Kitchen Encounters

Indian Express, 24 December 2010

In her first book The F-Word, Mita Kapur shows it’s the love for food that binds the family together. Food has always worked as the best adhesive when it comes to family bonds. This phenomenon, however, has never been described in so many words in India till Mita Kapur’s first book, The F-Word, reached the book stands recently. But then Kapur is gifted. She not only possesses a passion for cooking, but also knows the art of storytelling. Her real strength, however, lies in her food-loving joint family.

Kapur’s large family and friends — with their constant yearning for good food — are the inexhaustible fount of anecdotes where food often enjoys prime importance. “The focus of the book has been food. So many memories are associated with my food-loving family. They make sure that there is something interesting happening around food at home all the time,” she says.

While sifting through the chapters of The F-Word, it becomes evident that the book is as much about food as about the Kapur household, which can easily be seen as the apt representative of the great Indian joint family. In this household, food is for every reason and emotion. These reasons don’t happen to be birthdays or wedding anniversaries alone. Even when the daughter opens up about her childhood trauma, there is the comfort of food. And this is what places the book beyond a cookbook despite the presence of nearly 150 recipes. Each of these recipes enjoys a special emotional meaning in the Kapur family and has a story behind it. Almost all of them are easy-to-cook recipes, that don’t demand “fancy” ingredients.

“Cooking is not a mundane activity — you move the soul and spirit of the people you feed. It is a sensuous communication, which should speak of love and caring,” says Kapur, the founder of Siyahi, a literary agency based in Jaipur. The livewire-like presence of this communication makes Kapur’s culinary-cum-personal diary almost a page-turner. The book goes back and forth in time. The author recalls how she burnt a cake when her husband, who was then her boyfriend, visited her home for the first time. Dared by her friend, she fed him a big slice to test his sincerity. Now of course, his birthdays mean setting up an earthen stove in the garden and painstakingly preparing his favourite meat on slow fire. What livens up such tales are Prabha Mallya’s corresponding illustrations. Mallya has also designed the book’s colourful and attractive cover.

Kapur has refrained from fictionalising the culinary accounts and related tales in the book. “I wanted the book to be a reportage of a joint family. With the kind of life we are presently leading, it is very important to both with the family,” she says. Those seeking truth in this statement can read the section where Kapur recalls making tennis ball-sized gulab jamuns along with her sister-in-law much to the amusement of her mother-in-law.

Kapur’s slender frame doesn’t go with the traditional image of a foodie. She, of course, has a secret formula for that. She restricts most her food trails to the time she is travelling. When at home, it’s time for healthy eating.

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