Veena Nagpal’s The Indian Cafe in London surprises readers. As the title suggests, one thinks it’s about a cafe in London, perhaps owned by an Indian, perhaps a cafe that serves as the setting of the book, perhaps a story like Naseeruddin Shah starring Today’s Special. It’s all of these but the plot is layered like the preparation of biryani, and readers are left to devour it till the end.
People at the Indian Cafe
It begins with a bold charismatic young Muslim woman in London who dislikes cooking but is enrolled in a culinary academy. Jamila, in her early twenties, is commitment-phobic and enjoys an open relationship with her boyfriend Mark.
Meanwhile, we meet Akhil who is enthusiastic about cooking and wants to be a chef, but his veteran father becomes a roadblock for he believes that cooking won’t get him stability in life.
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The Indian Cafe in London is filled with characters. It seems cumbersome in the beginning but one gets a hang of the endearing Khanu, who has been with Akhil’s family for three generations and becomes the medium in bringing Akhil and his father Robbie to a mutual understanding of each other’s view of life.
There’s obnoxious Yusuf, Jamila’s ex-boyfriend, who strongly believes that Jamila is his property. Then there’s Alice, Jamila’s friend, who sees through Jamila’s facade of being carefree when all she really needs is love. We also have Ustaad in Chandni Chowk, Akhil’s teacher, the one who builds his culinary skills before sending him to London.
And then, there’s Puru, the former owner of the Indian Cafe Dev’s in London, coming to terms with his life at an old age. And the very charming Bebe who lives in the present, reminding one of the aunty in the family who has wisdom for everyone with the evening chai and pakodas.
What’s Cooking at the Indian Cafe
The most important character in the book is Akhil’s cooking journal in which he not only notes the tricks and tips but also mentions the culinary history of dishes from across the globe along with the recipes. The details are gathered from the various characters in the book, sometimes Akhil mentions how he stumbled across them.
Moreover, the fact he mentions cookbooks were mostly written by men before 1653 says a lot about the social development of culinary books. Another object that becomes a major character is his great-grandmother’s cookbook. It is an eternal presence in absentia almost till the end, making it an object of curiosity.
The slow detailing, in the beginning, is juxtaposed with the fast-paced, almost hurried-up, revelations in the end. Some parts remain unconvincing irrespective of the plot building. Overall, it’s delish for culinary lovers and will definitely get every reader interested in cooking. The book highlights that cooking is an emotion that brings people together.
Best quote from the Indian Cafe in London
Memories have this funny way of surfacing when you least expect them.
Have you read this or other stories featuring an Indian cafe? Drop a comment below and let us know!