Food is an integral part of any culture. From birth till death, milestones in life are often marked with celebrations – and food forms an important part of these events. Relationships are built on food. It is also an inseparable string that binds one to their roots. Food can also be cathartic, and also a great anti-depressant.
A recently-released Bengali fantasy film is also based on the concept of food driving the basic emotions of a person. So, seven spices – after the colours of the rainbow – depicted the seven basic emotions in the film. ‘Spirits in a Jar’ by Sarina Kamini takes the thought to a much bigger scale.
As the blurb of the book says, “food is love, love is faith, and faith is family.” The book recounts the tale of an Indian-Australian woman coming to terms with her mother being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She finds solace in food.
Her mother’s old cooking recipes help her heal her wounds and rediscover her Kashmiri roots. She wins over her grief and loneliness by seeking solace in spiritualism. The spices are her medium – she revisits the core beliefs of Hinduism and personalises God in her own way. In the process, she learns the value of acceptance and love.
While the book is predominantly about food, it also touches upon socio-political issues – like the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. The author explores how this flight from one’s homeland bore an impact on several generations thereafter, and changed lives.
To her credit, the author has beautifully crafted the characters. Each of them are enamoured with layers and complexities of emotions – which makes it very easy for a reader to connect to them. The author has also established a complex web of emotions centred around the mother-daughter relationship. The juxtaposition of the protagonist’s relationship with her mother with that of her children gives us a glimpse into the generational shift in parenting as well.
Kashmiri food is delectable and the lovely recipes that this book has make one immensely crave for food. However, like the absence of a key spice makes a food bland, ‘Spirits in a Jar’ fails to connect with the reader beyond the food. At times it is tiring. Overall, the book serves a staple diet of rice-daal when you were expecting pulao.
My Rating: 3/5 stars
P.S. The review copy of the book was provided by Westland Books
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Supernatural is a genre that attracts the attention readers worldwide. Indian folklore is richly blessed with tales of supernatural galore. There are many rituals and customs in different parts of the country which cannot be judged by the metrics of modernism.
‘Dance of the Spirits’ by Sanjai Velayudhan is a book which deals with one such ritual from coastal Kerala. ‘Theyyam’ is a ritualistic dance theatre that dates back several eras. ‘Theyyam’ involves ritualistic worship of deities in the open-air, and includes supernatural elements, mythical figures and men dressed in the form of animals. The dancers go into a state of trance during the performance and thus come closer to God.
This mystical dance form sort of sets the mood of the story. In the backdrop of ‘Theyyam’ the author gives us a message that one must always pay for their actions. This intriguing thought is explored in the 300-odd pages where we come across Krish and Maria.
Maria is a research scholar from the US who comes to India to study ‘Theyyam’. In course of time she meets Krish, who is also in town to write a book on the ancient dance form. They are both attracted to each other and the association takes a turn – for better or for worse, is for you to find out in the book.
Instead of the ‘whodunnit’ mystery format, the author went for the thriller mode, which makes the book more endearing. It is more engaging to read a narrative when you know the end but want to find out how events unfold leading to the ultimate climax.
The book gives us an insight into the myriad cultures and rituals that are still practised in the country. It allows us to delve deep into the traditions, alive for centuries, and finally delivers the message that it is not possible to change one’s destiny.
The language is simple and lucid, packed full with emotions. The beautiful descriptions of the ancient traditions will surely captivate the reader. The pages turn fast as the narrative moves at a brisk pace. It is indeed a fascinating work in the domain of supernatural writing in India.
Overall, ‘Dance of the Spirits’ by Sanjai Velayudhan qualifies as an apt book to read on a long train journey, or on a lazy Sunday afternoon, for a fantastic experience.
My Rating: 3/5 stars
P.S. I received a review copy of the book from Leadstart Publishing
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