LITERARY REVIEW

First Impressions

SUCHITRA BEHAL

The Hundred-Foot Journey; Richard C. Morais; Harper Collins; Rs 295.

When Haji Hasan — now a renowned Parisian chef with more Michelin stars to his credit than he could ever have dreamed of — stops to take count of his life, his mind trawls way back to the year he was born: the second of six children in a crowed Mumbai flat. But it is here that his lifelong affair with food and smells begins.

After his mother’s death, Haji’s erratic father decides to settle down in a quiet little French village, home to Madame Mallory, renowned not only for her finger licking food, but also her incredible temper.

His brashness contrasts vividly with her delicate and refined sensibilities, and she is disgusted to find smells of curry and fried food wafting across, all served with a loud dose of Bollywood style music and garish plastic flowers on tables.

Unable to contain herself, Madame Mallory marches across to see for herself what is cooking and spots teenage Haji stirring a dish. Madame Mallory dips her finger into the pot and tastes the food. She launches into a tirade against “foul foreigners” and leaves but confides in her manager that “the boy has the touch”. When their rivalry with Madame Mallory, which reaches epic proportions, is sorted out, Haji is taken on by her as her apprentice.

This slender volume, the author’ first, is highly recommended. The reader is taken through the rarefied world of haute cuisine and Michelin stars and the pressure under which chefs work.

An unusual story, beautifully told, the aroma of which lingers on long after.

Playing; Melaine Abrams; Penguin; Rs. 299.

Josie, a young student, is offered a chance to baby sit a six-year-old, She accepts with no further commitment in mind. But when the child’s mother, Mary, begs Josie to stay on, Josie agrees thinking it will give her more time to pursue her studies in a congenial atmosphere. However Josie finds herself taking on more responsibilities, drawn by Mary’s strange magnetism. And then Mary confides that she finds the new Indian surgeon, at the hospital where she works, extremely attractive. While Mary makes elaborate plans to ensnare Devesh; Josie, who meets him at a dinner at Mary’s home, is instantly captivated. Her feelings seem to be reciprocated and as Josie hurtles into the dark romance with Devesh, she gets drawn into a world of erotic S&M games that she finds strangely exhilarating. In the process Josie discovers her real desires but is she able to live that life or is she a pervert? Is her love for Devesh real or is he using her to fulfil his erotic fantasies? Playing could have touched the chords of deep and dark desires, unfortunately the story is too simplistic, too in-your-face to make the grade from ordinary to extraordinary.

The Healing; Gita Aravamudan; Harper Collins; Rs. 295.

Ramanujam collapses as the Babri Masjid is being demolished. The freedom fighter struggles for his life as the country struggles to regain communal harmony. But from the ashes emerges the story of a family saga.

The narrator is Bharati, now past middle age, a mother waiting in the wings for her father to live or die. Bharati begins to recall her life and what she has made of it. Her daughter is marrying a Muslim. Bharti wonders if she will be safe.

But, most importantly, will her father’s death cause the family home, Shanti Niwas, to fall apart? Shanti Niwas has been witness to their lives and well kept secrets. So well hidden are some things that only now details come tumbling out of the woodwork. Bharati’s loss of innocence, the unwanted pregnancy of a long-widowed cousin; the role of a uncle in this and much more are issues that Bharati feels she needs to discuss with her daughter. There are no secrets to be kept and both Bharati and her husband Krishna need to erase the demons from their lives before they can accept their daughter’s husband. But will they survive this cleansing or will there be more bitterness among them all? The Healing is the story of a family in Chennai, beset by the events of the present and forced to confront their dark past. It is a fast-paced book but why the author needed to tie up the family’s lives with the collapse of the Babri Masjid remains a mystery. If it was meant to serve as a focal point of communal amity, it fails to do so.