Thursday, February 3, 2011

climbing the mango trees

Madhur Jaffrey is an Indian actress, who is also a TV cook and a food writer. I have never heard of her before I read her memoir Climbing the Mango Trees.

The book is a recollection of her younger days in India, concentrating on the history and the legends of her family.

She is a self-confessed history buff, so I totally understand why her memoir is like a history lesson more than anything. At times, she would give out a small insight into the dynamic of her large extended family, but she would never fully explain it and never fully resolve it. It's as if she's writing this book for herself, as a means of having her family history in print, or maybe it's because she's afraid of offending too many people in her family. She's almost obsessive in getting people's relation to her family right. There were numerous instances where she would explain that such and such person is her father's youngest sister, or such and such is her aunt's oldest son. It just gets a bit tedious sometimes.

When she wrote about food, it's almost like a list. Nothing to invoke a vivid image in my head. I don't know what her other books are like, but this one left me quite frustrated. Here's an excerpt.
I was very curious to see what those around me were being served. Some children had sandwiches. Tomato and cheese was popular, as was the spiced egg sandwich. Some children had leftover roasts from the night before. On Anglo-Indian girl with thin brown hair who sat at the bench next to me always startled me with unusual combinations. I remember looking over once and seeing the following on her plate: at nine o'clock there were cornflakes; at twelve o'clock there was plain rice; at three o'clock there was cooked masoor dal flowing slightly into the rice; and at six o'clock there was an English sausage. She ate all this with a fork and spoon.

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