That Flash In Granny’s Pan

Outlook, December 7, 2015

You’ve heard of gastro or kitchen porn, haven’t you? At its purest, it was first noticed in the film When Harry Met Sally, as Meg Ryan sits opposite Billy Crystal in an American delicatessen and starts faking it. Her gasps and groans are so authentic that the lady across the aisle says, “I’ll have what she’s having.” As editor of a marvellous compendium of anecdotes revolving around food, Mita Kapur knows a thing or two about gastro porn, desi style. Why, she has only to hotfoot it down the streets of the old city of Jaipur, where she lives, and ‘Voila! C’est la joie!’, as one of the maids seduced by the crime writer Georges Sim­enon, a serial philanderer, exclaimed when he pounced upon her. Or to quote Kapur, “To reach into the bag, feel the warm, fuzzy buttery biscuits which collapse into cottony balls once on your tongue—heaven!”

Towards the end of the book, Anita Nair describes an instant when, just before turning in for the night, she hears her mother ask her dad a question. She wraps up the story with the apercu: “And it occurs to me then that nothing says ‘I love you’ more than that: ‘What’s for breakfast?’ And, ‘What would you like, my darling?’” So, in a sense, these happen to be love stories involving strange encounters with food. It’s very tempting to call them ‘Granny porn’. For many of the contributors, the remembrance of a particular aroma, or of the life-affirming sustenance of a dish begins with Grandma. Janice Pariat’s essay on porridge sets the standard. She begins with the sound of her grandmother scraping a bowl of porridge in Shillong. It’s a bit like Goldilocks unlocking the door of the three bears. Before you know it, Pariat has climbed onto the tables of different writers and poets, tasting their versions of porridge spoon by spoon, and sharing them pleasurably with her readers. Finally, she finds that she is her own porridge. That is, she finds her own identity as a writer in that humble dish. Charming.

These ‘granny porn’ writers are celebrating their identity by returning to the arcana of their childhood. The preparation of certain kinds of food might also have been all the better for being feudal and unashamedly paroch­ial. Sometimes, as in the case of Avtar Singh, who has a Dutch grandmother who lived in Indonesia after her marriage, there are multiple identities to season the nostalgia, even if he starts with a memory of ‘eggs’. Wendell Rodricks recrea­tes the scent of roses with memories of an aunt named Tia Rosa. Others on the nostalgia trip include Niloufer Ichaporia King, who really walks for her suppers; Jolly Singh and Mayur Sharma, who play cricket with food; Sumana, Jayaditya and Bik­ra­m­­jit, who travel for their food; Saleem Kidwai, whose dad is a shikari, and so we learn a lot about feasting on game; Manu Chandra and Floyd Cardoz, who cook for a living; Chitrita Banerjee, who writes for a living; Jer­ome Marrel, Kartika Nair and Jhanpan Mookerjee, who provide philosophical disquisitions on food. Tara Deshpande Tennebaum is the most scary; she warns of the dangers lurking in food, while Mamang Dai describes a tiny insect—tari—as a must-have delicacy from the hills of Arunachal Pradesh.

In the midst of these worthies, it’s almost a relief to find Bulbul Sharma and Sidin Vadukut bring in a dash of humour; in Vadakut’s case, a rare mention of a South Indian granny. It’s left to the effortlessly effervescent Bachi Karkaria to point out that no matter how we whip up the omelet, one thing is certain, every Indian is bred into the belief that his or her granny’s secret repertoire of culinary delights is the best. So, hurrah for granny porn!

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