Crème Brûlée — By Ramona Sen
Crème brûlée is a delicious looking French dessert with ‘a custard base’ topped with a contrasting layer of ‘hard caramel’. Thanks to television shows like MasterChef Australia and the profusion of restaurants that seemed to have sprouted in the city I live in, I can boast of having at least heard of these culinary terms, even though I may be ignorant of their actual composition! Be that as it may, the title did make me crave a rich, creamy dish and I hoped I would be in for a delicious treat as I dug into 200 odd pages. It should come as no surprise, that I happened to read most of the book with a cup of sugary, milky tea accompanied with some sweet or the other!
The book traces the fortunes of one, Aabir Mukherjee an Oxford-educated, India-returned Bengali who runs a restaurant, serving predominantly ‘English’ fare in Calcutta. He lives in a mansion owned by his family for generations, in what might be called a feudal setup complete with servants of all kinds and temperaments- including an ‘odd joy job boy’! He shares the home with an extremely eccentric sister and a mother who rather tends to exaggerate her neurological problems. There is also the ghost of Thakuma, his grandmother who is rumoured to haunt a coconut tree in the backyard and still keeps a wary eye on the goings-on in her house. On occasion, she even finds it necessary to interfere, in order to ‘set things right’!
The narrative and the effortless humour reminded me, often I must add, of a P.G. Wodehouse (PGW) Blandings Castle or Jeeves/Wooster setup. Aabir, with his sense of propriety and general gentlemanly behaviour, is reminiscent of the young, naive hero of a PGW – who, due to no perceivable fault of his, manages to get himself entangled with a fair number of women. Aabir finds himself in a similar predicament – when he’s forced to meet with ‘girls from good families’ and ‘good education’, sprung on him by his mother and the dubious family priest. He seems to attract other girls as well (some of questionable character), girls who want to fling themselves at him at the slightest provocation, in view of his ‘eligible bachelor status’. The similarities do not end here – there is a childhood friend with a ‘loose’ character (especially in matters concerning women!), but whose ‘heart is in the right place’, there is a servant of decidedly low intelligence, a cook given to mood swings and the extremely irritating ‘odd-job boy’ who messes up most of his errands and goes about grinning for no reason.
On top of all this, there is a ploy to purloin a family heirloom, hatched in a style that is much too reminiscent of many similar ones in PGW – where elaborate plans are made to steal silver cow creamers or pearls from unsuspecting owners. Oh, and let me not forget the Jeeves-like Thakuma, whose razor sharp brain is what sets everything right! As is probably expected of such a novel, the heroine is eccentric, capricious and vivacious too – she wears ‘newspaper’ skirts and ‘moustached shoes’ and decides on an impulse, to ‘gate crash’ weddings! The Calcutta club also reminded me of the Drones club of PGW.
All this apart, there is food thrown in abundance, as is probably expected of a novel set in Calcutta – yes, as the book blurb promises ‘The reader runs the risk of un-appeasable hunger pangs…’ From the chocolate mousse dished out at Aabir’s E&B to the Crème Brulee of the ‘Mad Hatter’, the tearoom run by Kimaya Kapoor (the heroine), and the perfect ‘posto-bora’, whose recipe is known only to Thakuma, the book does make your mouth water and stomach groan with hunger!
As a huge fan of PGW, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, its subtle humour and breezy narrative. It makes for an easy, enjoyable read, especially at tea time, with sweet treats on the side!
P.S. – Do stay away if you’re on any sort of diet!
About the author:
Ramona Sen is working for t2, The Telegraph, in Kolkata, where she regularly writes about food, books and fitness, for she is largely preoccupied with food, books and fitness, in that order. She grew up within the venerable walls of Loreto House, where she learnt reading and writing, but couldn’t quite wrap her head around ‘[a]rithmetic’. Nothing, in her opinion, can trump a Wodehouse or a well-baked chocolate pie. This is her first novel and she’ll reply to mails on [email protected], when she’s not eating on the job.
Author: Ramona Sen
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Release: August 2016
Genre: Fiction / Romance
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