Sunday, September 21, 2014
Chef by Jaspreet Singh
Published April 2010 by Bloomsbury USA
Source: I have no idea - if you loaned me this one, let me know so I can give it back!
Kirpal Singh is riding the slow train to Kashmir. With India passing by his window, he reflects on his destination, which is also his past: a military camp to which he has not returned for fourteen years.
Kirpal, called Kip, is shy and not yet twenty when he arrives for the first time at General Kumar's camp, nestled in the shadow of the Siachen Glacier. At twenty thousand feet, the glacier makes a forbidding battlefield; its crevasses claimed the body of Kip's father. Kip becomes an apprentice under the camp's chef, Kishen, a fiery mentor who guides him toward the heady spheres of food and women.
In this place of contradictions, erratic violence, and extreme temperatures, Kip learns to prepare local dishes and delicacies from around the globe. Even as months pass, Kip, a Sikh, feels secure in his allegiance to India, firmly on the right side of this interminable conflict. Then, one muggy day, a Pakistani "terrorist" with long, flowing hair is swept up on the banks of the river and changes everything.
I'm a huge fan of books set in this region of the world but the books I've read have all been women's stories. Chef gave me a look at a new part of the Indian subcontinent from the male point of view.
In 1947, when the British abandoned their rule of the subcontinent, they split what was then Indian into the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan. Kashmir was connected to both India and Pakistan and has been, since the partition, a battle ground between the countries.
Kirpal Singh's story looks at the impact of that tug-of-war on the people of the region as Pakistanis battle Indians, Muslims battle Hindus. Through food, Kishen begins to teach Kirpal to look at the world more openly but it is when he falls in love with the "enemy" that he truly understands the futility of all of the violence and lost lives.
Despite some violence, this is, at heart, the quiet story of a quiet man whose beliefs are constantly shaken when those around him abuse their power and allow hatred to rule their lives.