A long time ago, I read Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and I couldn’t love it enough. I then decided to read other books by the author, and I did stick to my decision. At least till I read Shame and the book gave me so many nightmares (I still remember one of them), that I decided to stop reading his books.
I did not know of Padma Lakshmi until her much publicized relationship with Salman Rushdie, of which I had several opinions. Why would he marry a model? But he’s so old… Oh she’s gorgeous, does she love him? (I do not continue to judge people this way, in case you were wondering.) And then it felt like Padma Lakshmi was everywhere. On Top Chef, which I watched with a kind of hunger. On the cover of Playboy, which I showed to my mother. “Padma Lakshmi is Tamil, you know? I can become like that.” She might have prayed extra hard that day. So to me, it made sense that Padma Lakshmi should begin her (chronologically jumbled) memoir with her account of the life she shared with Salman Rushdie. After all, that is how I came to know (of) her.
The book is titled ‘Love, Loss and What We Ate’, but it seems to be more about the men she encountered at different stages in her life. She credits everything to one man or another, her career in modelling or writing or television, they are all due to some man’s influence. By contrast, her friendship with women is reduced to one line, and she doesn’t elaborate on these relationships.
For reasons unknown to me, the author comes across as obsessed with skin colour. Every person she meets is described on these terms, again and again. Her description of her mother’s third husband is especially uncharitable, and I had a hard time understanding if this opinion was voiced by a teenaged Padma Lakshmi or the one who wrote this book. For all her empowered and worldly ways, she appears to be curiously enmeshed in the prejudiced ways of the cultural setting of her childhood. Maybe she is one of those people who having grown up with their grandparents, carry with them an outdated way of thinking wherever they go. In spite of the rich life she has lived, free from the constraints imposed by family (which are otherwise very normal for someone with her background), her liberal-feminist views come across as almost phony. However, this is not the case when we read about her mother, who truly deserves her own book. She is a maverick who fought every bit of the way to build a life for herself in a new country, all the while asserting her right to make her own choices.
Love, Loss and What We Ate reads very well, revealing details about someone we have all looked at with admiration at one point in our lives (to me, she will remain The One Who Got Away). It also helps that the author doesn’t take herself too seriously. While we may not always agree with an individual’s views, it doesn’t escape me that we are never satiated with how much we know about celebrities. We expect them to bare themselves to us, and then we judge them against our own standards (which we may not even hold ourselves to). I bought this book because I am no different, I am just another Peeping Tom.