Immortalizing Parents in a Book – Ajay and Sushma Saxena

Photo Ajay & Sushma

Cooking is an art that when harnessed in the right manner, can result in an inheritance that will sustain generations. This is the case with Major General Ajay Saxena and his wife, Sushma Saxena. General Saxena’s parents, Arjun and Mandvi Saxena left behind a veritable treasure trove of cooking recipes for Ajay and Sushma Saxena. And as a tribute to them, their son and daughter-in-law decided to publish 115 of their 1349 recipes.

The book is called Our Recipes by Arjun & Mandvi Saxena and is a compilation of recipes from the actual authors’ original three leather-bound manuscripts. These recipes were originally written by hand. The authors presented this collection to their daughter-in-law on the occasion of their son’s wedding back in 1982.

The Work that Went Into This Collection:

While many of us cringe at the thought of cooking (“let’s do takeaway!”), there are people like Ajay and Sushma Saxena who go to the lengths of bringing their parents’ gifts out for the world to see. General Ajay Saxena talks to us about his role in bringing Our Recipes by Arjun & Mandvi Saxena out.

“My parents Late Mr. Arjun Narain Saxena and Mrs. Mandvi Saxena remain the actual authors. What follows is about them and not about Sushma and me, who merely inherited and are enjoying the fruits of their labour of love. Our role – Sushma’s and mine – in creating this book has been selection of recipes from the vast collection, translating those written in Hindi, redrafting and of course cooking several of the selected ones for the photography that makes this book a visual and culinary delight.”

About the Original Authors:

“My father Arjun, a senior Indian Railways Engineer by profession, was a demanding perfectionist, intolerant of the slightest deviation from the ‘standard taste’ of food. When visiting friends, many a hostess may have been more than a bit embarrassed on being told that her dish was nice but would have been tastier if it had been ‘bhunoed’ (fried) for another 10 minutes. He, however, more than made up for such transgressions by heartily appreciating a well prepared dish. Several recipes in the manuscripts carry appreciative comments for the original cook.

My mother, Mandvi, was a pure vegetarian. Her prejudice against meat and eggs was however restricted only to the dining table where she would maintain a no-contact distance from non-vegetarian food. In the kitchen she would unhesitatingly clean, cut and chop all types of meat with her bare hands. By legendary ‘andazaa’ (estimate), conjure up the magical tastes that won my father’s heart through his stomach.”

The Importance of Fresh Food:

One cannot stress on how important it is to have fresh food. So it was in the household of Ajay and Sushma Saxena, where precision and perfection ruled the day.

“Back home, great precision and perfection went into preparing food. For example, masala had to be fresh, ground only on the ‘sil-batta’ (Indian grinding stones). A mixer-grinder purchased in 1968 passed on to Sushma, unused and in its original packaging in 1982.

Even when  my father went ‘on line’, railway speak for being on official tour, inspecting the railway infrastructure, the ‘line-peti’, a wooden box with wire mesh sides was lovingly topped up each time by my mother with rations of all kinds including spices. The spices packed in the peti had to be whole, not powdered. This was because the grinding had to be done on a six by eight inch miniature ‘sil-batta’ just before his food was cooked in the kitchen of the railway saloon.”

Ajay and Sushma Saxena – The Publishing Journey:

Every author knows what it’s like to go to publishers and come out with a negative answer. But Ajay and Sushma Saxena, with the strength of their parents’ work behind them, didn’t lose heart. Instead, they took it upon themselves and came out with this treasure of recipes.

“We have walked our soles off carrying the heavy manuscripts from publisher to publisher in a bid to have them accepted for publication but  the competition in the market, overcrowded with cook books from renowned chefs (the publishers would ask ‘Arjun & Mandvi Saxena – who?’). Finally we decided on the DIY model. So once I retired from the Army, we rolled up our sleeves (rather knotted our apron strings) and completed this project in almost exactly one year. Four cooking sessions of 3 to 4 days each at home, concurrent photography by the team from Pathfynder Solutions of Jaipur and several weeks of translating, drafting, typing, processing and designing is what it took to create this chef d’oeuvre.”

About ‘Our Recipes by Arjun & Mandvi Saxena’:

“Our parents wrote Our Recipes for people who “live to eat”.  The blank, hard bound books were custom made in Hyderabad in the late 1960s. My father wrote them in his own hand from start to finish in just six months. He wrote them, sitting beside my mother’s hospital bed. She lay fully paralysed by muscular dystrophy at the young age of 53.  From time to time he sought her approval which she could only give by nodding or shaking her head. Severely callused fingers were proof of the intense effort and of course the pressure of writing with a ball point pen. My mother passed away a month after my father completed the books.

Collected over more than three decades since the early 1940s, the original manuscripts are in three volumes. They contain recipes of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes besides desserts, pickles, masalas and very useful tips. The thoughtfully formatted Indices are the pièce de résistance of the original manuscripts. The book we produced shows glimpses of this.”

Immortalizing Arjun & Mandvi Saxena:

We all think of doing something for our parents when they can watch us. But Ajay and Sushma Saxena are now immortalizing their parents while they watch over them from above.

“We are extremely grateful to my parents for this very thoughtful blessing worth any worldly treasure, several times over.  Since they passed rather early, there was not much we could do for them in their life time. This therefore was our way of immortalising our memories of  the connoisseurs and chefs par excellence that Mr. & Mrs. Saxena were.

To reprint the full manuscripts, all three volumes, replicated in their exact original leather bound form, for people to appreciate and enjoy the complete treasure remains a dream to be fulfilled in the future – hopefully, once a lot of people buy this book and learn ‘Arjun & Mandvi Saxena – who’.”

Author(s): Ajay and Sushma Saxena
Publisher: Pathfynder Solution
Release: 2018
Genre: Non Fiction/Food
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A former IT professional, Sonali gave up her cozy job to pursue her passion : writing. She is currently a freelance writer and an author. Her first novel 'Of Knights and Lillies' has released last year. She is working on her second work of fiction, a novel that revolves around travel and self discovery. Sonali's dream is to travel the world and write her own travelogues that will inspire travelholics. While she is not fantasizing about travelling the world and being a full time content writer and author, Sonali is also busy being a poet, booklover and reviewer, music lover and a full time grammar nerd!

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