Oct 26, 2009

Hindi Bindi Club and delayed kheer

Towards the end of Monica Pradhan’s The Hindi-Bindi Club, Meenal Deshpande shows her daughter Kiran her list of ‘Things I want to do before I die’. One of the things on the list is her wish to write a novel. Her daughter requests her not to write a “Life’s-a-Bitch-and-Then-You-Die” novel. Meenal assures her daughter she will write a story that’s ultimately uplifting, about survivors of hardships and of resilience of the human spirit.

Pradhan attempts to write just such a novel and it is easy to see where she draws her inspiration from -- The Joy Luck Club and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. But it is fair to say these books were just inspirations and Pradhan thankfully tries to make the story her own or about the three set of mothers and daughters.

The story of the six women is told in first person and first half of the book draws the reader into their personal lives in a very reality-TV-like way. And even though they are from the same country, the cultural diversity of the three (Bengali, Maharashtrian and Punjabi) is well narrated and explained for the non-Indian reader. But then, like the average reality show, these stories too start to falter, stumble and fall apart at the seams; especially, that of Saroj and her daughter Preity and Uma and her daughter Rani. It is not hard to see why.

When you are attempting to voice six strong women and their mother-daughter bond, not to mention their past and present and future, it can become daunting not to mention challenging. Ms. Pradhan’s easy way out was to chop the stories just when they got interesting.

For example, suddenly out of nowhere we find out Saroj is having an extramarital affair with her old flame. Except for her husband’s less than satisfying performance in bed, we get no hint of why, when or how she started her affair.

We know everything about her daughter Preity’s first love affair and her desire to find closure in the face of an abruptly ended affair. But the built up is deflated just as suddenly with a hand delivered letter and a few tears.

Recipe for how plain vegeis are transformed into delicous side dishes 

Uma’s estrangement from her father and her special bond with her daughter is poignant and touching. Her attempt to translate her mother’s diaries gives us a glimpse into the archaic customs and prejudices of Indian families but it is just that, a glimpse. I would have loved to read more translations of her mother’s diaries and how it helped her decipher her daughter’s asthma as just misaligned chakras.

Her daughter Rani, struggling with an artist’s block and a husband dealing with the loss of his start up, in a matter of few pages, has suddenly everything working out for the best for her.

Meenal Deshpande's chicken curry

But more than the choppy stories and abrupt endings, it was the pontification that bothered me the most. It was out of place to the point of being ridiculous and unbelievable at best. I mean, seriously, who launches into a discussion with first time guests over how women should be put in charge of Indo Pak diplomacy and how politicians are to blame for all the world’s problems (True) and regular citizens do not hate people from other countries. Or when Meenal lectures Kiran, a family physian, on the hazards of smoking!

May be Ms. Pradhan should have worried more about fleshing out the story and less about Indo Pak relations or statutory warnings.

That being said, the characters are totally relatable and the mother daughter father bond/tension spot on. The lament of Indian parents at the loss of culture, language and respect for elders is reminiscent of discussion I have at Indian parties in the US. The recipes are as authentic as can be. I loved the reminder “Under no circumstance use curry powder’.

Here’s my reminder, “Under no circumstance buy the book if you can rent.”

This book review is for our monthly book club – This book makes me cook, started by Simran. Other members who reviewed the book are Ann, Simran, Aqua and Aparna. If you would like to join out book club, drop a line to Simran and she will get back to you with details.

My version of Meenal's vermicelli kheer
I made Meenal’s vermicelli kheer (porridge) with pistachios and golden raisins and delicately flavored with cardamom pods. However, this post has run long enough for the purpose of this blog so kheer recipe in the next post, promise.

Ann, don’t take any points off like the last time. It counts if I made and ate the kheer and post it a day later.


  1. Lovely review, and lovlier kheer...actually all three recipes up there :)

  2. absolutely great review Jaya.You are spot on - the pontification, the way problems are magically sorted out and the letter that Preity sent Arsallan - all seemed very tacky.
    That said, the recipes are very good. Maybe one should keep this in the kitchen than in the bookcase!!

  3. Nice no-nonsense review...its difficult to find an Indian author not tempted to 'spice up' on the stereotypes..I might check my library though just because Im a sucker for those desi books :)

    All those recipes look yummy..

  4. Hi Jaya. A crisp review I must say. The kheer is surely inviting me and I am gonna ask my Mom to make some, as she makes the best kheer in the world according to me.

  5. Delicious dishes together makes me hungry...

  6. You hit it out the ballpark - Jaya - kudos! Love your analysis! The whole Saroj - Preity angle was not well laid out and carried the most flaws or annoyances in my opinion.
    Fine fine fine - I shall save my scorn at not posting the recipe within one second of writing your review! Hee Hee Hee
    On second thoughts, I think I need to try that kheer recipe, I've never had one that I liked....

  7. Thank you Simran and Kitchen Queen

    Aqua, you are right, kitchen counter would be a better place for the book. And it is a shame because the book had so much potential in the beginning.

    Dips, do check out the book from the library. Like I said, don't buy it.

    Pari, thank you. Moms do make the best food.

    Priya, I am not sure but I think you are referring to the photographs.

    Ann, thank you the lovely comment and agree with you on S-P. We never get to know if Saroj ever gets closure on her trip to Pakistan or if she even goes there before or after Kiran's wedding. Kheer recipe coming up in the next post.

  8. Never read Monica Pradhan but I did enjoy reading your review. I'm not a Jhumpa Lahiri fan (except a couple of her short stories) so if she models herself on Lahiri, I doubt I'd enjoy her book. Your recipes look exquisite, though.
    Also wanted to give you a heads-up-- I just wrote about the Times building and cafeteria in my latest post and since you worked there too you might enjoy the trip down memory lane :)


Thank you for visiting my space. I miss my former editors, so any form of criticism/ appreciation is welcome. :)

Possibly related posts

Related Posts with Thumbnails