Savouring food, talking art... and past
`JAPANESE FOOD is bland, full of raw fish. In Italy, specially Venice to Moreno, the food tends to taste a little monotonous. To add taste and colour, they use black ink!' This is not a food connoisseur speaking, helping you guide what to eat when you go abroad. This is the famed artist Anjolie Ela Menon relishing lunch at Sampan, Crowne Plaza Surya's rooftop Chinese restaurant in New Delhi.
One is amazed at her adaptability, relishing food of any place, trying everything out and choosing the best out of the lot. Her food habits changed quickly because she has changed her house 30 times in her married life because of the husband's transferable job. However, she thinks "food is one of the most important segments of a country's identity. To understand a country's pulse, you need to know its food too."
"I am absolutely foody," she proclaims. And that shows. Anjolie does not need any guidance by the chef as to what she should have as a starter, main course or dessert. Watch her ordering food of her choice, one by one, like a native of the country.
"Do you have spinach with baby corn?" or "Chilly chicken fry?" She helps you choose your starter too. For an average Indian, it is not easy to use a chopstick, but she is adept at it. "Hold it with thumb and two fingers, like this. Move only the finger. Wow! You are doing it wonderfully. Keep it up," she teaches you politely - just like a doting mother. No airs, no arrogance, only contentment, care, concern.
While she deftly holds chopsticks and enjoys salt and pepper prawn, she cannot help let a secret out, "My father was a wonderful cook. I learnt a lot from him." Yes, she is an amazing cook. And can "cook a variety of foods from across world." A good compensation for her first experience of cooking that had her "in tears".
A few days after her marriage in 1962, she was asked by her husband to "prepare something delicious for some friends coming over for lunch." It was one occasion to prove her culinary skills. "I prepared Burmese noodles called Khawswe, an amalgamation of all vegetables and some other food stuff. A complete food, the main course in Burma. I prepared a large quantity. His friends came, savoured it and asked me, "the starter was yummy. Now where is the food? I was literally in tears. I said, `this was the food only'." But her husband was understanding. He said, `never mind let's enjoy something else.'
"Then they all went to Bade Mian, the famous Kabab maker in Mumbai. They had their `food' there only." Now Anjolie cannot help laugh at the incident for this was one to introduce her to preparing lip-smacking food. "My husband says that if a food fails to appease someone, don't apologise. Give it a new name and tell them they might take time in cultivating the taste for it!" Good tip!
While she is having her share of pomfret sitting pretty at a place overlooking the entire city through the roof top window, she is a little cautious about how she gets photographed. "No, I request you. Don't keep the camera up. It will make my face broad and horrible."
She is careful while speaking about the cultural policy. "We need to have very broad cultural policy which should encourage young talent by giving them awards and scholarships, sending them places to widen their horizon. Since we don't have a defined cultural policy, we have the freedom of expression in art. That has made our art works have tremendous horizons, which might not be a possibility if a cultural policy restricting freedom is introduced. It might even introduce politics into art which is so far negligible."
However, she does not forget her food. She orders pomfret fillet oysters with beencurd, pokchoy, baby corn, baby mushroom. It is stir-fried, a good pamper for her taste buds.
What about digital painting? "Oh! That's the best thing to happen to 20th Century art. Why criticise it if it is new? I started kitsch paintings, and became a trend. Installations were not heard of in old times. Now they are a rage, so original." Incidentally, Sacred Prism, her art glass collection reflecting the poetry and purity of Bhakti, was on display at the Italian Embassy Cultural Centre this month.
Her imitation works are sold at huge prices... "I am so upset at it. I have even sued a girl in Mumbai. She has promised to dispose them off," pain is written on her face now.
The staff offers her dessert to cheer up. "No, I don't take dessert. I am a diabetic," she is ready to get up with all praise for king prawns, chilly chicken, crispy fried spinach and "superb, authentic fish."
All of us are left in the awe of the woman of many hues.
RANA A. SIDDIQUI
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