A Bite In Time—Cooking with Memories is the second memoir by artist and poet, Tanya Mendonsa. Published by Paper Project, it speaks about Tanya’s mother, Gilda Mendonsa, the writer of the famous cookbook, The Best of Goan Cooking.
The highlight of the book is the recipes that run like a thread throughout the places where Tanya lived—Calcutta (now Kolkata), Paris, Goa. The book is about childhood memories, nostalgia and longing, all told through food, with some interesting back stories, graphics, sketches and photos.
In an interview with GT, Tanya Mendonsa speaks about her book, which will be released at Literati Bookstore, Calangute, on November 18, 2022; the good old pre-internet days when life was much simpler and inclusive; about poetry and her future projects.
Q. A Bite In Time is your second memoir, where you have written about your mother and shared recipes associated with her and your childhood. Why did you share these recipes considering your mother’s recipe book, The Best of Goan Cooking is already there?
A. This book is a food memoir that grew from the seed of capturing my mother, Gilda Mendonsa’s, genius in the kitchen, and our very loving relationship. My mother’s best known cookbook, The Best of Goan Cooking, first published in 1995, went into 18 reprints, which is quite a feat.
Since her death in 2011, it has been out of print, which I thought was a great pity, as she was a pioneer in the field of popularising Goan cooking all over the world. I felt that such an important voice should continue to be heard.
Since I talked about her so much, and tried to reproduce some of her dishes, notably her Xmas cakes and sweets, my publishers Anita Mahadevan and Mukund Venkatraman of Paper Project had the idea of a book which would not only continue her legacy but also use her recipes as a thread throughout my personal journey in life, a life that she illuminated with her love and all she taught me.
Q. The book is a beautiful recollection of childhood memories, about your mother, and your growing up years. So, there is this feeling of nostalgia, longing, etc. Why did you feel this urge to recollect and document these memories?
A. My memories were a natural part of the book. There was also the desire to document a way of life in India – and especially in Goa – that disappeared with my parents’ generation: a way of life that was gracious, that made space for other people, that gave with open hands to friends that closed ranks against enemies.
It was a way of life that welcomed the traveller in any Goan village at that time, any stranger was welcomed into any home, offered a glass of water, and something to eat – even if it was only a piece of fruit. It was a natural way of life, a generous way of life, a life that had a leisurely pace – a space to walk in and take in surroundings and people, family and friends.
Naturally, nostalgia for that way of life is an integral part of my book. I am very happy with the age I am now – I would not like to be young again – the pains and joys were so much sharper then! But, of course, I miss that way of life.
My book, A Bite in Time also preserves a portion of food anthropology – the food traditions and customs of the ‘60s and ‘70s in India, nothing had been modernised yet; there was no fast food; help was plentiful, and tables were laden.
The book tells the reader what babies in Goa were fed as their first solid food; of the Burmese dishes handed over in Calcutta by immigrants; of the legacies of Anglo-Indian cooking in Calcutta; of a traditional breakfast in a Catholic family in India; how the cuisine of the pig and pork dishes was woven into Goan life.
I also learned about traditional cooking in France – my cousins’ mother’s cassoulet in the south of France, cooked out of doors on a wood fire; the pates and sausages and roasts she made from her annual pig killing; the food festivals of truffles and peaches in Umbria; the feel of eating a peach sorbet that was the essence of the fruit or an entire meal on variations of the truffle.
The street markets in France were a continual culinary delight, both gastronomically and aesthetically.
Q. Your book also speaks about inclusive India as you grew up in Calcutta (now Kolkata), and then, after staying a few years in Paris, you returned to your native place, Goa, and later you shifted to Nilgiris. So, the book speaks about the local influences, the people you met and interacted with from diverse backgrounds, etc. Do you think this sense of community is missing now as we are becoming more polarised, and individualist?
A. As each part of India grows more diverse and crowded, we of course miss the sense of community that existed so naturally 40 or even 20 years ago.
There is also the blessing and the curse of the internet, which has led to social media taking over the lives of, especially, young people.....there is such an overload of information on the net that I find people tend not to speak to each other much any longer. If they don’t speak to each other, of course they don’t interact with each other.
It’s become each person for himself or herself – all the bridges between people are collapsing.
Q. You are an established artist, writer and you have written quite a few poetry books. What is it about poetry that attracts you as an artist? Also, how do you look at this whole argument of people not reading books, or books on poetry, per se? Do you think poetry is becoming more democratic due to social media as now anyone can share and publish their work online?
A. Poetry is the most condensed and pure form of literature. It expresses in words what most people just feel and are unable to articulate. The better the poet, the better the poem, the better and stronger the feeling conveyed.
One cannot be ‘attracted’ by poetry; either one looks at the world with wonder, as a child or poet does, or one doesn’t. A poet is born, not made. Of course, between being a ‘natural’ poet and being a ‘good’ poet an enormous amount of work has to be done by the poet, but that is another story.
People read very little nowadays, because their attention span is so short – again, an overload of information on the net, as well as the increasing pressure to succeed.
However, at no time has so much poetry been written – people seem to feel a need for it. In that sense, I feel it’s good that anyone can publish anything on the net – and be read.
The problem lies with lack of structure, lack of background in poetry, which leads to a lack of discrimination: most people, having no background in literature, and especially in poetry, have no way of distinguishing good poetry from bad.
I am very happy that my book The Fisher of Perch (which is a single long poem in short verses) was included in its totality in Converse, an anthology of poetry by the best Indian contemporary poets, published in the UK this September, to celebrate 75 years of Indian independence. It is very rare for a single poet to be accorded so much space in an anthology.
Q. As mentioned before A Bite in Time is your second memoir. What is it about this genre that attracts you? Should we expect a book reflecting on your life in Goa?
A. I have many more stories to tell, so who knows, if and when I'll tell them. Some of the stories, of course, come from my childhood visits to Goa, and some from the 10 years I spent living there from 2001 to 2011.
However, for the moment, I have two new books coming out next year – the first is my third collection of poetry, A Stone, A Star, which will I hope be published in the US; the second is a new collection of short poems, in the style of haikus, which will be illustrated very simply- probably with single motifs, like a leaf or a fruit.
I’m also slowly working on my fourth collection of poetry, tentatively titled The Land Of Lost Content, about people, animals and places that I’ve loved in my life. It will have the painting I did (from an old black and white photo) of my mother and myself on the cover.
I’ve also been working very hard all this year, and am going to work slowly and with pleasure in 2023!
‘A Bite In Time—Cooking with Memories’ will be released on November 18, 2022, at 5 pm at Literati, Calangute. Tanya Mendonsa will also be in conversation with Anjali Dar Sengupta. For details, e-mail email@example.com or phone +917447437768.