Abha Dawesar is as passionate in the kitchen as about her writing
The evening we meet up with acclaimed author Abha Dawesar, on a visit to New Delhi, the weather is pleasant for a change. The sun has come out after several days of smog and mist, and at 4 in the evening, Café Uno at Shangri-La's – Eros Hotel in the centre of the city offers a pleasant ambience for teatime conversation.
Winter in North India is traditionally the time of the year when the vegetable markets are full of carrots, radishes, greens and beans in varying hues enough to please a painter's palette. A welcome change, you might assume, for the New York City-based author. Buying fresh vegetables in NYC almost seems a contradiction in terms. But no, the city has changed, says Abha, and there is a farmers' market where she goes to buy ingredients for her kitchen.
And Abha's kitchen is certainly a busy one. The author of acclaimed novels like “Babyji”, “Family Values”, “That Summer in Paris” and “Miniplanner” is an avid cook. “I absolutely love to cook, I love to bake,” she states.
“I like planning the cooking, buying the vegetables, buying some extra spice it might need…” Then she likes “checking five different recipes” for the dish. Finally, she likes feeding people, likes them to like her preparation. Need we add, she loves to eat it too?
Remarking that she is a “very ambiguous person” about nearly everything in life, Abha reiterates the one thing she is unequivocal about is her love for food and cooking.
Given such an outpouring of affection for the science of gastronomy, it's a pity Abha is merely having a cup of tea at Café Uno. The 24-hour restaurant has a popular dessert buffet, besides live food stations featuring selections from international cuisine. However, we settle for the gourmet in her, which paints a vivid mental picture of epicurean delight.
A vegetarian, she names a range of cuisine varieties she likes to taste and cook. “Thai, Italian, North Indian, South Indian… There's nothing I don't enjoy and I will experiment with whatever is going.”
If she spots something at the vegetable market which she is not familiar with, says the author, she asks the vendor how to use it, reminding one again of how the impersonal supermarkets of the developed world are no longer the only option for shoppers in New York. Abha, incidentally, strongly believes the positive effects of the technological revolution and the virtual world will filter down to society and have already begun to.
The film she is currently working on with Brazilian director Rodrigo Bernardo, Love and the Cities, too, is a reflection of the ‘virtual village' the world has become. The director, who is from Sao Paolo, has had five writers from around the world write five stories “that are united thematically, but it's an arc,” she explains. “All of us have never met each other, but we've met the director.”
The prolific author, who will soon make an appearance at the Jaipur Literature Festival, finds time to cook every day — “sometimes twice a day.” This is because she prefers fresh food. “I don't do anything canned or frozen,” she says. One of the drawbacks about living in an urban environment, notes the author of books that draw a picture of city living that borders on the dismal, is that you lose touch with activities like growing vegetables. She, however, grows her own herbs.
What she finds, especially in the U.S. where she has lived for the last 20 years, is “there is no mindfulness about what you eat.” That is why fast food and preserved substances are so unquestioningly consumed. “I like knowing everything about what I eat, and that's only possible if I cook it,” she remarks.
Consciousness of the need to eat fresh and local produce is growing in society though, and while it may have started as an offshoot of health concerns, she remarks, it is also about “cutting your carbon footprint,” like not using fuels and other resources to import your vegetables from halfway across the world.
So, while she is on this side of the world, when can we expect her next book, which she describes as a novel “about science, about East versus West, art versus science”? Abha cannot say yet. Even the publisher is not yet decided.
Ambiguity is gaining ground now. We are out of the kitchen.