read that you cannot wait to finish? Let’s just say this wasn’t one of those. Instead of easing on to the side of silly and forgettable, it nosedived in pretty much the first chapter. Some times that’s all it takes to get a feel of what the book is going to be like. And in this case it was a weird concoction of popular notions meets regurgitated sit-com-my ideas of love, relationships and even marriage. The kind of book you would probably read between the ages of 13-16 and get wide-eyed and think, wow really?!
In her bio, Juhi says she’s quit her life in media to become a writer. So I guess I was expecting something a little insightful — not necessarily in an intense, heavy, laborious opus sort of way, but in a here’s-a-refreshing-take-on-the-oldest-theme-there-ever-was sort of way. In the very least I expected it to be fun. But I was disappointed. Because it was a series of truths about love that most of us have probably experienced in some form or the other. Things like don’t waste your time sulking. Silent treatment didn’t help anyone. Jealousy is your worst enemy. Don’t be in a rush to get married. Sex is overrated so don’t rush in to it. And the like.
Every chapter had me rolling my eyes multiple times, and mid-way I was angry. Angry because I was increasingly getting the feeling this book was written completely on a whim. No thought in fleshing out the idea, no grace in spelling it out. Just lazy, shoddy writing. If I woke up one fine day, and decided to write a book, this is probably what it would read like. But most disappointing of all was the fact that none of the ‘Things’ she talks about were really all that revelatory. Or maybe that’s just me, because they were mostly all things my mother told me, at some point or the other.
More than just Biryani, Andaleeb Wajid
After reading a fair bit about Andaleeb Wajid, I was happy to finally stumble on a book by her. So I picked it up without so much as even reading the blurb. When I settled into my seat in the lounge and read it, I was excited. “…fascinating stories about Zubi’s connection with food… Life lessons are learnt with the help of familiar dishes and Sonia realises that there’s more to Zubi and Muslim food than just their love for biryani,” it said and that seemed like a lovely premise. My staunch love for biryani and other Muslim food might have had something to do with my excitement too, but even on its own it seemed like a great idea for a food memoir. And it was, only for the first 1/4 of the book. After that, I was disappointed. The evocative descriptions of food had me drooling just a little bit, penciling in the bits where hints of recipes are revealed through the narrative. But as the larger story began to unfold, I began to get tired. The story didn’t hold me, and I suspect it was in the writing. Too often these days, I have noticed overly descriptive, extra beautified language is mistaken to be good writing. Increasingly, lucid writing seems to be suppressed beneath the weight of ornate words that do nothing more than add weight to a page, doing little for the plot, story or even the paragraph at hand.
Half-way through, still drooling at the bits where the food came in, I found myself wanting to flip pages and get thorugh the story faster. It was beginning to feel even more taxing. Like a long-drawn Hindi movie, that refused to end. Twist after pointless twist, which in my mind did nothing to lend additional facets to the story and build it into one cohesive entity. What was more and more apparent was the lack of seamless links between the role of food in the lives of the women, and their coming into their own — the main characteristic of a food memoir. It felt like two parallel story lines that met forcibly, in between, paths entwining in an odd and uncomfortable way, rather than a pleasant surprising way. I guess my biggest complain is that it would have probably made a better novel, without the role of food thrown in.
To my mind a food memoir is one that ties in the food and the larger narrative so cleverly, meaningfully and easily, that as a reader you can never tell the two apart. This book, I thought, was sorely missing that quality. A not-so-strong plot, peppered with elaborate descriptions of dark, old-school kitchens, rustic sil-battas, the hiss of tadka and the beads of sweat pouring down the faces of the women working in them just wasn’t enough for me.
Remember how I said I’ve consciously stayed away from buying books, until I finish the stash I have piled up at home? I managed to stick by the rule for a year, finally relenting to pick these books up, at the Bangalore airport a couple of weeks ago. I managed to finish the Juhi Pande book the very same day (thank heavens!), and the Andaleeb Wajid book a couple of days after. Both very light reads if you’re in the mood for that kind of thing. But neither of them made me very happy, or stayed with me in any manner.
Also, I’m definitely not impulsively buying a book at an airport, without a prior recommendation again.