07 May, 2021

Customs Of The Country

A father and a son fall out over the treatment of the cook; a sloth bear and its owner make another tale. These inter-connected stories are a pleasure to read.

Customs Of The Country

For this reader, Neel Mukherjee’s book of interconnected short stories burgeons with the second part, where a young Bengali man comes home to the upm­arket suburb of Bandra, Mumbai, from London, where he has a job as a designer. There, his mother is waiting to feed him and the servants are ready to serve his needs.

The young designer is working on a book of Indian breakfasts, a sumptuous coffee-tabler that will combine regional specificity with good visuals and will combat the terrible bogeyman that Indians abroad are always accused of: catering to Western needs. But then he meets the cook, a woman from Med­inipur, who can get things perfect or quite terribly wrong, depending on her mood. I know. You’re probably groaning: not another paean to the complexity and multiplicity of Indian food. But in Mukherjee’s capable oven mitts, this works. We eat and we think about eating with him; but more than that, we are as worried as he is about our relationship with those who keep us comfortable. There are three kinds of Indians: those who have servants and...

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