Sakina’s Restaurant

This NYT essay is a 5fer: mangoes, mehndi, curries, spices and cooking all in one piece (thanks, WGIIA). Brilliant marketing, Ms. Jaffrey! It’s not only King of Fruit, it’s Queen of Clichés and Hermaphrodite Bastard Child of Book Marketing.

mangomehndimayhem — sorry, sari

This essay itself is interesting, not really exotica — it’s about the fruit literal, not a metaphor:

The aim in India had always been to get sweet, melt-in-the-mouth, juicy mangoes with as little stringy fiber as possible… When these same mangoes entered Florida in the 19th century, they were mainly dismissed as “yard” mangoes. Too soft for shipping, they were considered lacking in commercial qualities. So all the fiber that had been bred out of them over thousands of years was bred right back, giving America the hard, pale rocks we see in stores today…

What America will be getting is the King of Fruit, Indian masterpieces that are burnished like jewels, oozing sweet, complex flavors acquired after two millenniums of painstaking grafting… One generous tree in Chandigarh bore about 30,000 pounds of mangoes every year for 150 years until it was hit by lightning…

A customs inspector, possibly noting my shifty eyes, asked me quite directly, “Are you carrying any mangoes?” … The mangoes were confiscated. This would have been bearable had I not been able to peep through a slight crack in the customs office door…

The officers were cutting up the mangoes and eating them. That hurt. [Link]

No, friends, desis, countrymen, lend me your ears for the text ad at the end. This PR placement shills for a mango-spice-curry memoir by everyone’s favorite actor auntie, mother of Sakina:

Madhur Jaffrey is… the author of “From Curries to Kebabs: Recipes from the Indian Spice Trail” and the forthcoming memoir, “Climbing the Mango Trees.” [Link]

Related posts: Mmmmmmmangoes!, Anatomy of a genre, M-m-me so hungry, Buzzword bingo, Sick of spices, Indian enough, Sailing the Seas of Cheese

32 thoughts on “Sakina’s Restaurant

  1. Madhur Jaffrey had her first cookbook published in 1989 according to the wiki link……she gets to be cliched ’cause she was writing and publishing and doing when the SMers were still school kids. Are cliches cliches the first time you speak the cliche? Yeah, it’t ridiculous and overdone and I never go near any of those novels with saris or mehndi or mango on the cover, but I’d cut the pioneering-aunties some slack…..some day in the near future there will be SM-lite blog clones and it will all seem sooooo 2005

  2. Very uncharacterstic (typo) Manish post. Is oozing with cliches itself. Why such hostility towards good ol Madhu auntie? Not as if she forced NY Times to add that tag line at the end?

  3. peeps….why can’t we be friends?

    i think to myself, would i want to be hanging with non-desis and they think i’m all about curry, spices, and mangoes? not really. i’d like to be considered just like anyone else. its tiresome to be considered uniqiue or exotic all the time. i think thats the reaction to the cliches. in some ways, we as desis become cliches to those around us if we don’t point out our non-exoticism.

    being exotic can seem attractive. it makes one desirable for nothing to do with oneself. when one feels a bit down, its quite heady to all of a sudden seem like an “indian prince” who knows all about yoga and such. but then when later one wants to be considered as oneself, such initial exoticism can seem a burden

    anyway, i thought the article itself was not really exotification. I thought Jaffrey was actually normalizing mangoes. Mangoes ARE awesome.

    I particularly liked her line that” maybe one day my grandchild, or yours, will write about mangoes” (paraphrase)

  4. Not as if she forced NY Times to add that tag line at the end?

    That’s not how these essay placements work. They are usually placed by a publicist and the bit at the end shills their upcoming work. The subtle ad is the quid pro quo for getting the essay in the publication in the first place.

    Is oozing with cliches itself.

    Which specifically? And more importantly, how is it possible that 89 words pointing out cliches… might ‘ooze’ with cliches? ;)

    This NYT essay is a 5fer: mangoes, mehndi, curries, spices and cooking all in one piece (thanks, WGGIA). Brilliant marketing, Ms. Jaffrey! It’s not only King of Fruit, it’s Queen of Clichés and Hermaphrodite Bastard Child of Book Marketing.

    This essay itself is interesting, not really exotica — itÂ’s about the fruit literal, not a metaphor…

    No, friends, desis, countrymen, lend me your ears for the text ad at the end. This PR placement shills for a mango-spice-curry memoir by everyoneÂ’s favorite actor auntie, mother of Sakina.

    Why such hostility towards good ol Madhu auntie?

    None. Oh dear, did you conflate hostility to a genre with hostility to a person?

  5. i thought the article itself was not really exotification.

    Yes:

    This essay itself is interesting, not really exotica — itÂ’s about the fruit literal, not a metaphor.. No, friends, desis, countrymen, lend me your ears for the text ad at the end. This PR placement shills for a mango-spice-curry memoir…

    I particularly liked her line that” maybe one day my grandchild, or yours, will write about mangoes” (paraphrase)

    The line was, I can just see a sentence that my grandchild, or yours, might write: “It was the time of cherry blossoms and Indian mangoes ….”

    I hope I’m dead by then ;)

  6. i guess i’m in the minority, but, no offence, i think sometimes people just overthink things and see exoticism everywhere. sometimes being exotic is good, and let’s face it, india is an exotic country, even to many indians who live in india and travel to other parts of the country. i think there are bad ways to exotify and good ways to exotify. i’m not sure why a sari on a book cover is so bad, especially if it’s dealing with a story set in india. i know putting it on a cover may make it seem overdone and trite, but i wouldn’t call that exotifying, necessarily. let’s face it, most of of india still wears the sari (and it’s a wonderful garment. yves saint laurent once said his biggest regret was not inventing the sari), and it attracts attention. is putting a woman in jeans on an american novel exotifying if the book is sold in india or do we just accept that as “normal.”? my two cents. thanks.

    • it’s repetitive and unoriginal

    • it is usually exotifying

    • for those raised in the u.s., it feeds a lot of stupid stereotypes along the lines of snake charmers and ‘you shor speak english good’; i totally discount desi opinions on this unless they grew up in a small expat community outside the desh; like saa vs. indian it is an issue most salient to 2nd genners because it’s in our faces constantly

  7. point taken. however, i did grow up most of my life in a small expat community outside india (but not u.s.) but I also grew up in india for awhile. so i can see it from both sides. i understand some of the concerns and “embarassament” by indian-americans. i’ve been asked all sorts of stupid questions about india by americans. but going to college here i found out that some indians and indian-americans are too defensive instead of defending and too denying. my point is, if a novel has absolutely nothing to do with first or second generation life in the united states or anything to do with indian-americans and focusses solely on indian subject matter and geography, why is a representation of a sari (just as an example) exotifying and should indian-americans (those who’ve never grown up in india or been there) opinions on it be discounted (to go by your standards). maybe these images are not meant to appeal to the indian-americans but to other readers for whom these are not cliches and embarassments but something colorful, different and not bland like the globalized world in which we live today. yes, it is nice to see perceptions of india changing and more well-rounded. however, i think some indians and indian-descent people are way too self conscious and quick to dismiss elements that still are very much indian. the problem with a lot of cliches is that they are true, and many of these cliches are actually good, not bad. snake charmers are real people and still exist, they struggle for a living and they actually have a remarkable story to tell. dismissing them as something of which to be embarasssed and “old india” also doesn’t do them justice. just because someone else is so ignorant and shallow and makes fun of something doesn’t mean we have to start seeing things through their eyes. so i think some of the reactions can b e a little knee jerk.

  8. “snake charmers are real people and still exist, they struggle for a living and they actually have a remarkable story to tell. “

    just wanted to clarify that i don’t endorse capturing snakes for this purpose. just that these people still exist and are a feature of life. they need to find alternative ways of making a living but i just meant i wouldn’t like to see all of india’s idiosyncracies obliterated in the name of so-called antiseptic progress and modernity.

  9. just as a better illustration of what i was trying to say:

    indra nooyi is the indian-born head of Pepsico in the united states and named by Forbes and one of the 50 most powerful women in business. she wears saris to her workplace in the united states. does this offend second-generation indian-americans? do you see this as exotification? is she perpetuating some sort of steretype about india and what is that stereotype? i’m asking honestly, out of curiosity. having not grown up here, but in a different sort of indian expat community. i’m always interested to learn more about the differences between the indian diaspora and how they develop in different countries. thanks.

    from an article on Nooyi:

    “…she humourously recounted a learning experience when she was a graduate student at Yale University, seeking her first summer job, because she had “no money to live on.” She purchased a $50 business suit from the local budget store and attended a job interview looking like “the ultimate country bumpkin” in her ill-fitting clothes and shod in garish orange snow boots, that her appearance elicited “a collective gasp(of horror) from people there.” When she tearfully consulted her Career Development Counselor about her sartorial snafu, the latter advised her to wear a sari for her next interview, assuring Indra Nooyi that, “if they canÂ’t accept you in a sari, itÂ’s their loss, not yours.” She recalled that she not only wore a sari for her next interview with a very prestigious management consulting firm and clinched the job, but continued to wear them to work all summer and “did just fine”. She insists, “Never hide what makes you.”

  10. As a kid, I used to watch her cooking show, on pbs I think. It was ground-breaking in a time when eastern foods weren’t part of the trendy-vuitton wearing-cliques….. that now do sushi or curry instead of caviar.

    As for the debates above – would love to read them, but me eyes (and brain) can’t handle 10 separate points/ideas in one single HUGE paragraph! :)

  11. Indra Nooyi does not wear saris to the office anymore. I think she only did it for that one summer job. In any event, I heard her speak recently and she discussed the fact that wearing the sari was a good thing (ie accept me for who I am and my good grades etc) but it also resulted in her never leaving the office and attending any client meetings that summer.

  12. Whose God is it anyways:

    I agree with you. So much of our own culture is now seen (by us) through an alien point of view. That’s why we call our own clothes ‘ethnic’ and refer to our own languages as ‘the vernaculars’.

  13. if a novel has absolutely nothing to do with first or second generation life in the united states or anything to do with indian-americans and focusses solely on indian subject matter and geography, why is a representation of a sari (just as an example) exotifying

    Because it’s sold in New York along with 50 other books with sari borders and a Taj Mahal in the background.

    So much of our own culture is now seen (by us) through an alien point of view.

    This is a straight 1st-2nd gen split. 2nd gen doesn’t want to be called un-American by kids running around yelling woo-woo in eagle feathers. It’s like a Malayalee living in Delhi for multiple generations referred to perpetually as a ‘Madrasi.’

    Click on some of the related posts.

  14. thanks amitabh. gandhi and mark twain had some interesting things to say about the correlation between clothes and colonialism (along the lines of links between language and colonialism) and it’s always been an interesting research topic for me (and before anyone gets on my back, i’m not referring to manish’s post on madhur jaffrey’s column or any of the responses but only amitabh’s comment.)

    ex-lawyer, i know she doesn’t always wear saris to work but my impression was that she often does. anyways, if she doesn’t, kudos to america for successfully de-exoticifying her!:) anyways, i guess i’m more concerned about india mindlessly “de-exoticifying” herself.

  15. “Because it’s sold in New York along with 50 other books with sari borders and a Taj Mahal in the background.”

    i understand completely about the lack of imagination and i admit that there are a slew of mediocre novels that merely pander to western notions, but there are many that don’t but that could still have saris, mangoes, cows and spices in the subject matter. these are still facts of life in india. a large swathe of the country is still not into call centers, botox parties, bar hopping, fast food and the nightclub scene and still lives an “exotic” life. but i don’t see how sari borders and taj mahals can result in insults to second generation people. yes, they probably do it to appeal to non-indian american readers, but i really don’t see the harm in it other than it being overused. but then what isn’t? men’s magazines will invariably put a scantily clad woman on them to attract attention. Sports Illustrated puts out a swimsuit edition for what purpose? wearing a swimsuit isn’t exactly a sport, so i guess that exotifies women for no reason whatsoever. i guess Maxim India putting priyanka chopra on the cover is exotifying western culture. also when indian-americans make movies like american desi or call them FOBs they exotify indians.

    i guess i don’t really understand why design elements (even if tired) such as sari borders, mangoes and paisley patterns and islamic cupolas should set off such an antipathy. i have yet to be made fun of or exotified by anyone as a result of a sari border or mango on a book cover. i think there are far more damaging stereotypes about india. anyone who goes around yelling in eagle feathers around you is clearly ignorant and not informed and their actions reflect more on them than on you. why should one be so defensive about someone else’s pathetic ignorance? should native americans then hide their culture (and i realize that indian-american culture is not indian culture and thing unto itself) because some americans are plain dumb? a stereotype held by an ignoramus shouldn’t force others to change their behavior (again, the reservation about the differences between indian-american and indian culture).

    anyways I guess my viewpoint is different because i grew up in a relatively more non-conformist society and i’m basing it on my interactions and stories heard from my first and second generation indian-american college mates (and interactions with some ignorant people.) i think i was more free to be “exotic” in my life outside india than they were. From them, i got the impression that life was very conformist growing up. so much so that one of them felt the need to change their indian name to a one syllable vanilla western one because kids were making fun of them. their parents agreed to the change, which i found a bit shocking and defeatist. but that’s just their experiences and these are only my opinions, not sweeping generalizations, based on that.

  16. “i totally discount desi opinions on this unless they grew up in a small expat community outside the desh”

    manish, one more thing about the above comment. does that mean that opinions by first and second generation indian-americans who never grew up in india should be discounted when it comes to issues relating specifically to india be it religion, kashmir, politics, cultural and economic changes et. al? if so, then what’s the point of discussing these issues on this blog? not being rude.

  17. but that’s just their experiences and these are only my opinions, not sweeping generalizations, based on that.

    All you do is make generalizations, you generalizing pompous halfwit.

  18. Indonesians call this fruit the king of fruits.

    Tagore while visiting Indonesia came across the alleged king of fruits.

    He remarked “whoever calls this fruit the king of fruits ought to be put behind bars!”

  19. Actually Manish I am 2nd gen, raised in the US my whole life, and well do I remember the ‘teepee’ comments, and ‘what tribe do you belong to’ and ‘hey, are you going to marry Nandita’ (the only other Indian kid in my class of course). I vividly remember in middle school when we studied about the Lenni Lenape (New Jersey’s native tribe) and how I didn’t hear the end of that one for what seemed like forever. I do see your point. I guess in the context of this discussion I was talking about (as Whose God is it was saying) India de-exotifiying herself. So not really from a 2nd gen perspective but more from the perspective of someone who cares about the rapid, unexamined changes going on in India. I realise you were talking specifically about 2nd genners take on ‘Indian exotica’ when marketed here in the US, and I agree with you on that.

  20. That being said, I think I have to face the fact that for whatever reason, I am a lot more 1st gen in certain aspects than 2nd gen, despite actually being 2nd gen. And this has happened over time…I was a lot more ‘americanised’ as a kid.

  21. When she tearfully consulted her Career Development Counselor about her sartorial snafu, the latter advised her to wear a sari for her next interview, assuring Indra Nooyi that, “if they can’t accept you in a sari, it’s their loss, not yours.” She recalled that she not only wore a sari for her next interview with a very prestigious management consulting firm and clinched the job, but continued to wear them to work all summer and “did just fine”. She insists, “Never hide what makes you.”

    I hope all mutineers in their early 20s ignore the patently ridiculously advise of wearing sarees or never hiding what makes us in an interview.

  22. “All you do is make generalizations, you generalizing pompous halfwit.”

    apparently you can’t read. i suggest you have some prunes for breakfast.

  23. “All you do is make generalizations, you generalizing pompous halfwit.”

    i was just trying to fit in and integrate better with the denizens of the mutiny. looks like i succeeded. :)

  24. manish, i know i’m going to invite more sepia rage (but hopefully not yours) by mentioning this, but here goes:

    in light of your comment “Because it’s sold in New York along with 50 other books with sari borders and a Taj Mahal in the background” i’m curious why you have a photo of the Taj Mahal superimposed with the words South Asian American Literature as your banner on your website. what does the Taj Mahal have to do with South Asian American literature. also, on your fuse page, there is a border that looks like it could be a sari border (in blue and gold) or some other Indian design motif.

    anyways, i’m enjoying reading some of the essays, poetry and other content on your website.

  25. in light of your comment “Because it’s sold in New York along with 50 other books with sari borders and a Taj Mahal in the background” i’m curious why you have a photo of the Taj Mahal superimposed with the words South Asian American Literature as your banner on your website. what does the Taj Mahal have to do with South Asian American literature. also, on your fuse page, there is a border that looks like it could be a sari border (in blue and gold) or some other Indian design motif.

    Ha, I knew someone would stumble upon it! Touche, you’ve won the golden ticket.

    In 1993, the year the site was created, I wasn’t attuned to the cliches of book marketing, nor were they as trite and overused as they are now (back then you could count prominent desi writers on a single hand). I’ve been meaning to strip it ever since, but it’s not very high priority.

    So book marketers have the same visual design sense as an engineering student circa 1993. Pretty sad.

    Likewise, WGGIA, I trust you’ll traverse the same path I have and end up where I am now :)

  26. whew! glad you took it so well. that was an interesting deconstruction of a book cover! my design skills are limited and no doubt would contain mangoes and sari motifs and all the rich imagery that abounds in india. can’t help it, love it (when used elegantly), and i have an aversion to drab unless the subject matter really warrants it. however, i do think the usual suspect designs could be used and combined or interpreted in a more original manner, but i’m a dunce in that area so coulnd’t suggest how. i do understand where you’re coming from but still stand my some of my earlier comments. i’ve never read that author amulya m. so can’t say whether the references to mangoes and curry in the story are natural and warranted or come across as pandering. but you’ve given me some food for thought. :)