It also brings in more unusual memories like that of her baby calling out for Mama from her womb.
Perhaps an editor said, food is the most obvious thing a chef can write about, concentrate on your family instead. Shared Tables by Kaumudi Marathe is an unlikely chef tantalises with food descriptions in the beginning, then adds a few touches occasionally but is a story about Maharashtrian relatives, Saraswat Brahmins and otherwise and the beauty of women with blue grey eyes. Marathe has a knack for the vivid description — she lingers over the fine features of her maternal and paternal grandmothers and describes how, from being a dark skinned baby, she grew to become a beauty, according to a noted artist.
Summers with her grandparents at various houses bring mention of snacks and rice and pickles but this chef's memoir is actually more a traversing of various continents with her liberal parents and the effects of all that travelling in her formative years. There are also anecdotes of crossing social barriers and caste and creed. Her grandmother was looked down on by her mother-in-law and so was Marathe because of her dark complexion — dark girl babies in India after all have problems getting married. Marathe did get married but ran into a different set of problems because she married a Sindhi and his parents would have been happier if they had just lived together.
What the book does is balance two ways of life — that of India and the other of the US — the shared tables of her title. Her father was forced to teach in Canada because of the corruption of the Indian university system he encountered and her husband sought higher studies in the States. Marathe found her psyche awakening at different times in different countries, perhaps too many places for the reader to comfortably assimilate. Food finally comes with a rush in the US when she decides to introduce Americans to Un-Curry, her catering service, the proper way to cook Indian cuisine without curry powder. It also brings in more unusual memories like that of her baby calling out for Mama from her womb.
Shared Tables is more about family experiences remembered in tranquility and the importance of bonding in a world growing increasingly scattered. The book is an account of the women of Maharashtra of a certain class and how they found their way to express themselves in the face of social restrictions and sometimes overwhelming odds.
Anjana Basu is the author of Rhythms of Darkness