Wandering through the vast sprawl of a new bookstore in a Gurgaon shopping mall the other day, a few thousand square feet of expensive retail space, I noticed that the biggest and busiest section was devoted to cook books. There were a few hundred titles at least, from low-priced pocketbooks to lavishly photographed hard covers, catering to a thousand tastes and appetites. Delia Smith, Tarla Dalal, Madhur Jaffrey and Pankaj Kapoor hogged entire shelves.
FOOD PATH: CUISINE ALONG THE GRAND TRUNK ROAD
By P. Pant with H. Mohsin Lustre/Roli
Price: Rs 595 Pages: 144
COOKING AT HOME WITH PEDATHA
By Jigyasa Giri and Pratibha Jain
Price: Rs 450 Pages: 87
RUSH HOUR COOKBOOK
By Bapsi NarimanGood Housekeeping, India
Price: Rs 395 Pages: 144
Gurgaon is classic eating-out-and-dial-a-takeaway territory where the microwave reigns as undisputed king of the kitchen. So who is buying all these books? "Very popular gift items," said the store manager, adding that 50 per cent of daily sales were a tie between cook books and children's books. This only confirmed my impression that, other than their natural use as kitchen decoration, cook books make perfect bedtime stories for adults.
The publishing boom in cook books is an obvious by-product of the boom in the catering industry. A recently-released food guide to the capital lists more than 2,000 eateries with a cuisine-wise, area-wise, catering and home-delivery index that runs into 83 pages! The re-mapping of urban India in the new century is an object lesson in culinary geography. No matter where you are positioned on the food chain, if you can't consume it you want to know about it. Nothing better illustrates the powerful assertion of regional cultures than the distinctive aromas now bubbling in the pan-Indian melting pot.
Easily the best of the three new concoctions on offer is Pushpesh Pant and Huma Mohsin's Food Path, a compendium of great recipes on the Kabul-to-Kolkata route of the Grand Trunk Road. It may not tell us what the G.T. Road's chief architects, Emperor Ashoka or Sher Shah Suri, the Afghan conqueror actually ate, but nonetheless links the frontiers of Indian food-potted history, lucid maps, splendidly-researched visuals, old and new, from the kababs of Peshawar and Amritsar to dishes from the imperial kitchens of Delhi and Lucknow, Varanasi's vegetarian pleasures and some Bengali originals. The choice of recipes is often original but sometimes whimsical. Dak Bungalow Roast is a good idea in a roadie for foodies but who will nowadays risk making rosogollas at home?
| PICTURE SPEAK |
|FOOD CHAIN: Highway delights to thirty-minute wonders |
For a journey down the oldest highway in the subcontinent, Food Path is clever about emphasising cross-cultural connections. The Grand Trunk Road was an artery of exchange-"a river of life as nowhere exists in the world," said Kipling-so that a dish like shabdeg, a lamb stew made with turnips, specific to Kashmir, could not have travelled south to the plains without it, nor the Hyderabadi dessert known as Khumani ka Meetha, made with apricots, have originated without the fruit coming from the far north. This deceptively simple volume is also a visual blast for its use of vibrant truckers' art for illustrations. It is knowledgeable, urbane and fun.
Pedatha: Vegetarian Recipes from a Traditional Andhra Kitchen is a family monument to mother love. "Pedatha" is the nickname of the eldest daughter of the late president Dr V.V. Giri. Two young women have recorded the 85-year-old matriarch's recipes for posterity. Her wizardry in the kitchen has been diligently documented in words and pictures-a dazzling array of chutneys, dry powders, rice, dals and vegetable dishes that will surprise even the most ardent fan of south Indian cuisine. Contrary to the notion that south Indian food is difficult to prepare at home, the recipes seem easy to prepare and digest.
Good Housekeeping's Rush Hour Cookbook promises that no recipe featured will take longer than 30 minutes to produce. Bapsi Nariman has sufficiently Indianised the original to include generic curries, vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare and added some tidbits of her own: "In Kashmir, when we used to go fishing... our houseboat man would catch the trout and pour a tot of gin into the mouth of the fish and then fry it. It tasted really good!"
White wine replaces gin in Nariman's trout recipe but elsewhere she cannot resist recommending a dash of Tabasco, something which would make purists steam. But there's enough material here to goad first-time home-makers, harassed baby-boomers and impromptu cooks to have a go in the kitchen. Just the sort of handy page-turner that should fly off the shelves in the shopping malls of Gurgaon and other suburbia.
AUTHORSPEAK | SIMON SING
His parents wanted him to start a business rather than study particle physics. But Simon Singh had other ideas. And he turned those ideas into three books, where he tried to make some of the most incomprehensible things less daunting for the average reader. The latest of them, Big Bang (HarperCollins), is about "the most important discovery of all times and all you need to know about it", where he explains the big bang theory in a characteristically clear narrative, peppered with anecdotes and personal experiences.
The pattern follows his two earlier books, Fermat's Last Theorem and The Code Book. The first deals with a complex theorem which had mathematicians baffled, and how a 10-year-old boy realised his dream of cracking it. This was the first book on mathematics to become a number one bestseller in the UK. Singh later made a documentary on the book which won him a bafta award, the British equivalent of the Oscars. The second book, true to its name, attempts to decode how technology works in our lives.
In addition to holding a PhD in particle physics from Cambridge, Singh has been a journalist and worked with the BBC. He says, "My grandfather and my parents were salespersons. I had decided to be a physicist when I was eight. After taking my degree I took up teaching and found myself asking, 'Am I going to do this for the next 30 years?' That was when I decided to pursue journalism." Singh, 42, says he has been able to attain the fine balance of being true to science and yet making it an interesting read because of his experience as a scribe. Far from the serious image of scientists, the author sports spiked hair and has a penchant for things like non-transitive dice, trash TV and electrocuting gherkins. He had embarked on his now-bestseller book as a "Little Book on Big Bang", but soon found himself writing more and more till he ended up incorporating a story about the Heike crab, believed to have the soul of a Samurai.
Singh believes he has done his job well enough. "There are very few books looking back on scientific discoveries," he says. Looking at sales figures, it wasn't a bad idea at all. Never mind that he isn't the astrophysicist he wanted to be.
-By Swagata Sen