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Food, Foodies, Good, Rude and Otherwise


Mrinal Pande

A MATTER OF TASTE: THE PENGUIN BOOK OF INDIAN WRITING ON FOOD; LIFE AND FOOD IN BENGAL
Edited by Nilanjana S. Roy and by Chitrita Banerji
Penguin India, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 363; pp. 237, Rs. 450.00; Rs. 295.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 6 June 2005

Despite gluttony having been declared as one of the cardinal sins by most religions, is there a hidden logic to our intense fascination for  such overindulgence? Or is it, like sex, likely to  defy logic and language  most of the time? At some point or another in our lives, most of us have remarked with some degree of contempt that Indians eat too much and too often! But we continue to eat several meals each day and also nibbling a couple of snacks in between. Life is too brutishly short and love for food that sustains it remains  one of the most basic of perks of being alive.   Penguin’s fresh revised version of Chitrita Banerji’s, Life and Food in Bengal (first published in 1991), catches the essence of our health conscious times, when orgiastic eating has been replaced by talking endlessly about food and eating habits among various cultures. For Banerji, .. the aim was not to produce a compendium of convenient and easy to make dishes for the modern cook …or to be a guide of any kind of ‘health food ‘ …(but) to portray …a distinctive cuisine…whose dimensions have touched every facet of   life in Bengal.   The book opens with a delectable introduction  to the subject of life and food in Bengal over the ages, and moves on to a prologue on the colours, spices and smells that accompany ethnic Bengali food. This  is followed by four chapters on foods prepared and eaten during the four major seasons in Bengal: Grishma (spring- summer), Barsha (monsoons), Sharat Hemanta (early and late autumn) and Sheet (winter). The book ends with  an  epilogue on recaptured essences, and a glossary of Bengali terms, a list of common Bengali dishes and a select bibliography.   Chitrita writes close to the line between fact and fiction.The book that she calls a novel, is actually  a bit of everything: autobiography, fiction, anthropology and even some archeology. It is described as a novel perhaps because Banerji  has invented large chunks of it, to facilitate telling a story about the rich cultural heritage of Bengal and its peoples.  Ultimately, as a category  the book remains indefinable. The central figure Chhobi, who enters the novel as a wide-eyed and much protected young girl growing in a large traditional Bengali household, becomes both the narrator, as also the camera shutter for the writer, taking flashes from various angles while ...


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