Writer Anita Nair’s newest offering, Alphabet Soup for Lovers, is a paean to food, love, loss and longing, and the intimate connections between them. The narrator of this novella is the family cook, Komathi. And by using the language of touch and taste, Komathi introduces us to Lena Abraham, and the man Lena is so instantly attracted to, Shoola Pani Dev--a superstar, plagued by superstardom and a loveless marriage.
Komathi, is trying to learn the alphabet. For her, love of food is as intrinsic and intimate as love or life itself. So, A, for Komathi is “Arisi” (rice in tamizh, as she puts it). Every alphabet thereafter, and the food, dish or vegetable she associates it with, is thus an aphorism--an acute observation of men and women and what they do for love.
Komathi knows Lena, or Leema as she calls her, did not marry her husband KK for love; they are “like two strangers in a doctor’s waiting room.” And Komathi also knows Leema needs some arisi appalam (rice pappads) in her life. Arisi appalam, with its mingled flavours of green chillies, asafoetida, lime and the heat of the sun, is “like a firecracker bursting in the mouth”. But it spoils quickly, she warns. And that is how we get our first inkling that Lena, at age 39, is about to get a lesson in life and love that will disrupt her otherwise nondescript existence.
Shoola Pani, the newest guest at Lena and KK’s plantation homestay in the picturesque Annamalai Hills, is that disruption. I confess the name Shoola Pani feels utterly unsexy for me, as a reader. But Anita Nair's Lena Abraham has no such qualms. As Komathi watches, her Leema re-learns the alphabet of life. And as Komathi reaches the letter Z, she too gets a chance to reunite with a love she thought lost forever.
Will Komathi reach out for her own Zigarthanda-- the cool, refreshing drink that “makes you step into the unknown, not thinking about what you have left behind, or what lies ahead”?
Nair’s clarity of thought and writing, makes this book a flavourful, colourful read.
Alphabet Soup for Lovers by Anita Nair
Harper Collins India