Books and arts
COOKING is a sensual experience.
It has the power to comfort, unite and anchor a family in tradition.
In his new novel, Amit Majmudar uses food to tell a larger story about life, death and the immigrant experience.
At the centre of the book is an unnamed Indian mother who makes dahi the traditional way, curdling each new pot of yogurt with a spoonful from the one before it.
To ensure this dynastic succession, she smuggled some in a test-tube when she emigrated from Gujarat to Ohio.
Now, with two grown children who have their own families, she colonises grandchildren with the magical cultures.
This small but significant attempt at cultural continuity becomes more meaningful when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Feeding her family allows her to maintain some normality during the slow sloppy business of dying.
As the narrator grows weaker, her daughter, Mala, becomes determined to learn all of her mother's recipes.
A doctor like her father, she is strong-willed but deferential.
They fight, but they always have done.
Harshness, paradoxically, is intimate. The ailing mother's son Ronak, however, rebuffs the family's traditions.
He lives as a gambling banker in Manhattan with his pale-faced American wife.
His affection for his mother is more distant.
Despite these slight fractures, the mother longs to preserve the semi-dysfunctional status quo.
But her cancer casts everything in shadow, and tests the relationships that matter most.
The narrative is slow, but sumptuous with recipes and reflection.
Mr Majmudar, who is also a poet, imbues his prose with phrases and metaphors that linger with the warmth of spices.
Tension rises from the pages as his characters struggle to enjoy the present with the knowledge that everything must soon change.
But the simple repetition of cooking and eating brings the family together, softening the hard edges like boiling water on rice.
Was America better for the family or did the move make everything harder?
This country gave us clean quiet luxury and charged us nothing but our children, the mother observes.
Mala and Ronak are in many ways alien to their parents, and sometimes to themselves. Ohio has offered them wealth and opportunity.
For nourishment and love, they have the bowls of dahi and dishes of bhindi at the family table.