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Shashi Tharoor Book Review: a chef with a camera-a brunch feature

I have known Suvir Saran for a quarter of a century as a brilliantly gifted cook, an attentive and human person and a dear friend. What I haven’t known all this time is that he can handle a camera, too.

The 75 photographs in Instamatic, Suvir’s book, and the thoughts that accompany them are his work after a recent stroke that drowned him. All photos were taken with the iPhone. This is not a disqualification: Our smartphones are now equipped with better quality cameras than many of us used to get with more expensive devices.

Eye for and I

The amount of pictures taken with these iPhones – some are considered appropriate images of a moving car are blurred, others are slightly blurred to remind the reader that they reflect the author’s brain after contact and that hands that have had a stroke are a work of art.

Some pictures, slightly blurred, reflect the condition of the brains and hands of the offender after contact.

Images on the iPhone convey a degree of immediacy that makes them disappear in no time with the Instagram generation. But this book rewards the prolonged attention. Light blurred images – sometimes deliberately out of focus – deprive us of the clarity we expect from the photographer’s eye. Like all good art, it is designed to make the reader work for fun. The images and accompanying text ask questions, not answers. Because their brightness and sharpness is not what one would normally expect from a camera, they make people think, show the world beyond what we could immediately understand visually, and give them a reason to stop.

Here the world looks through the splashes of a moving windscreen of a vehicle; the landscape captured by the window; a man or woman trapped on their way in their daily lives. Maybe it was you and me or people we saw and never noticed when we looked at them from our own cars and drove into our lives.

Specific objective

Suvir’s talent is to make art out of the banalities of our daily existence, to sit down and watch what we simply ignore or take for granted.

Suvir Saran is a chef and cookbook author who was awarded a Michelin star for his restaurant Devi in New York.

The thoughts that accompany his photographs elevate them above routine. They are mature reflections, expressed poetically, with a deep sensitivity, conscious of the possibilities of life, whether human or not. Together with the paintings, Suvir’s soft, moving and sometimes burning prose gives the reader the opportunity to see the world as it is seen by someone who has experienced and overcome much pain. The photographs and his verbal images, considered individually and together, have a unique and challenging perspective.

How Suvir writes about some of his subjects:

Full of blood in the veins, the heart beating, the brain thinking, it’s people, people too. Also with bones, flesh and bodies.

Look beyond this place and now at the trees that give life, where they meet the heavenly light and apparent freedom.

To grasp and understand the life that a planet shares with us and occupies the same space as we do on this earth is connected to the lessons that open our eyes and change our consciousness.

It’s a tape to enjoy and enjoy. It opens our eyes, helps us change our minds. What great value can a book have for each of us?

The next time I taste one of Suvir’s specialties, I know that the taste is enhanced by the knowledge of what I consume, literally the work of the person who feels.

(Author biography: Dr. Shashi Tharoor is a politician and former international diplomat, known for his eloquence, humour and knowledge of English)

From 17. May 2020



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