Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Andaleeb Wajid - More than Just Biryani

Published by Amaryllis

Food is a big part of our lives.  We eat, at the very least, three meals per day.  It can get very mechanical  at times to prepare the same few dishes over and over again. What keeps the cook going is the promise of praise at end of a meal.  The promise of praise also eggs the cook on to hone the recipe and make it her (or his) own.  So, a particular dish becomes attached to a particular cook, "Oh! No one can cook Biryani like Tahera."  Such recipes, particular to a cook, often have an interesting story behind it.  Every clan abounds in such stories.  Some recipes are shrouded in secrecy, "I never found out the secret ingredient that your grandfather used in the chicken, but it tasted out of the world."

Andaleeb Wajid introduces us to the world of three women, Ruqayya, Tahera and Zubi.

Ruqayya is a young bride in the 1950s in Vellore, deeply in love with Omar, her handsome husband.  The rest of the household puzzles her.  There are a lot of women in the house, busy working most of the time. Ruqayya hates cooking and knows nothing about it. How does she make a place for herself in this food proud, bustling household?

Tahera is the self assured, well beloved wife of Bilal. Her world revolves around her husband and her children.  She lives to cook and feed her little family. Will she be able to cope with a loss that threatens to send her spinning out of control?  She is so mired down, will she ever be able to pick herself up again?

Zubi has everything a heart desires. A small nest, a doting husband, a cute child. Why is she so anxious all the time? Why does she keep pushing away happiness?

Sonia Kapoor sets out to write a recipe book but is far too intrigued with the life of the cook.  She cannot keep the book within the limits of a cut and dried catalog of recipes.  She finds herself too involved in the world of her subject, Zubi, and there is danger she may cause irreparable damage.

The story crisscrosses across Vellore, Bangalore and Hong Kong. It covers the life of three generation of women  Ruqayya (the grandmother), Tahera (the mother), and Zubi (the daughter).  Food and the love for cooking is the constant in the lives of the women.  We also learn how the women pass on their fears and their learnings to their daughters.

Andaleeb Wajid rushes in where most authors fear to tread, right inside the hearts and minds of her protagonists.  We get a fascinating glimpse into the lives of women as it was in during the 1950s upto the current decade. (The 2010s).

The book disorients the reader at times when the author steps backwards and forward into time.  She picks up the story of a character and then drops it - rather abruptly.  Right when we are involved in the story of Tahera, we are led into the story of Ruqayya and then on to Zubi.  The last story is a quite depressing, and Zubi seems fixated on remaining unhappy.  It comes together beautifully in the end though.

You will find a lot of frank and forthright writing in here, and also some recipes that cry to be tried out.  You will also come out a lot wiser about the lives of women and their quest for love and happiness.


Madhulika Liddle said...

Nice review, Ava! I did love this book. And yes, there are several recipes there that literally cry to be tried out (and some that had me shaking my head and saying, "No, too much effort.")

Ava Suri said...

Yes, and the author describes them in such a simple fashion that it seems try-able. Esp. the sweets! They looked like too much effort.

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