Updated: September 9, 2021 6:58:29 am
A few months after her mother-in-law passed away, Pune-based writer Sudha Menon realised that none of the present generation had thought of writing down her repertoire of recipes. The hundreds of dishes that she would cook for them and the pickles and masala that she would distribute to her extended family every summer were now lost.
“We presume that our mothers, grandmothers and mothers-in-law, who cook for us with so much love, are going to be there forever. Most Indian homes do not document family recipes as these are handed down orally over generations,” says Menon.
In an attempt to fill the gap in cookbook writing, Menon has documented the favourite family recipes of 30 prominent Indians in her book Recipes for Life.
Boxer Mary Kom, who grew up in a family of limited means, remembers her mother “using her resourcefulness to prepare something that would have us slurping and asking for more”; artist Atul Dodiya confesses that he misses the rustic Kathiawadi food — dal, chawal, rotli, shaak — that his mother, Nandkuvar Dodiya, cooked for her husband and the seven children; and Uday Kotak of Kotak Mahindra Bank relishes his earliest food memory of “fabulous puran polis that my mother used to make”.
“I know everyone thinks that their mother is the best cook in the world, and I believe it too,” says cricketer Irfan Pathan about his mother Shamim Banu Pathan, who had made her signature biryani for Team India after a match in Baroda during the 2007 India–Australia series.
“To my great surprise, and to Ammi’s great delight, Sachin (Tendulkar) expressed his desire to eat the same biryani the next day too. He said that biryani always tastes better the day after it is made. Unfortunately, there was no biryani left from the previous day, but Ammi was more than happy to prepare it for Sachin all over again,” he adds.
Recipes for Life is part memoir and part a celebration of mothers. Menon’s selection of personalities cover different corners of India and social strata. Through their memories emerge the many flavours of the country and the joy of cooking, feeding and eating.
Cricketer Mithali Raj, after a long overseas tour, is greeted by the aroma of fish fry and mutton curry that has been made by her vegetarian mother Leela Raj, while actor Tisca Chopra’s mother Pammi Arora made her a cake with “an entire farmhouse on it”.
Every Eid, actor Aamir Khan still calls his mother, Zeenat Hussain, to say that he will be coming over with 10-15 friends for her biryani. “He always offers to order some food from outside, so that I don’t have to exert myself, but I love cooking and there is no need ever to order food from outside,” says Hussain.
Menon, who has written five non-fiction books, calls Recipes for Life “precious because it has recipes and memories of some of India’s most loved people”.
Her own childhood memories are full of hanging around as her mother, Pramila Radhakrishnan, cooked. “You learn so much just by being around the kitchen,” she says.
Now, in her kitchen cabinet, she keeps a container that says aai khichdi masala, 2016, from the last batch made by her mother-in-law a few months before she passed away. “It has been six years since she has gone but the masala is as aromatic as ever. I cannot bring myself to use it because that would be the last trace of her,” she says.