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Nilima Sinha

By Ranjit Lal
Duckbill Books, Chennai, 2012, pp. 256, Rs. 225.00


Ranjit Lal has a charming, humorous and wacky style of writing which immediately catches the reader’s attention. His articles, especially on birds and pets have endeared him to many, including this author, who enjoys all that is written by him. I was therefore keen to read this latest book for children and I must say I was not disappointed. It is an impossible story, of course, set as it is in a grand castle in today’s India, with all the trappings of a royal habitat. One of the protagonists is a real princess, Zafira, who makes friends with ordinary girls, including a boy, from ordinary, professional families.   The extraordinary characteristic of Zafira’s father, the maharaja, is his interest in culinary achievements and discoveries. ‘The maharaja and their chefs travelled all over the country and abroad, armed with huge notebooks into which they scribbled recipes of dishes that tickled their palates (and made them drool). The recipes were later modified and improved in the legendary kitchens of the Kamargarh Palace. It had been said that over the generations ‘the taste buds of the maharajas of Kamargarh had evolved to a much higher degree (as had some of their paunches) than that of ordinary people.’   The maharaja used to invite commoners to a feast every year. His royal wife was totally against this and thoroughly disapproving of the very idea. ‘Even this year you’ve gone and invited all the riff-raff. They come here and stuff their faces and shout with their mouths full and burp and gargle right in front of everyone. It’s disgusting!’ and then she adds, ‘They eat with their mouths open like lizards chomping cockroaches and slurp and burp all the time. Now I insist we must invite Their Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Windbreaker and Lord and Lady Poochier and Sir Chichipuk and his wife.’   This was the opinion of the maharaja’s wife. But her husband would have none of it. ‘No way. You know this Open House is only meant for ordinary, decent, hardworking folk. It’s been the tradition of Kamargarh for hundreds of years.’   Father and daughter Zafira love to cook and take great delight in savouring the flavours of the end products. ‘She cut a small piece and put it in her mouth. And gave herself up to the myriad delicate flavours that flooded her palate; The ...

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