A common response among adults when they pick up a book by author Vikas Khanna is — “Is this the chef?” Indeed, the Michelin starred chef has written many a page-turner for young readers, his latest being A Tree Named Ganga (Bloomsbury; Rs 299). It is the story of a seed that grows up to be a majestic tree but eventually loses all her friends. “Many years back, I was talking to a school principal who told me that they had a special child in each class to make others realise their privilege, otherwise the rich kids become self-entitled.
I couldn’t narrate it directly to the kids; it would lose its spirituality. So, I decided to tell the story, as a rhyme, of a tree Ganga who became arrogant as she did not share her happiness with anyone,” says Khanna, who wrote the story on the banks of the river Ganga in Varanasi. “The trees were so majestic, they almost looked like houses, and I saw people sleep on them as if it was home. That’s when the words started flowing,” he adds.
The biggest issue being faced by children today, he says, is that they live in a virtual world and not a real one. “Though this book, I wanted show them different sensibilities of nature and its cycle. I am not a professional in doing children’s books, but I wanted to tell this story,” said the 46-year-old, adding, “As a specially-abled child, I saw that other kids who were smart, good looking, rich and sporty, were not humble.” Khanna was born
His first for children was on cooking and was titled Young Chefs (2013). In 2014, he wrote about a boy named Jugnu who made perfect round rotis in The Magic Rolling Pin, while, in Milk Moustache (2015), Kali the cow, becomes extremely sad when all the children in the village refuse to drink milk.
The New York based author-chef says, “Recently, a politician told me that what is interesting about my career is that I’ve discredited what I’ve done before. But I want no two projects to be the same.”
His next story for young readers will on the differently-abled. “It’s about a nightingale named Mule, who is mute, who can’t sing, and trees and people of the guava field, where she lives, banish her, but she continues to spread her magic and sing in her own tunes.”
There is also a book on food and poetry, Poeatry, coming up. “Isn’t food poetry?” he asks. “There are farms, fields, spices, food, lost love and feelings in those poems. One will read and say this just does not make any sense, but there are many small Da Vinci codes hidden in many of them,” he says over the phone from Ajmer, where he is researching for another book, Beloved India, on the rich and varied cultural diversity of the country. The seed, the hero of A Tree Named Ganga, has inspired a poem as well, titled A Humble Seed. A movie, being made on Khanna by New York-based Andrei Severny, is called Buried Seeds.
Next year, he has another book out. “It is a project I’ve been working on for three to four years on the seeds of the spices that we use — their journey from the seeding, to pollination and blooming. Kisi ko nahi pata jeere ka phool kaisa hota hai,” he says, about the 550-page book. Doesn’t the chef ever face a writer’s block? “I had promised my father that I would write 50 books, and not more that,” he says.