Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Review of "The Hindi-Bindi Club"

The October book choice for the Books That Make Us Cook club was The Hindi-Bindi Club , a novel with recipes, by Monica Pradhan.

I'll be honest that when I first saw the title, I half-rolled my eyes and thought "Oh great - Bollywood fiction, here we come", especially after seeing the jacket cover of the book which had a slightly voluptuous female in a come-hither pose and a barely there sari. That being said, maybe it wasn't my smartest choice to use Amazon's slightly seedy "Click to look inside" link here...

Nope, no Bollywood. No dancing around trees. And no gratuitous ...anything. Lets keep it PG here, folks.

The book trails the lives of three Indian women who emigrated to the US years ago as either trailing spouses, or in the pursuit of higher education. The book intertwines their lives and their constant sentimental pangs to go "home" with the lives of their adult daughters, who grew up in the USA and face the inevitable culture shock of being Indian, but also of not being Indian, but rather American. Standard fare for any second generation Indian who currently resides in the US. Its easy to become an American, but hard to erase the Indian within. To sound cliche, the book did strike me in ways as an Indian version of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club.

*Spoiler Alert*
All the characters in the book are fairly free of sterotypes and the reasons for who they are and the way they behave is handled well by the author. In particular, I loved the character of Uma Basu Mcguiness, the Bengali woman who moves to America to pursue a higher education, meets and falls in love with an American, and has to deal with being expelled and excommunicated from her family back in India purely for that reason. In addition, Uma has a sensitive past that she struggles to deal with, her mother committed suicide after bearing four daughters because of the ostracizing dealt to women who do not bear male heirs in their caste and community . The chapter that deals with this storyline was for me the most haunting and well-written in the book. The blessing "May you be a Mother of a Hundred Sons" inadvertently led to a curse on Uma's family that would carry through to the next generation.

I thought the author Monica Pradhan inter-weaved several different life lessons and histories through the story. For example, she painfully recounts the Partition phase of India, and there is a deep assimilation of facts and stories of India's past, where the country was essentially sliced into parts following Independence, and the grief and anguish it caused to families that were separated by new borders.

However, I was confused at how abruptly some stories were cut or edited. I would have liked to understand more about Saroj's infidelity and the need for her to essentially carry on a two-faced life. For this reason alone, she ended up being the least liked character for me.
Or for that matter, the chapter on Uma and her daughter travelling back to India to exhume her mother's journals and the consequent treatment of daughter Rani's character by a sage are choppily written and abruptly ended with no real conclusion or closure.

But lets get back to the food. Each chapter ends with a dish from the region of India that each character is originally from. There is a great representation of Bengali, Punjabi and Maharashtrian food within the novel. I liked how there were recipes for well known delicacies like Chicken Curry and Ghee Rice Pilafs, and then lesser known regional or modern specialities like Bebinca and Sandesh Truffles.

I chose to sample some Bengali food because I have never eaten anything from that region of India - check out my version (of Uma's version) of Shorshe Salmon Maachh .

For other Book Club members and their reviews - see Bombay Foodie, Aparna, Aquadaze and Jaya.
N.B - I took the book on a 3 hour flight to Chicago - kept me well-entertained! Thanks Book Club and Aparna for this choice.


Jaya Wagle said...

I have to agree with you with just about everything. The book did remind me of 'The Joy Luck Club'; the characters were not stereotypical and their stories turn choppy towards the end. It was almost as if a disgruntled editor chopped off a few pages from the book.
The recipes were, I was surprised to find, pretty good and authentic. Loved your salmon Ann. I did not realize Panch Phoran was all seeds. The one I made two years ago, I ground up everything.

aquadaze said...

I totally and completely agree with you. In fact, I had to wonder why mention the infidelity bit in such a fleeting manner. It didn't seem to have any bearing on the story at all!
Your version of the Shorshe Salmon Maachh sounds very interesting :)

tasteofbeirut said...

That book sounds so interesting! I am going to read it! Also I am fascinated with India and some of my favorite cookbooks are by Madhur Jaffrey.

11thoughts said...

the books seems damn interesting. let me see if i can get a copy!