Here Is How Santha Rau Anticipated And Channelised A Postcolonial Hunger Through A Cookbook In 1960s
- IWB Post
- June 27, 2019
The 1960s and 70s in America were the time of a new kind of geopolitics. The era witnessed the US making several cultural and educational overtures towards other nations. The shifting dynamics of global connections ended up inspiring the editors of Time-Life books to seek new knowledge about the world and promote it by bringing out books based on it. Santha Rama Rau’s book, The Cooking of India, was a result of the very same cultural revolution.
While the book encompassed delectable recipes and dishes from Indian subcontinent, it cannot necessarily be called a cookbook because Rau ensured that it became much more than that. A unique and ambitious endeavor, the book didn’t just talk about dishes and their recipes but also dwelled into their history and origins. Written with a refined and intellectual approach, the book connected culture with culinary traditions and discussed their interplay.
The book was published by Time-Life Books in 1969 and was part of the publisher’s multi-volume Foods of the World series. When the publishers first approached her for the book 1950s, Rau was based in New York.
Historian Antoinette Burton had at one point called her a “postcolonial cosmopolitan” and rightly so. While Rau was born in Madras, she lived most of her life overseas, traveling to places like South Africa, Britain, Japan, and the United States. Her exposure and cosmopolitan mindset thus made her the natural choice for the book.
Rau didn’t disappoint Time-Life Books at all and elevated the book to another level by taking her position as an interpreter of cultures very seriously. As an author, she felt it her responsibility to portray Indian cuisine and Indians realistically, while steering clear of the stereotypes. A result of much labour and deliberation, the book thus became a beautiful mix of memoir, cultural history, travelogue, and, of course, a cookery book.
Devika Teja, the co-author of the book was the one wrote the spiral-bound recipe booklet that accompanied The Cooking of India. Teja, just like Rau, had lived a life hopping between the continents. She was deeply impressed with Rau’s approach to the book and was well aware of the fact that The Cooking of India wasn’t going to be just a book about cooking and recipes. She recognised that the book would go beyond the idea of a basic cookbook and would also answer why, when and how certain cuisines developed.
Needless to say, The Cooking of India became an iconic book on Indian food over the years and would be a prized possession for a collector today. As Antoinette Burton wrote, in The Cooking of India, Rau “anticipated a postcolonial hunger for food images and food metaphors among later generations of South Asian fiction writers in English.”