The inheritance of food

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 4.02.07

She loves writing in her kitchen. Cooped up for eight long years, penning The Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desai (picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya) found “comfort in food”. “I would fix something, nibble and then get back to writing again,” said the 2006 Man Booker prize winner.

Food appears almost as a leitmotif in Inheritance… whether it’s the mutton cutlets and mashed potato and peas meal that Gyan has for the first time at his lover’s home or the cream horns devoured by the residents and neighbours of Mon Ami on a leisurely winter afternoon. One of the main characters, Panna Lal, the judge’s cook, who is called, well, just the cook, till the end of the novel (“this reinforces the class divide”), is fashioned after the family retainer at her Delhi home, a Bengali who “rustled up elaborate English and Bengali meals”. “I loved cooking myself and would try out dishes when he would take a nap. But I was invariably caught with ‘Nakarchakar kiya’ or a ‘Zada kharach kiya’.” A “charming and cranky fella’ ”, he finds life again as Panna Lal, who with his bowed legs and unwavering loyalty serves an eccentric master and his orphaned granddaughter with all the pent-up love he has for his immigrant son Biju.

Biju jumps from one diner to another, an illegal immigrant, working in the kitchens of New York’s ethnic restaurants. Hordes of ethnic illegal immigrants find jobs here. “Mexicans cook Spanish food and Chinese cook Indian food out. At the back of a pack of frozen parathas from Patel Brothers, you have instructions saying Westerners could have the parathas as bread, the Chinese could have it with noodles!”

It is these immigrant experiences that makes Desai’s novels so rich. The humiliation and hurt and the attempt at hiding it all from the families back home is repeated generation after generation. And it is this niche “Indian ethnic literature” that finds acceptance not just in the UK but in the US, too, where the market for Indian literature has grown vastly. “Whether its Seth’s Suitable Boy or Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter…, once a book is successful, publishers want more of the same. The acclaimed Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie of Purple Hibiscus fame was turned down by publishers as Adichie wasn’t African-American, nor was she Indian!” Desai’s Inheritance was turned down by 10 publishing houses before it was bought by Hamish Hamilton. The rest, as they say, is history.

Anasuya Basu

Good hacker

Ankit Fadia (picture by Bishwarup Dutta) thinks like a criminal, only to prevent crimes. In Calcutta on Friday to launch three books penned by him with others, the 21-year-old “ethical hacker” gave a live demo.

Fadia, who works for several companies, including Google, used a simple tool to hack into a jewellery website and reach the database of their clients, their usernames and passwords. “If you want to order something from this website, it will ask you for your user name and password. But if you want to buy something and bill it to someone else’s credit card, you can simply write ‘admin’ to reach the company database. You will need a password, but there is a tool that hackers use to bypass that. Then you easily find details of the customer, pose as him or her and bill your purchases to that person,” enlightens Ankit. Ethical hacking is all about “hacking into your client’s website, to find the loopholes and then suggesting how it can be improved”, said Ankit.

A hacker since 12, Ankit has started a project with Reliance Webworld, christened Ankit Fadia Certified Ethical Hacker — a programme aimed at training a new generation of world-class ethical hackers.

He thinks hacking is a man’s domain and stresses women suffer most from a popular cybercrime: morphing of pictures.

His three new books are Google Hacking with Diwakar Goel, Encryption with Jaya Bhattacharjee and Intrusion Alert with Manu Zacharia.

Poulomi Banerjee

A full life

Public memory is short. Santiniketan is no doubt the birthplace of contemporary Indian art. Its pioneering work was continued by the Calcutta Group, the first organised body of artists of which the likes of Pradosh Dasgupta, Paritosh Sen, Nirode Mazumdar and Gopal Ghosh were members. Calcutta Group predated the Progressive Artists’ Group of Mumbai. But this fact is lost today. Art critic Mrinal Ghosh’s book, Paritosh Sen The IX Decade, launched on Wednesday, will hopefully go a long way in putting Indian art history in its perspective.

The lavishly illustrated and beautifully produced book by Artworld contains reproductions of some of the early works of this 88-year-old artist who still works with youthful zest. Sen’s early academic exercises developed into a huge corpus of works often injected with humour and sarcasm, a rare quality in Indian art. But most of all, Sen’s powerful draughtsmanship stands out because of the keenness and warmth with which he sees life. This is most evident in his famous self-portraits. Ghosh’s book also contains Sen’s early drawings that are rarely seen. One wishes some samplers of Sen’s experiments with Rabindranath’s script were also reproduced. The book launch was followed by the premiere of the film, Self Portrait : Paritosh Sen, directed by Vijay S. Jodha and produced by Artworld.

Papa dear

Celine is a young French violinist who comes to Calcutta in search of her father. She discovers a world with its own values and culture and life takes on a different meaning.

She meets rickshaw-puller Duniya and his teenage daughter Moon, who works in a chemical factory. “It is a parallel story about a girl in search of her father and her fight against child labour in the cit,” says Paris-based director Kajal Choudhury, who is shooting Long Journey to Calcutta.

Co-written by Choudhury and Julie Gauvain, the French actress who plays Celine (above, a still from the film), Long Journey should release by May. “We have inscripted the film for the Cannes Film Festival this year,” said Choudhury.

Step mom

Bharatanatyam exponent Geeta Chandran is someone who clings to tradition to innovate.

Geeta was in town to stage Kaikeyi at the National School of Drama’s Bharat Rangmahotsav. Kaikeyi is a unique solo dance-theatre performance by Geeta, with elements of other art forms, under the direction of Rashid Ansari, a martial artist and movement-theatre director from Delhi.

The production looks at Kaikeyi, Lord Rama’s stepmother, as a brave and sensitive woman condemned by a patriarchal system and made to look like a villain.