Jaya Posts

Buku Sarkar, “Not Quite a Disaster After All”

Buku Sarkar‘s Not Quite a Disaster After All ( HarperCollins India) is a collection of six interlinked stories or six vignettes, if you will. The stories revolve around two women — Anjali and Anita. Anjali is the daughter of a very wealthy family from Calcutta. Anything that she asks for or desires is easily fulfilled; an option that she does not necessarily exercise when testing her wings in New York as a student. She is ultimately successful in her career as a designer and also becomes an author. Her fastidiousness for detail in everything that she does permeates through every story in the collection. Surprisingly, she is far more generous and forgiving of her friend Anita who lives in Ohio and is a mother trying to juggle a career too. In some senses, the friends work like counterpoints to each other in the story, almost as if the distance between them due to their difference lifestyles and behaviour creates an amplitude that indicates what women are capable of. They represent the extreme points of women in society. These two are the central women, but there are other women characters like Anjali’s mother, a devoted wife, Anjali’s editor and the young book publicist. They can be considered as stereotypical examples of women homemakers, wives and publishing professionals or they can be seen as alternative role models to the lives that Anjali and Anita have chosen.

The stories are seemingly arranged chronolgically to depict the life of Anjali from childhood to a successful designer based in the UK and who has a book launch in New York. She is living the middle class dream. But as the stories show, there is a dissatisfaction and a simmering discontent. It is a feeling that begins in childhood when even Anjali has not a clue what it implies. It is in the title story that Anjali seems to be at peace and when that occurs, the reader heaves a sigh of relief.

Buku Sarkar is a much published writer in many magazine publications but this is her first book. It is remarkably composed and poised writing. At first, it does not feel as if there is anything complicated in the writing style. Simple. She evokes childhood memories. She writes about the past in India and the USA. It is done almost in a bored, languid, matter-of-fact style. Yet, by the time the book concludes, the characters have neatly nestled inside one and are part of one’s life. The title “Not Quite a Disaster After All” grows on one from being at first a seemingly wishy-washy title to a strong, assertive remark. You can almost hear the women chant it to themselves to reaffirm their existence and purpose. It is very well done.

Read it.

26 Jan 2023

Mariana Enriquez’s “Our Share of the Night”, translated by Megan McDowell

[ I posted this on Facebook on 20 Sept 2022]

Our Share of Night is an extraordinary book by Mariana Enriquez. It is partially set in the period coinciding with military dictatorship of Juan Peron but it is a dark fantasy. Booker shortlisted Mariana Enriquez is an Argentinian political journalist and writer. Her fictional writing is explosive, bizarre, macabre, mesmerising, fantastic and gripping. It is very discomforting to read even if it is fantasy since the harsh reality of the political horrors as the backdrop are very unnerving, yet the mind processes it all. This is her debut novel that has been translated into English for the first time by Megan McDowell. This incredible literary duo have already shared their powerful chemistry with previous publications such as the short story collections: “The Dangers of Smoking in Bed” and “Things We Lost in the Fire”.

In “Our Share of Night”, this particular comment of Mariana Enriquez stands out:

“Marita had heard of Olga Gallardo before, the great female chronicler in a male-dominated world, and also a suicidal alcoholic….[it was said] that in her work, it was hard to know where the facts ended and the fiction began. And how that was mortal sin for journalists, who, though they should by all means employ the narrative tools for literature, must never employ the imagination: public responsibility and commitment to truth-telling was inalienable.”

This is at the core of her novel. I have read every single page of this 700+ novel. It has taken me a while because there are moments that Maritnez forces the reader to reflect. It is either with her observations or the very disturbing images she shares of the mutilated individuals, disappearances of children and adults, incarceration without valid reason, massacres, the womens/mothers collectives such as Mothers of the Corrientes Disappeared who were active in locating victims/missing persons, the ruthless imposition of dictatorship — ostensibly under Peron but is mostly depicted as being within the confines of Juan and Gaspar Peterson’s rich family. Peron’s horrors are a pale shadow of the fantastical magic that Juan and Gaspar as mediums of The Darkness are capable of. A magic that is horrific and merciless. It is hard to distinguish many portions of this book if it is real or imaginary or is the imagined an extension of the truth— a vile truth that is impossible for the brain to comprehend, so it distorts it? By the time the book is over, it is not easy to recollect names of all the characters in this multi-generational saga. Yet what remains with the reader is a sheer sense of helplessness in the face of authoritarianism; also with the hope that there is always a tomorrow, day better than today.

“Our Share of the Night” is a novel that plays on the title by alluding to the fictional storyline and yet by using the collective pronoun, makes the reader complicit in the atrocities experienced over the decades in Argentina. Peron’s dictatorial rule did not spare anyone, not even the poorest of the poor or the ordinary common man. The “our” in the title is chilling as Martinez uses the fictional prism to speak of a very dark period in Argentina’s contemporary political history; yet the manner in which it is elaborated upon in the novel and with quiet authorial intrusions, it is obvious that the political journalist Martinez is using her avatar as an author to warn new generations of readers that we are never really rid of such individuals. Folks with warped minds and with access to power can wilfully ruin the lives of others.

Mariana Martinez takes deep dives into rituals and character development. It is an immersion that is necessary to gauge the almost non-existent boundaries between reality and imagination. What is the truth? It is the fundamental question she is asking in many ways. It is very disturbing to realise that living under authoritarian rule blurs many of the ingrained moral barometers that humans have. Yet, perhaps there is a glimmer of hope that lies at the peripheries of these vile dispensations. And the courage to overcome these repressive systems lies deep within every individual. It is called free will. It can be exercised if so desired.

This novel can essily be used to explain storytelling and the manner in which a political journalist could write gripping fantasy, but set against a very real political backdrop. It has been brilliantly translated by Megan Mcdowell. I did pause and wonder what Megan went through while translating this book. It could not have been easy to work objectively on this project.

This book is being released by Granta on 13 Oct 2022, most likely to coincide with the Frankfurt Book Fair. Great publishing strategy. Hopefully, this book will be made available in many more book markets than just Spanish and English.

Read it as soon as you can.

24 Jan 2023

Hernan Diaz “Trust”

[I wrote this post on Facebook on 4 July 2022]

Hernan Diaz’s novel Trust is being discussed a lot these days especially since Kate Winslet has optioned it for HBO as a limited series on TV. Both, author and actress, will be co-producers of the show. It should be good if past experience of Kate Winslet’s award-winning “Mare of Easttown” is anything to go by. “Trust” too is equally complex in its narratives. The adaptation will be gruelling as it will require a single narrative with disruptions in the telling to create the same effect that reading the book has.

The book is in four parts. A bestselling novella called “Bonds” by Harold Vanner. It is the fictionalised account of legendary 1920s Wall Street tycoon and his wife, Benjamin and Helen Rask. She is the daughter of eccentric aristorcrats who are down and out on their luck. Marrying Rask, Helen zooms to the top of the New York social ladder, much to the delight of her ambitious mother. The story continues about the obscenely wealthy and childless couple becoming patrons of the Arts but remaining more or less to themselves. The love story ends with the declining health and demise of Helen Rask in a sanatorium in Switzerland. “Bonds” is followed by personal accounts of the real tycoon, Andrew Bevel (“My Life”), his secretary Ida Partenza (“A Memoir, Remembered”) and extracts from Mildred Bevel’s diaries ( “Futures”).

It is an astonishing feat on the part of Hernan Diaz in writing in these four distinctive voices. Beginning with the novella where the literary craftsmanship is sublime. The elegant prose is like a nineteenth century novel in a twenty-first century garb. Unlike novels of today which presume a reader will have access to extra information or can “google” for more, “Bonds” is complete. It is the delightfully balanced mix of historical fiction, facts, authorial intervention, and moral judgement. In their desire to be poltically correct in their sentences and subject matters, writers of today forget that sitting upon judgement whether their characters or by extension society, is not always a bad thing. It is a way of seeing. “Bonds” has it all. In the next three parts, Diaz does an incredible unpicking of the “truths” that the novelist chose to share. Curiously enough the reader is first made privy to the novella and in the last of the woman, Mildred Bevel, who is at the centre of these multiple stories. Reading her diaries is a shatteringly pathetic experience. She is a woman who lacked no want and yet no amount of money could buy her the peace, health, goodwill, or long life. It was a frictionless existence that in some ways did her in. She had nothing to do. Self-flagellation as claimed by Harold Vanner was one outlet but her diaries claim otherwise. As does the witnessing by her husband Andrew Bevel. Ida Partenza is a compelling narrator but thoroughly unreliable as she was ostensibly Andrew Bevel’s ghostwriter and was not given access to any of the people or documents at the time of writing. Interestingly enough she was sufficiently obsessed with Mildred Bevel that late in life she read Mildred Bevel’s papers and diaries at the library where the material lay. It had been untouched for decades. Thereby exposing her fragility and vulnerability while blasely dismissing the woman’s narrative and only accepting that version of her story which came through male filters. But the arrangement of texts within “Trust” leaves the reader questioning authoritative accounts and relying on empirical evidence. Sadly, it is all constructed. Whom does the reader trust?

Diaz has to be complemented for the very modern sensibility in his writing of switching gears between various gendered perspectives and telling a story. When he does the voice of women his brilliance shines. I hope to goodness he is not shut down for cultural appropriation of women’s voices — he is excellent. He also gets across the desire of Andrew Bevel to be a controlling man, with his masculine narratives very well.

Trust is superb. Read it. For the story. For the ingenious storytelling. For the sophisticated writing. You will not regret it. I hope it finds a mention on the Booker Prize longlist that is to be announced in late July 2022.

Update: This book did make it to the Booker longlist, but it never made it to the shortlist. Nevertheless, its word-of-mouth success and the number of other literary awards it has reaped, including the Kirkus Award and a Barack Obama recommendation, has ensured that this book has remained in the buzz. It is superb!

Pan Macmillan did well in publishing it.

24 Jan 2023

Katherine May’s “Enchantment”

The bestselling author of Wintering, Katherine May has written an exquisite meditation on living through the pandemic and emerging on the other side, in a different world, in a different setup, as a new you that is hard to recognise. May’s new book is called “Enchantment: Reawakening wonder in an exhausted age”. It is to be published by Faber Books in early 2023.

There is a gentle frailty exhibited in these essays. It is almost as if it mirrors May’s mental state of being but her voice becomes stronger as she nears the end of the book. It is almost as if she is reaching a crescendo, a moment of jubilation at discovering what may work for her to heal. Despite talking about herself and making it a very personal experience, undoubtedly many readers will recognise parts of themselves in these musings. There is also this acute sense of an overtly secular world (or at least that which is exhibited on social media platforms), there is a crying need to develop a comforting ritual, to help give a rhythm and a sense of normalcy in an otherwise chaotic world. The pandemic alert in March 2020 destroyed many lives, it snatched away food, financial, home, and health/ mental health security; if it did not take away lives, it made living a hellish nightmare. Even those who seemed to have survived are extremely fragile and not as robust as they may seem outwardly. There are many, many examples that May shares in her book about feeling centred in the ordinariness of mundane activities. It could be as common as stitching a button to sitting by a step well built around a spring and admiring the rose climber. In a similar vein she writes about how the chaos of the lockdown crumbled her ability to read. Her autism has nothing to do with it, but the pandemic has — she cannot sit still, she cannot concentrate, she cannot read. The present-day burnout has robbed her of a disciplined, complex and an unfathomable form of reading.

In her quest for this point of centeredness, she feels that our “sense of enchantment is not triggered by grand things; the sublime is not hiding in distant landscapes. the awe-inspiring, the numinous, is all around us, all the time. It is tranformed by our deliberate attention. It becomes valuable when we value it. It becomes meaningful when we invest it with meaning. The magic is in our own conjuring. Hierophany — that revelation of the sacred — is something that we bring to everyday things, rather than something given to us. That quality of experience that reveals to us the workings of the world, that comforts and innervates us, that ushers us towards a genuine understanding of the business of being human: it is not in itself rare. What is rre is our will to pursue it. If we wait passively to become enchanted, we could wait a long time.”

She is so right! In her wisdom, she shares her thoughts about living through flux as we have during the pandemic. It has been a nerve-wracking experience for everyone. IT has been a collective trauma that is going to take a long while to recover from. We need to find our solace. This is what she has to say about change.

“Change is the restless bedrock on which we’re founded. Lauren Olamin, the heroine of Octavia Butler’s Earthseed series, makes a god out of change itself, ‘the only lasting truth in the world’. For her, the sacred is found in adaptation. Perhaps this is what I’m seeking too, the ability to step into the world’s flux, to travel with it rather than rasping against it, to let my own form dance across it. ‘We do not workship God,’ Lauren writes in verse. ‘We perceive and attend to God/ We learn from God… We shape God.’ It’s as good a truth as any, as holy a space in which to rest our minds: we are not the passive receipients of the numinous, but the active constructors of a pantheon. We make the change, and it makes us. Entering into that exchange — knowing the depths of permanence and the restlessness of movement — is the work of a lifetime.

How do we meet this kind of god, this irresistible force that roars through our existence like a hurricane? We adapt. We evolve. We rebuild and remake and renew. We listen to what it has to tell us, and undertake the work of integrating the new knowledge. Sometimes we read it in books. Sometimes we read it elsewhere, in scents carried on the air and the flight paths of birds. Sometimes we need to feel the tingle of magic to remind us what we believe.”

Next year, when the book is made widely available, buy it. You will not regret it. 

24 Jan 2023 ( First published on Facebook on 4 Nov 2022)

#menstruationparty in “Mad Honey” by Jodi Picoult

<Incredible to see this in a storybook! This part is an Indian origin American teenager talking to her American teenager friend.

Via Farah Ahamed >

“Yes they are,” she counters, “because this Friday we are hosting the Banerjee First Moon Fest.”
“What the fuck is that?”
“A #menstruationparty,” Maya says. “We are celebrating womanhood and only womanhood and not only will my lesbian mothers condone this, they will probably cater the food.”
I am not so sure. Maya’s parents are notorious for being easily upset. Last year, when Maya brought home some of Asher’s mom’s honey, Sharon had a meltdown because it was a bee product in a vegan household.
Plus, there’s the obvious.
“You are throwing a period party,” I clarify.
“Come on, Lily. It’s about time we got something out of it that’s more
than cramps.”
This is how, two weeks after Asher stops speaking to me, I find myself
hanging streamers to transform Maya’s living room into a living womb. We have stuck maxi pads to the windows; Maya’s mixed up some god-awful red punch. Her mothers are so excited about her celebrating the female reproductive system that they’ve all but canceled her grounding and have made plans to go out so that Maya can have the house to herself and her girlfriends.
She’s texted about fifteen girls from school—some I know from orchestra, and some I’ve never met. Everyone thinks the theme is hilarious. One of the first girls to arrive dumps a bottle of vodka in the punch. An emo playlist beats through the speakers like a pulse. Within a half hour, that tight knot in my belly that’s been there for two weeks begins to unwind; it turns out a party without guys is like a quiet sigh. No one is checking out their reflection in the window; no one is hooking up in a dark corner. We are just women, draped over couches and pillows, feeling safe. We don’t have to talk about the things that hurt us, because we’ve all been there before.
I like this, I realize. I like being part of the crowd.

Mad Honey, by Jodi Picoult

24 Jan 2023 ( First posted on Facebook on 7 Dec 2022)

Bret Easton Ellis “The Shards”

AIS received:
A sensational new novel from the best-selling author of Less Than Zero and American Psycho that tracks a group of privileged Los Angeles high school friends as a serial killer strike across the city.

LA, 1981. Buckley College in heat. 17-year-old Bret is a senior at the exclusive Buckley prep school when a new student arrives with a mysterious past. Robert Mallory is bright, handsome, charismatic, and shielding a secret from Bret and his friends, even as he becomes a part of their tightly knit circle. Bret’s obsession with Mallory is equaled only by his increasingly unsettling preoccupation with The Trawler, a serial killer on the loose who seems to be drawing ever closer to Bret and his friends, taunting them with grotesque threats and horrific, sharply local acts of violence.

Can he trust his friends – or his own mind – to make sense of the danger they appear to be in? Thwarted by the world and by his own innate desires, buffeted by unhealthy fixations, Bret spirals into paranoia and isolation as the relationship between The Trawler and Robert Mallory hurtles inexorably toward a collision.

Gripping, sly, suspenseful, deeply haunting, and often darkly funny, The Shards is a mesmerizing fusing of fact and fiction that brilliantly explores the emotional fabric of Bret’s life at 17 – sex and jealousy, obsession, and murderous rage. 

Read John Self in the Financial Times on the novel, published on 6 Jan 2023

23 Jan 2023

“Indian Christmas”

Indian Christmas is a truly well produced book by Speaking Tiger Books . It is a hardback with a magnificent range of essays reminiscing on Christmas celebrations. I too have contributed an essay on “Christmas Pakwan”. Memories of my childhood, my inheritance and now making memories for my daughter via massive food hugs. Take a look.

Ideally speaking buy copies of “Indian Christmas”. Gift them generously. This is India that imbibes cultural values from various regions and faiths. Every family celebrates Christmas in its unique style. Yet, there are many overlaps. This is an India that is not going away in a hurry irrespective of current dominant discourses. It is here to stay.

Merry Christmas!

Coincidentally posted on Facebook on 6 Dec, a day that has fearful communal connotations in modern Indian history. 6 Dec 1992, Babri Masjid was demolished by mobs.

Here is my article. It is entitled “Christmas Pakwan”. The printed version includes the Christmas Cake recipe too.

Every Christmas, my paternal grandmother, Dadi, would begin preparing the pakwan. It was a process that took a few weeks of preparation, followed by a few days of intense cooking. The original owners of Dadi’s house were British. It had a kitchen with an inbuilt wood oven but it was outside the house, as in most British houses, so that the cooking could be done outside. The house still exists. Dadi later built a kitchen and a pantry, attached to the dining room. She had a fairly large family. All of us would look forward to the Christmas lunch when the dining table was groaning with food – cold meats, shammi kebabs, chicken curry, pulao with kaju and caramelised onions on top, raita, gajjar ka halwa, zarda, fruits. Dadi was a hospitable lady, so she would also take into account the endless stream of guests who had to be fed. Our house was in the Cantonment area in Meerut, where she had built two prominent schools. So, we had Army personnel, students (past and present), parents, teachers, and many more from the town who would come to greet her and the family on Christmas Day. The visitors came from all walks of life. If they came during the day, they were received in the front lawn. Dadi was an incredible gardener too, so the garden would be ablaze with winter blooms! The guests were served various homecooked delicacies. There was always something for everyone, irrespective of their dietary restrictions, especially if they belonged to another faith. No one left our place unfed. If they came in the evening, they would be received in the drawing room, inevitably around the fireplace which was constantly being stoked by a pile of wooden logs placed next to Dada and Dadi’s chairs. A tray with bowls of sinfully delicious eats was placed conveniently in front of the visitors.

Dadi’s kitchen was buzzing with activity throughout the year. There were maids constantly scurrying about, cutting and chopping, cooking and serving. In the midst of this hustle-bustle, sat Dadi on her wooden chair. She was too large and fat to move around with ease! She would supervise the proceedings and kept a sharp eye on all the food being cooked. She was very particular about how the dishes were prepared. The larder keys were with her and if any ingredient was required, the cupboard would be opened in her presence and the precise amount of masala or oil doled out. Other provisions including the onions, potatoes and sugar were stored in her bedroom or under her bed! No wonder we had situations where a particularly flighty maid chopped up Dadi’s precious gladioli bulbs assuming they were large onions.

Come December, there was a different buzz in the air. Dadi would organise the staff in such a manner that all the stoves were in operation – gas cylinder and the mud angeethis that required handmade coal balls. The pantry would be cleaned thoroughly, sheets laid out on the floor and maids seated, working intently on their assigned chores. There was humming and chattering but the dishes were cooked with precision. At times, it was like an assembly line. If samosas were to be made, then one maid would be rolling the dough, another cutting and filling, and the third, frying both kinds of samosas – keema and meetha. The samosas would then be cooled and placed in the wooden and wire mesh doli and locked. Dadi, herself, would be sitting on a chair with her coal-fuelled mud angeethi besides her. She did not like cooking on the gas stove. On the angeethi would be placed the large dekchis, one by one, and she would cook khope ka keema, gajjar ka halwa, zarda and other dishes.

The festive season would be kickstarted by preparations for the dishes that required a longer lead time like the Christmas cake and the cold meats. The meats were prepared by rubbing the legs of lamb with rock salt and grapefruit and placing them in earthen pots which would then be covered. Later, the meats would be boiled to remove the excess salt and slices of it would be served cold. For the Christmas cake, Dadi would take the assistance of Robert, a worker in my Dada’s karkhana in Meerut, who would advise her on the quantities of fruit, candied peel, nuts, eggs and butter. Once the chopping was over, she would cut strips of brown paper to line the baking dishes. Tiny labels on which she had scribbled her initials – SB (Shakuntala Bhattacharji) would be placed in the batter. Then the local baker would be summoned. He would arrive with a large parat (a large flat brass dish used for kneading dough, but is useful for mixing large quantities of cake batter too!). Into this, the fruits would be upturned, and the many eggs broken into it – after, of course, making sure that the brindled bull terrier Lobo was not stealing the eggs and squirrelling them away in his food bowl. He would carefully lift the nail from the doli’s latch and remove the eggs one by one. He used to sit in the folds of Dadi’s saree and as soon as he saw a chance, he would attack the doli. Bull terriers have powerful jaws that can kill – once they latch onto an animal, their jaws cannot be opened until the other animal is destroyed. And yet Lobo never broke an egg!

My Dadi had got the Christmas cake recipe from Robert. His father, Barkat, used to work as a cook in Lucknow for my maternal great-grandmother, Constance Dass, Principal of Isabella Thoburn College (1939-45). My maternal grandmother, Premilla Mukarji, Constance’s daughter, used to speak of this cake recipe. Nani was a very good cook too, but it was always a laborious process with her. Whereas with Dadi, a warm, generous food hug is what she revelled in, even though it was not the mainstay of her existence. Teaching was. Dadi established schools that still exist. Robert gave my Dadi the recipe, much before my mother, Shobhana Bhattacharji, married into the family. Meanwhile, the recipe had travelled.

I inherited the same recipe from both sides of my family, but like all good recipes, it was open to many interpretations and variations. Dadi had adapted it to suit the morally correct palates and done away with the rum, increased the petha and reduced some of the rich masala. I do not recall Dadi adding spices. Her cake tasted like an ordinary fruit cake that existed in vast quantities but lacked the razzle-dazzle. When I read the recipe written by Constance Dass, the weights and measures were in seers and chhataks. Also, it was richer than I had imagined. The first couple of times I made the recipe I followed her instructions to the letter and the cake rose beautifully, especially when the egg whites were folded into the batter. No baking powder is required. The stiff egg whites do the needful. Slowly, I tweaked the recipe to soak the masala in rum. I prefer to do this in September and bake in December. In fact, I pickle vast quantities of the masala in a glass jar belonging to my great-grandmother, Badi Dadi or Mary Chandulal Mukarji, my mother’s dadi. This is used in the cakes, mince pies and panettone too. Ideally speaking the cakes should have rum dribbled over them too. Badi Dadi was so called because my twin brother and I had to differentiate between the two dadis in our life. Badi Dadi was a tremendous cook herself, she had a fantastic kitchen in Dalhousie, using wood fire and box ovens to churn out magnificent meals with clockwork precision. There was no fussiness in her cooking.

I love the manner in which food histories get passed on from generation to generation through their use and through the stories that are told. Shakuntala Bhattacharji only transmitted recipes orally or she demonstrated a dish. Whereas Constance Dass and Mary Chandulal Mukarji wrote recipes –they are a fine repository of food influences and regional cooking. I still consult them. The recipes also bring out the fact that an Indian Christian family did not observe any food taboos, so we had quite a selection of dishes. All tried and tested too! My mum, masi and I continue the tradition of writing recipes and have amassed quite a collection. It is still my go-to repository rather than the internet.

This Christmas cake recipe is the basis of a good wedding cake too. I made a 25 kg, five-tier cake, with homemade marzipan, royal icing, and orange marmalade for my brother’s wedding. I made everything from scratch, including the blessed marzipan by crushing almonds and kneading the dough till it rolled smoothly. My mother provided some of her to-die-for bittersweet marmalade with its fine slivers of translucent orange peel. Layering the cake, with marmalade, marzipan and royal icing, I decorated it with tiny flowers made with icing sugar as well as lots of fresh flowers. It was so heavy that a special wooden cake stand had to be made. It preserves well for at least six months.

For my own wedding, I did not have the time to make the cake. My fiancé Jacob Rose brought sample pieces of cake to test. I was horrified. They tasted ghastly, nothing but simple cake being passed off as wedding cake! I insisted on meeting the baker, Philip. He came. A family consultation was held. Philip explained the process. I did not approve. So, I gave him my Christmas cake recipe and said, use this. He did and we had a delicious wedding cake. Philip used the recipe to turn around his Christmas cakes and became a huge commercial success. So much so that even we get slices of it at our church fellowship after midnight service. Philip modified it further, to make it a commercially viable option. After his death, his nephew inherited the business, and the tradition continues. The recipe lives.

Today, I am probably one of the few, if not the only one, in my generation and in the extended clan who makes Christmas pakwan. The process begins weeks ahead. With time, I have modified the offerings to incorporate Jacob’s tastes and childhood memories and create new ones for our daughter, Sarah Rose. So now I prepare Christmas cake, mince pies, panettone, pinnis with pumpkin seeds, panjiri, gujiyas, ginger cookies, shammi kebabs, khope ka keema, yakhni pullao, mathri with zeera, cinnamon rolls and more. Everything is homemade, including the desi ghee/clarified butter that I use in the panjiri and gujiyas. It is a juggling feat that calls for my professional publishing commitments, teaching, and cooking to dovetail into each other. How I manage is nothing short of a Christmas miracle!

We are Christians and have been for generations. It means we have recipes from across the country and relatives are to be found everywhere. The pakwan that we serve at home is an amalgamation of these experiences and is a fine testament to the syncretic nature of India. The recipes that we use can be found in Muslim, Hindu and Christian households. Ultimately, it does not matter which faith these foods originate from. It is the joy of cooking, providing hospitality, and watching others revel in the food hug!

23 Jan 2023

“Blue Sky, White Cloud: Three Novellas” by Nirmal Ghosh

I enjoyed reading Blue Sky White Cloud by Nirmal Ghosh. So much so, as soon as I finished reading it, I tagged a friend, tea-estate owner and an ardent conservationist, who has created an elephant pathway through her tea gardens in Nuxalbari, West Bengal. This is what I wrote on Facebook:

Sonia Jabbar, I kept thinking of you while reading Blue Sky White Cloud. The first novella, “River Storm” is gorgeous. It is about a tusker whose natural habitat is being encroached upon by humans, especially tea plantations in the North East of India. Whereas, in recent years, you have managed to reverse this trend and created elephant corridors through your tea estate. Someday, I hope, you will be in conversation with the author, Nirmal Ghosh, about wildlife conservation.

23 April 2022

“Miracle at Happy Bazaar” by Ruskin Bond

Although this book has been announced in the inaugural list of Aleph Book Company’s children’s literature imprint, it was first published in 2020. At that time, my then ten-year-old daughter, Sarah Rose, was asked to record this video by the publishing firm. It was to celebrate Ruskin Bond’s birthday in May 2020.

Enjoy! It is a fabulous book!

3 May 2022

“It’s Time to Rhyme: Poems for Kids of All Ages” by Shobha Tharoor Srinivasan

What is not to like in this book! It is utterly brilliant. Stupendous!

With offerings from sonnets in iambic pentameter, to limericks, acrostics, and villanelles, It’s Time to Rhyme is the perfect introduction to the joys of poetry for readers of all ages. Shobha Tharoor Srinivasan should consider writing a long poem for children. A story well told is heard far and wide. Format does not matter. The few poems collected in this slim volume are a guarded taster of what she is capable of! It is high time publishers broke shackles of the staid expectations of educators and parents and brought the fun back in storytelling. Let it be wild. Let it be nonsensical. Let it be joyous!

3 May 2022

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