I have read poetry and prose on diaspora, and the longing of home. I have felt my stomach churn as songs of the inability to return played over and over again. But never have I ever read a book, and felt like a seven-year-old running around in my grandmother’s kitchen. This book takes you back to the familiarity of your childhood kitchen without the writer knowing the specifics of what your memories are. It taps into the collective consciousness of the part of India that thrives on the rich, unique flavours. Sameen Rushdie takes you on a journey through the intricate streets of India, where every lane has a new flavour, every muhalla has a new culture, every city has a new story, and every dish has a new embrace.
With a foreword by Salman Rushdie, this book becomes an important part of Indian literature as it ensures the safeguarding of age old traditions of food. In a time where most of us are blinded by the western concepts of a good meal to cope with our insecurity of being inferior: Indian Cookery restores your faith and interest in Indian Cooking. When you pick up the book, you are instantly reminded of the taste and smell of garam masala. The artwork on the cover and the overall tone of the book reminds you of the fascination you had when your grandparent told you a story.
As Rushdie points out in the introduction, the use of cookbooks is a rare activity in India. Recipes, here, are passed on as heirlooms. We hold them close to our hearts like they’re the only things keeping us intact. Cookbooks are often very rigid, as they must be, but Indian food requires a personal touch. It requires a unique twist that only this particular person can give it. And from what I have noticed, adding a personal touch only makes the food more heartfelt, which in turn gives way to a famous quote: “the way to a person’s heart, is through their stomach.”
Indian Cookery takes you on a journey through the life of a common Indian kitchen. The book doesn’t just give you recipes; it gives you all the supplementary reading needed if you aren’t familiar with an Indian Kitchen. It talks of the different spices the way one talks about the characters of a story: their origin, importance, and even the way each of them makes a place in your palette. It teaches you the art of finding a way to balance the meal in a way that would fill not just your stomach, but also your heart. It also talks about the sides that may be required to enhance the experience of the meal, which usual cookbooks don’t tell you about. This book explains to you the science and the art behind the process of Indian cooking.
Rushdie mentions an anecdote of having her mother explain to her a recipe in oddly vague measurements. The telephonic conversation reminded me of all the conversations I’ve had with my mother, desperately trying to create something that might make me feel at home. As an introduction to the book, she makes it very clear to the reader that the reader has absolute freedom to tweak the recipe as they may like. The way it gives you the leniency to mould the dishes Rushdie received from her ancestors, into something you may someday pass on, captures the essence of Indian food.
Sameen Rushdie begins every recipe with a memory, which only seems like the ideal way to share an Indian recipe. She talks about these recipes as a part of her life, and not merely a part of a three-course meal. She talks of this food as though it sustains not just her body, but the entirety of her being: with the memories of the generations that this recipe has seen. When you read these recipes, you’d feel like you’re learning about a person, with a story and a soul.
With limited time and resources on my hand, this book compelled me to try out some recipes that matched the nature of my origin. Since both Rushdie and I can trace our roots back to Sindh, I picked a name that I could only hear my naani call out: gajreyla. Even though I was aware of the matching origins, I did not comprehend the familiarity that this book held and the ability to make me feel. When I came across this name towards the end of the book, I felt a solitary butterfly in my heart, the child in me seemed to have just found a glimpse of home. The mere mention of this dish being appropriate for summer evenings built a vibrant image of the makeshift swing in naani’s aangan (grandma’s courtyard). The recipes read like they’re being taught to you specifically by a loved one, not just as a means to teach you how to sustain yourself but also to ensure that you always have a part of them
As I sit here writing this piece, the aroma of gajreyla takes me back to the naturally-lit kitchen with the rustling of sarees and the clinking of bangles together. The warmth of a wintery morning filled with ardaas (puja ritual) in a strong, warm voice as the splattering of ghee fit perfectly in the background. Indian Cookery is the security and the embrace of a grandparent, it is the fragrance of spices perfectly blended together, it is the feeling of home in a book.