Mallika Basu, the 32-year-old granddaughter of the late CPM leader Jyoti Basu, is over in India to promote her cookbook, Miss Masala: Real Indian cooking for Busy Living (HarperCollins; £14.99).
Married and settled in London, where she jokes she works as a “corporate superbitch” in public relations, Mallika is as entertaining as her book which is directed at ambitious career women keen to experiment with Indian cuisine.
“Calcutta gave me three of my personality traits —
an uncontrollable motormouth, an intense hatred of housework and a real love of food,” admits Mallika, who affects sharp Austin Reed suits, diamonds and Kurt Geiger high heels when she goes into client meetings.
Her mother, Dolly, has helped with recipes but it is her businessman father, Chandan, who inspired his daughter with his passion for food. He is said to be a dab hand at making biryani as well as jangli maas (“a super-spicy dish cooked slowly with equal quantities of goat meat and dry red chilli”).
|The author at the London launch of her book
Those who lament the lack of genuine Bengali food in Indian restaurants in Britain may want to try out Mallika’s recipes. For among other dishes there’s kosha mangsho, cholar dal, chingri malai curry, doi maach, maacher chop, mutton ishtew, and, in the sweets section, narkel narus, payesh and bhapa doi.
“If I can do it,” she says, “any mug can.”
There is an engaging honesty about her, as for
example when she talks about the time when she came bottom in a beauty contest.
She was 17, a pupil at La Martiniere For Girls in Calcutta and her braces and glasses had just come off. Sushmita Sen had won Miss Universe and been roundly condemned by the CPM for encouraging “the flesh trade”, recalls Mallika,
sitting in a south London pub.
She recalls: “I came last — out of 30. The judges hated my grandfather. They questioned me about malignant malaria at a time when it was rampant in the city. They asked me what I would have done had I been chief minister of West Bengal. I completely dissolved on stage and cried for the rest of the evening.”
Much to her relief, her grandfather laughed off the incident but Mallika learnt that while there were advantages to being the chief minister’s granddaughter, there were also critics willing to pick on her because of who she was.
At 18, Mallika followed a boyfriend from Calcutta to the University of Buckingham in the UK, spent two-and-a-half-years doing a BSc in Business Studies and another year in London getting an MA in journalism from City University.
“I grew up in England. When I left home and went to university, I discovered the wild side of me. I did a lot of clubbing and drinking and generally led a high octane life,” she says.
She tried financial journalism,
realised this was not for her and ended up in PR.
And she has settled scores by sending a copy of her book, with its 25,000 words, to her first boss in journalism because he had questioned her ability to write.
“This book is dedicated to the boss who said I couldn’t write,” she says in the book. Even though her professional life has sometimes been exceedingly traumatic, she has never ever contemplated a permanent return to Calcutta. Her parents are
divorced but Mallika (her pet name is Payel) has remained close to them and to her sisters — Juthika (Koyel) and Bithika (Doyel), her juniors by two and nine years respectively.
“At one point someone
even said, ‘Why don’t you go
to India? Your dad can get you any job you want.’ In Calcutta,
the problem for
me was Dadu’s shadow,” she sums up. “It was very important for me to go away and be anonymous and discover myself. I got all my
jobs on my own
capabilities. I had to work and struggle
and I had bosses who bullied me.”
|Mallika with husband Andres Reynaga
She does not wish to be misunderstood. She rushed back to Calcutta shortly before her grandfather passed away in January at the age of 95. She says: “I am very proud of my grandfather but I don’t want to live in his shadow. I want to be my own person. I want to be Mallika Basu like he was Jyoti Basu. That does not mean to say I would deny the fact he was my grandfather or I would pay him disrespect but it does not take away the fire I have to be my own person.”
Mallika is married to Andres Reynaga, a Peruvian-origin fashion photographer. They have an 18-month-old daughter, Leia (“After the princess in Star Wars”), and Mallika is expecting another baby.
One suspects that despite the
demands of her job — one of her high profile clients is the diamond company De Beers — Mallika will continue to find time for regular dinner parties. “Food becomes a way to share many different things,” she says wisely.