The Flavours of Nationalism

By Nandita Haksar

Click here to buy The Flavours of Nationalism

In this extraordinary book, Nandita Haksar recounts her culinary journey, as a human rights activist and lawyer in search of answers to the fundamental political questions that have arisen during recent controversies over food—what can we eat, who can we eat with, what foods are forbidden or denigrated, and what all this says about our country.

The Flavours of Nationalism is a personal memoir by an unashamed Indian, from her childhood during the Nehruvian era to the present. Haksar writes about how food shaped her awareness of politics, patriarchy, nationalism and socialism. She takes us on a thoughtful and often humorous journey through India, from her Kashmiri Pandit family settled in Old Delhi and Lucknow, to human-rights activism on behalf of Nagas in Manipur; from grappling with feminist ideals to considering the impact of a globalized food industry in Goa, where she now lives.

On a wider scale, she explores how our tastes and attitudes to food are shaped by our caste, race, gender and class, exposing the prejudices and bigotry that have fuelled battles around food, while celebrating the diversity of cultures and cuisines in India. Haksar explores the questions posed by food anthropologists and ecologists, as well as revisits the debates between Babasaheb Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi on inter-dining and caste, and her book also addresses the present controversies over beef-eating, vegetarianism and ideas of Hindu vs. Muslim food, in a milieu where debate is silenced.

Interspersed with wry accounts of sharing meals with Burmese and Iraqi refugees, arguing about bourgeois vs. proletarian tea in the Naxalite movement, and cooking with her husband, Sebastian; the book also contains particularly memorable recipes from the many people she has met and eaten with, along the way. At heart is her question that if Indians from all walks of life cannot imagine sitting with each other and sharing food with a sense of equality and respect, how then can a national unity be built?

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