Thursday, 3 March 2016

Ruminating on the Taste of Love: Alphabet Soup for Lovers by Anita Nair

I was drawn to the Alphabet Soup for Lovers after reading some of the excerpts posted by two of my bibliophile friends. The food allegories were so simple that they were tempting. I've never read any whole novel of Anita Nair before, and having heard praise for her from many friends, the excerpts had an immediate effect. I ran to Amazon the moment the prices dropped and bought myself a copy.

Neither did I wait too long to start reading the Alphabet Soup for Lovers. I started reading it in train on the way to Kudla from Bangalore and unfortunately, also finished it in two days. I wish it would go on and on, I wish Anita Nair was tackling Malayalam alphabets - at least then we'd have had 52 chapters and not just 26.

Alphabet Soup for Lovers is a simple tale - of how Lena Abraham finds love. Lena and KK, her husband, run a tea plantation and a small homestay in the lap of the Annamalai hills. Their marriage is placid, free of passion or arguments. But when Shoola Pani, the Tamil superstar, comes to stay in the homestay, Lena's life takes a new course. Passion and love, which Lena carefully skirted around all these years, come bursting forth from her bosom.

But this tale is not just about Lena. It belongs as much to Komathi, the cook of Lena's household, as to her. The tale is partly narrated by Komathi, and this is where the food metaphors and the "palatable" descriptions come from. The story's poignancy, light-heartedness, philosophy and heart comes from Komathi's narrative. Here's an example:

"Arisi appalam doesn't puff up like a pappadum or a puri. Instead it turns a beautiful crisp white. It's full of flavour. Of green chillies and asafoetida, lime and the heat of the sun, and each bite is like a firecracker bursting in the mouth... Leema and her husband KK...are like store-bought appalam. Seemingly perfect but with neither flavour nor taste. Leema, you need an arisi appalam in your life, I want to tell her."

In other parts, it is narrated in third person, where we get glimpses into the head and heart of both Lena and Shoola Pani. They are battling their own demons as their friendship fast-paces itself into a relationship that takes everyone by a storm.

The narrative is like the flow of a river. It is heart-rending without being melodramatic, plaintive without howling. Though I would have liked an ending to Komathi's story just as Lena got hers, I have to admit this book plucked the chords of my heart like none other recently. 
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