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Friday, May 20, 2011

Review Madhur Jaffrey's CLIMBING THE MANGO TREES - A memoir of a childhood in India

Madhur Jaffrey is my icon for Indian cooking and I loved the friendly, easy going style adapted in her book which was a huge tome of receipes from all over India. Reading her receipes was not just for the idea of food, it also gave one an insight into the area of India which the food represented along with small snippets of information which were very interesting. So when I saw this memoir of her childhood in India, I grabbed the book.

The book covering her life in India takes us back to an era of pre Independence as well as post Independence in India. The turmoil of Partition leading to the death of a million people, the destruction of home and property and the disruption of thousands of lives which would never be the same again is also shown in this book. How administrative officials just drew a map dividing a country without thought of anything other than convenience and how people had no option but to just go with it are simply unimaginable. I think if you do this today, there would be open revolt.

The story is almost idyllic because Madhur Jaffrey came from a privileged background. There was obvious wealth, not flaunted but enjoyed. I liked the huge supporting cast almost of an extended family going from grandparents to uncles, aunts and cousins - true in these days of personal space and privacy this may be abhorent to some but there were plenty of advantages as well. Children grew up with a lot of love and kindness around them with playmates aplenty and none of the fears that we would have today about security, safety and whether we would allow the same to our children.

The fact that I personally would be very cautious about sending my very young children unsupervised amongst a huge clan of family is sad but Madhur Jaffrey and her cousins all have come out of this unscathed and unharmed. Maybe it was the period in which they lived that children were considered sacred and to be nurtured by all. Linking all the memories is a saga of food and its preparation, all meticulously done and all done to a set method done by generations past.

This was a nostalgic read, a going back in time read which was very nice (though Sri Lanka is so close to India geographically we never had the extended family that obviously existed in India as close as the 1930's). The importance of family ties, the importance of tradition and food particularly is pronounced throughout the memoir and the receipes at the end are scrumptious.

This is part of reading for the South Asia Challenge 2011 hosted by S. Krishna.


  1. I love Maddhur Jaffrey too, her recipe for tarka dal is amazing and even I can cook it properly! She's led an interesting and varied life, so I'd like to read about it too. It's interesting how even though India and SL are neighbours and won independence only a year apart, that things have progressed so differently.

  2. This one sounds great! I've always found the partitioning of India really interesting.