In Monsoon Diary, which can be classified as part cookbook, part travelogue and part biography, author Shoba Narayan takes readers on a journey which is as eclectic and amazing as the contents of the book itself. Food is the dominant factor in this book, and around it the author describes her own life journey. From the first particle of ‘Ghee Rice’ which is fed to her as an infant as part of an ancient Hindu ritual, to the delicious ‘Pongal’ which is such an integral part of any South Indian’s eating habits, the author writes her life experiences in terms of food. Interspersed between are fond and nostalgic memories of life in India, together with its ancient customs and colorful traditions. Narayan provides fascinating details about simmering, exotic Indian food; food which ranges from that which is considered ideal for a pregnant woman to foods that enhance passion, give strength and ultimately make addicts out of you.
Narayan describes food, Indian food especially, as that which gives both joy and comfort, teases and tantalizes, seduces and arouses. The journey begins from her infancy, proceeds through childhood and teenage years, and ultimately ends with the author leading a married life in Connecticut. Descriptions of family life and the meals around which it all revolved are described from the author’s perspective both from the age when she had that experience and now, as a seasoned writer. Her evocative, atmospheric prose sweeps the reader from the hot summer in Madras to the cool coconut groves in Kerala to the creative atmosphere in Mount Holyoke to sizzling summers in Florida – it’s a journey which spans continents, sprawls years, entertains, educates and eventually entertains.
At the end of almost each chapter, the author gives the recipe of a mouth-watering, lip-smacking Indian dish. She also conveniently gives directions where to procure the ingredients required and makes the whole procedure as detailed and as easy as possible. And having tried out a few of her recipes myself, this reviewer can whole heartedly vouch for their spicy tang and deliciousness. Monsoon Diary is a gently edifying, delightful, utterly satisfying cultural and culinary read.