I picked up Love, Loss and What We Ate, by Padma Lakshmi last week, to break a the lull that came over me towards the end of last month that made me so incredibly disinterested in everything. First, a bit of a ramble about the lull: For approximately three weeks I’ve been unable to function normally, an unnamed kind of anxiety manifested into a physical lethargy. Everything felt and seemed tasteless. I didn’t get out much, save for a meal here, a coffee there, which took a great effort on my part, to feel upbeat and excited. Coincidentally, I had a break with my workout because my trainers were on holiday. It proved lethal, because I’ve realised even when all else fails, exercise injects me with a little dose of energy to keep going. I was barely keeping my head above the water, getting just the bare minimum done, to get from one day to the next. My therapist says this is the by product of therapy, when one is keen and positively moving forward in working through issues. I certainly felt the shifts – distinct and drastic – in the last couple of weeks. From feeling beside myself with worry and a mind that is a tizzy with thoughts, I have felt like I am coming back to feeling like myself again, emerging from the haze that had descended over me. I realised last Sunday that I had made close to zero progress on the book I had started three weeks ago. I had lost interest not just in the book, but in picking up my kindle altogether. Last weekend, as I was packing up to go for our overnight stay on assignment, I wanted something to read, and starting a new book from scratch was the only way to go. This one appeared on top of Amazon reccos, and I just clicked buy without thinking twice.
Second, about the book. I heard folks call it a food memoir. But really, its just a memoir with food in it. It has many moments with luscious descriptions of food, traditions, food-related rituals, Lakshmi’s foray into cookbook writing, TV and eventually Top Chef. Yes, food is a major theme, but it’s hardly the primary theme or the star thread in the book. That said, I enjoyed the book. It’s certainly not a work of impeccable literary value, but it does its job as a memoir. As someone who barely knew anything about her versatile life, this book was fascinating, purely as a read about a life that is rich in experience and varied in overcoming hurdles to accomplishment. To read about her difficult childhood had been not just physically but emotionally and psychologically, the number of times she’s switched gears to choose things that made sense for her, the way in which she straddled her life of difficulty with the privilege, was most interesting. It touches on the emotional fall outs of being a migrant, a person of colour in a country so far form one’s own. There are bits about abuse, her mothers multiple and difficult marriages and the effects it had on a young girl growing up and trying to find herself. She goes into graphic detail about her life in modelling and the eventual destination she found in TV. The bits about her fight with endometriosis touched me the most, for some reason, as much as her fawning over how motherhood somehow completed her, irritated me. It’s a life dotted with a multitude of experiences, ranging from the very difficult to very glamorous, and she traverses them with equal intensity.
It has some feminist undertones in part, especially as she navigates the multiple contrasting parts of her life – her Indian heritage with her life in America, her background in theatre with her eventual career in glamour and fashion, the role models in her fiercely independent mother and grandmother with her constant search for a man in her life which eventually led to more than one relationship with high-profile men, and how each of those relationships eventually crumbled or failed to solidify. The writing itself is nothing to write home about. It doesn’t have any peaks and troughs, and maybe that also explains why I just breezed through the book. It has fleeting promise in certain phrases, descriptions and some segments where it feels very evident that she is writing from a place of authenticity and not wrapping an event very neatly in words. There are bits where she reveals herself as an almost unlikeable, narcissistic person. And then also gives you a peek into her softer, vulnerable sides. She straddles the two – what she is at the core, and what she struggles to be on the outside with such dexterity – that it’s what ultimately makes her a very relatable, real person. For that alone, I’d say this was a good memoir to read.