Zone of Fire

 

I have a certain disdain for picking up recipe and cookery books. Let’s just say, since I barely get into the kitchen to make anything, such books become mere showpieces for me. I don’t get to cherish them the way they’re meant to be. But, I’ve started to develop a soft corner for non-fiction books on food, books that curate experiences related to food and lives of people.

As always, I’ve come across numerous gems at the Delhi Book Fair and in August, three years ago, I came away, giddy with happiness, with Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. With a focus on the adventures in the culinary underbelly, the book exposes the younger years of Bourdain’s life as a chef, filled with sex and drugs, and traces his career from being a dishwasher (we all have to begin somewhere) to the renowned chef, novelist, and television show host he is now.

Bourdain has always been a chef without a filter, not in the Gordon Ramsay-kind of a manner, but someone who does not hold back on his thoughts and opinion. He says it like it is. For him, his cooking life has been one long love affair, and through this book, he wanted his readers to get a taste of the life that a normal diner does not get to see, or appreciate. With a couple of friends in the industry of late, I know it is a slug fest being in the kitchen for over fifteen hours in a day, constantly standing or being near the flame, and it can be such a hard life.

The book is divided into five main sections – three courses, one dessert, followed by coffee and cigarettes. Food will always be related to memories, and Bourdain talks of his first memorable food experience while on a family vacation to Europe, when he had cold soup – vichyssoise. This was quite a revelation for him. However, he and his brother, had a strange liking for the random steak with ketchup, and their taste buds had not yet developed for the finer delicacies their parents wanted to introduce them to. So in Vienne, both boys were left in the car, while the parents went to enjoy their meal sans the grousing of their boys. This was quite a wake-up call for Bourdain as it dawned on him that a meal could be more than just shoving things down, but a means of celebration. This pushed him to try everything, and by that he meant, everything.

As a child, I too had my favourites. If we went to a particular restaurant, I would always order my staple menu, unlike my brother who always tried to get me to experiment, but no luck. It was only after losing him and finding a different me in stranger lands, did I start to push my boundaries, and now I indeed am a changed person. I loathe having to try the same things, and want to experiment with a lot of different cuisines, dishes and even food items.

This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.

Youth of tomorrow

There are some books that are labeled as great, but few come about to actually reading them. As always, I had happened to see A Clockwork Orange in college, and though it made for quite a riveting film, its core concept really did not sink in, till I bought myself a second hand book from Connaught Place.

A dystopian novel, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, is set in a futuristic English society where the youth is prone to extreme violence and rage. Alex, the protagonist of the novel, along with his gang of three other youngsters, roam the streets of the city picking on innocent people. They also rob a store, assault a scholar who was on his way home, they fight with a rival gang, enter a private property and beat up the gentleman while the gang proceed to rape his wife… such are the terrors they inflict on society.

The second part of the story is what I find most interesting. It comprises Alex’s arrest and subsequently convicted of murder. He is chosen to be part of an experimental test, a behavious-modification technique known as the Ludovico Technique and in exchange, he would be set free. The process induces aversion in Alex to all the anti-social activity he used to do, and while being injected with nausea-inducing drugs, he was made to watch films with a high level of graphic content. This made his nauseous, and slowly, his brain started to trigger nausea every time he came across such content, either in thought or in real life. And as one of the films had Beethoven’s Ninth symphony as its soundtrack, Alex henceforth was unable to enjoy his favourite composer and musician.

“Is it better for man to have chosen evil than to have good imposed upon him?”

The reason I like this book is because of the central theme – ‘freedom to choose’, and how in Christian teachings we are taught that God loves us, hence He gives us the freedom of choice, but we must bear the consequences of our words, actions, and thoughts. So, in this book when Alex is conditioned to be repelled by bad deeds, one wonders what is more important, to be forced to be good or to be bad but have a freedom in that choice?

The narrative is exceptionally interesting and fast-paced for most of the story. While it may take you time to get the hang of Nadsat talk, but once you do, boy o boy, what a brilliant story shall you unravel. And I think, somewhere, with the characters conversing in Nadsat, it makes the impact of the grossly unappetizing sections in the book a little less dire.

This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.

X-Mas Tales

When it comes to Christmas and winter, there are certain stories I keep reaching out to and although, like every year I couldn’t read it this year, I plan to get back on track this coming winter. Stephen King, the undisputed king of horror, makes for a fabulous read during this time. You may think it to be weird, but trust me, when the temperature dips low and the world is already tucked in bed, and you’re left with the King in your hands and a world that’s slowly going out of control.

A book I first read as an ebook, The Shining by Stephen King taught me that digital books are not meant to be looked down upon or even despised for that matter. And during my first job, when I had to wait before work started, I got hooked to reading digital books. Considering the size of The Shining, it’s a wonder I managed to finish not just this one, but a host of other books too.

Unfortunately, I happened to see the movie before I read the book, and like most cases, there were so many concepts that sprung to mind only after I read the book. Books have a way of explaining to readers what really goes on inside a person’s head, it’s much easier to break the fourth wall in a book. I realized, after watching the entire movie, that I had no clue to the exact concept of the ‘shining’.  Based in the fictional Overlook Hotel located in the Colorado Rockies, Jack Torrance along with his wife and child, take up residence for the winter. Jack who has a streak of violence and alcoholism in the past, is in desperate need of the job to pay for his writing, while he uses the opportunity to connect better with his family.

The ‘shining’ is actually in connection with Jack’s son Danny, who unbeknownst to his parents, is able to read minds, see premonitions and has telepathic abilities. The hotel they stay in is haunted, and previously, even a young family that had stayed here earlier, the father had fallen under the spell of cabin fever and had murdered his family.

Many wonder why Stephen King is so great, and while they may rattle off his other titles, for me, it’s this book. Fear literally creeps up your back, it does not come bounding towards you. You wouldn’t even realise how and when, in the daily humdrum of settling in at the hotel, do certain things look a little different and how even the seemingly harmless topiary may be alive after all.

This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.

Whorls of China

Ever been on a trip and spent two-third of your travel budget on books? Well, I have. It was seven years in the month of September, when a few of us had made an impromptu trip to Goa from Pune. Day 1, we land at Calungate beach and everyone is busy shopping, and I come back with an armful of books, including Canadian journalist John Fraser’s The Chinese – Portrait of a People.

I’ve always had a simmering interest in China and its people, culture, especially food and the arts, and I loved this book. A correspondent for the Toronto GLOBE and MAIL, John arrived in China in December 1977 and stayed on for two years. The book showcases his perspective on the inner world of China that so far, for a long time had been hidden, misunderstood and even feared. The book not only depicts China as per John, but to put on record certain events that may seem extremely complicated to a stranger’s eye.

All of us have a general idea of China that of the People’s Republic, the party, the importance of ranks and maintaining them, obedient officials and citizens, this is our idea of China, from the outside looking in. During his first few days, John explains how the West has often viewed China. He says when the first Jesuits had come in the 17th century, they saw a land of perfection marred only by the absence of Christianity. And then in the late 1970s, the West still views the country as a perfect land barring the absence of certain human rights or academic standards. He adds how it took his being among the Chinese that helped open his eyes towards their reality, and not one painted either by the West or by the Party.

During his tenure in China, John witnesses the events leading up to the Xidan Democracy Wall. From November 1978 to December 1979, thousands of people gathered at Xidan Street and put up posters on a long brick wall, raising their voices against the political and social issues of China. This is said to have laid the foundation for Chinese Democracy Movement.

When in Peking, John describes young people ice skating, poor peasants from rural China travel to Peking to petition for their grievances to be addressed, sculptures of ancient kingdoms and even how Peking is the city of bicycles.

Although I may not be scratching even the surface of the book, do read The Chinese for a better understanding of the many whorls of this beautiful country, however it may be caught up in its own issues.

This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.

Varanasi and her ghats

Any traveller in India worth his/her (or others) salt, must have at some point visited the Varanasi. A place often written about, photographed, filmed, painted, sketched, etc., this city has always caught the fancy of people, from artists to writers and truly mesmerizes everyone.

As is wont with me, I tend to get easily influenced by books, films and impressionable things in general. With every kind of book I’d read, my future career in my head would change. And this I realized only recently because a colleague pointed it out. So, from wanting to be an astronaut to a climatologist, a marine biologist to volcanologist, there were few trades in life that I did not want to pursue. Needless to add, books based in certain regions would make me want to leave everything and be spirited away, but sadly, I lack that drive. So while I’ve never visited Varanasi, the day I completed reading The Romantics by Pankaj Mishra, I had gone batty for the city and her ghats.

The story revolves around Samar who lands up at Benaras and traces his way in and around the city, to do nothing but read books like Schopenhauer and Turgenev, books that promise wisdom and knowledge. When he takes up a room at an elderly Brahmin’s house, he meets his co-guest, Catherine. The beautiful Catherine and her lover, Anand, a sitar player, introduce Samar to their group of friends, and Samar finds himself in the midst of intellectuals and artists, free-wheeling foreigners and their fixed notions of India.

The book, similar to modern Indian literature, brings together the stark contrasts of western and eastern culture. Through characters and scenes, Mishra shows just how different the two worlds are even if there has been enough opportunities to bridge the gap.

Samar befriends a lonely, young political activist, Rajesh, and Samar takes a shine to him immediately. Rajesh’s world is infused in demonstrations and odd cases of violence. This is another aspect of India that Samar wishes to stay away from, preferring to hide in the world of his books.

Those who have read Upamanyu Chatterjee’s English, August, will see the resemblance here too as to how the protagonist gets easily taken aback by the sheer poverty and raw life of rural India.

The second half of the book is rather subdued, with Samar travelling to Pondicherry to check on his ailing father, and this is when he decides to give the attraction of Varanasi a rest and so he begins his career as a school teacher.

And while I am yet to visit the holy city, I do intend to re-read this book before my trip.

This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.