Disclaimer: This is not a book review. It’s a review of the food in the book!
There are times in a book which makes you desperately wish you were one of the characters because you seem so near, yet so far away from a wonderfully aromatic, subtly laced with saffron and generously proportioned mutton biriyani. You can almost feel the soft meat falling away under your fingers, practically melting ( writing about it is turning my insides into goo!) and the smell of the masala is lingering just beyond tips of your nose. And suddenly you are craving a biriyani, but not just any biriyani will do. It has to one prepared by Charity*. Then you cave in and for the lack of better option, you order in from Nandhini. While you are perfectly happy with Nandhini’s you cant help but wonder what it would have been like to have just a bite of the real thing.
Not many writers talk about food, leave alone inspire a craving. Occasionally a snatch or so escapes though, but most often they are used more as a background for setting a conversation, or framing a silence. Which I think is the most unfair because whether you are a foodie or not, there is no taking away how central food is to our lives. Good food always makes everyone happy. And it’s as simple as that.
Least as Indians we just can’t get over food and we drag it in, in one form or the other, to celebrate, to mourn. Isn’t Dewali much anticipated as much for the sweets as for the lights? And isn’t Holi without bhang a Holi without psychedelic colours? Imagine Christmas without it’s cakes and puddings, or Eid without it’s biriyani?
And Davidar gets it. Who else would show the height and decline in prosperity by pointing out how many courses were there in the feast? Of course we don’t expect anything less from a guy who chose to name his book after mangoes**.
We think you should just pick it at least for the chapter where they go mango tasting. It’s a wonderfully whimsical chapter, rather unrelated to the rest of the storyline, about how the hero goes around the country to find the best mangoes in the world. Everything related to mangoes. You almost wonder if Davidar is purposely teasing and taunting you while sitting on a pile of mangoes just to see you writhe with craving. Unfortunately in the middle of October there is no place you can go and order, so for the next meal you placate yourself with a generous portion of grandma’s special mango pickle that you had been saving for times you are home sick!
All through the book, you get a sense of the writer as someone who loves food. Each of his words are chosen the way a master chef chooses his ingredients, with infinite care and precision. The end result is just as compelling; it’s sensual in a way that the writing inspires all the senses. The very last scene in the book is also the, in some ways, the sum of his book. The gleam of the blue mangoes, the smooth texture of the skin and the weight of the mango against the palm; the slightly sharp smell of the sap mixing in with the heady soft ripe of the pulp. The slight pressure against the teeth before breaking away to the first taste and feel of the juice against your lips and your mouth. The way your brain lights up at the information and how you feel complete with sun on your skin and more yellow nectar running down your hand towards the elbow… you can feel against your skin as your read it. And it makes you just as happy
*For us it was Charity’s mutton biriyani…Not fish biriyani that enticed!
**Best read in summer. Else you’ll be forced to dream for a bite till the next mango season. Telling you from experience!