Category Archives: Column

Of Frothy Chocolate Drunk From Crumbling China In A Chocolate House

Melt the cheapest variety of chocolates available over a hot pan of water. Stir till silky and frothy. Add a cup of milk and one spoon of full cream. Two spoons of sugar, if you feel indulgent and if the guests coming, are important and not new money. The nouveau bastards won’t know the difference either way. Serve in the ancestral tea set you preserved after selling off your diamonds. Garnish with the most expensive chunk of chocolate available. Don’t forget to keep a cup aside for him, as a last attempt to stop him from going to the blasted debauched chocolate houses.

In this column, dear reader, as we draw close to an ending, I’d like to go back to the beginning. This beginning is the one of chocolate. Chocolate and the roots of its building into the commodified and much-loved condiment that it is today. What I also look at is an analysis of the significance of chocolate and chocolate houses as reflections of the social processes and change during the Eighteenth Century. Chocolate represents the crumbling of the old aristocracy while indicating the arrival of the industrial age and the revolution for egalitarianism.

On September 14, 1715, Dudley Ryder wrote in his diary:

“Rose between 6 and 7. Got myself ready for my journey to the Hay with Cousin Billio and his wife. At 7 o’clock cousin and his wife came. They would not stay to drink chocolate and so left me to follow them after having drank some chocolate.”

Ryder, Attorney General in 1745 and later Lord Chief Justice, was an uptight man, extremely particular about rules, and the fact that he delayed his trip to drink his chocolate indicates to the careful reader, the obsession of the English citizens of the early Eighteenth Century with this drink, which was very carefully manufactured.

After the first beans of cocoa had hit the European continent in the sixteenth century, the first chocolate drink was sold in a shop called The Coffee Mill & Tobacco Roll. The drink had been earlier sold in Coffee houses, but due to its bitter taste and expensive rates, it was ignored for a cup of coffee that had more caffeine and hence, packed a better punch in a cup.

As Matthew Green notes for Chocolate Houses in London, “For a city with little tradition of hot drinks (coffee had only arrived five years earlier), chocolate was an alien, suspect substance drunk associated with Popery and idleness (i.e. France and Spain)” and, it came from alien lands of the new world for the herb was said to be grown in Central America, giving it a mysterious and sketchy aura for the English elite.

Hence, to generate a demand the market was flooded with a “slew of pamphlets”(Green), posters put up in every nook, diaries and the newspapers carried accounts of chocolate as this wondrous miracle drink that cured hangovers, was preferred by royalty and more popularly, acted as an aphrodisiac.

As William Hughes writes: “[Chocolate] revives drooping spirits and cheers those ready to faint, expelling sorrow, trouble, care & all perturbations of the mind, is an ambrosia … it cannot be too much praised.”

“The public was sold on it” (Green), and soon, multiple Chocolate Houses sprang up across London giving rivalry to the coffee houses and tavern culture. White’s Chocolate House established in St. James’s Street (1699) was one of the most popular. Incidentally, it is also the model for the chocolate house setting for Congreve’s The Way of the World. Its popularity gave the English Government another lucrative opportunity to earn money and so a heavy tax was imposed on it.

The tax ensured that only the wealthy could afford the drink, thereby rendering the Chocolate Houses, spaces for the privileged. The Chocolate Houses also capitalised on the fact that it was aristocracy and the nouveaux rich who were their target audience and hence, introduced an entrance fee of a penny besides the additional cost of chocolate. To cater to every whim of those with the money, the Chocolate Houses transformed into hubs of gambling, political discussion, gossip and all kinds of debauchery the rich and those who aspired to be rich indulged in.

And hence, in “the most fashionable hell” that London was, the Chocolate Houses became the most fashionable and hellish institution around. To be able to afford a drink of chocolate declared one’s status and to frequent the place made one fashionable.

In light of what stood as modish, let’s take a detour to visit the idea of the emergence of London City which ran parallel to the emergence of chocolate Houses in London. What Arthur J. Weitzman notes about the changes in London as it emerges as a city, that “The increase of trade brought wealth to the city and sparked a building boom”, is evident in the fact that multiple stores and institutions started selling chocolate and Chocolate houses opened to cope with the demands.

Also, “there was a steady improvement of civic life as affluence and luxury seeped down through the classes in the city” (Green), and nothing spelt luxury like chocolate did. The drinking of chocolate became a performance that the aristocrats and the new moneyed class (that had earned their wealth through trade; in some cases trade of cocoa itself) indulged in, to establish their status in the society. This ‘performance’ was reflective of a larger anxiety that was prevalent in the society.

The waves of economic change introduced through the opening up of trade marked the cultural transformation from “vestigial feudalism to a new economic order,” one governed by money and not birth or blood. The aristocracy desperately clutching to the power they derived from their status emphasised the performance, and the gentility (the new moneyed classes) indulged in this performance, in turn, to prove their status.

This is also reflected in the first act of The Way of The World (1700) set in a chocolate house. The act has Petulant, the fool and the fop desperate for social ascendance in class, who pays people to call on him in the chocolate house to accord himself importance. If one would look at it in light of Foucault’s discourse on power, this is a clear example of a body made docile by the discourses and institutions of power and then, made to submit to the codes of behavior expected from his aspired-to class.

The relevance of the Chocolate Houses lies in the manner in which Congreve uses it to show the trajectory and irrelevance of the Rake figure in the contemporary times and the New Century. As many critics have noticed, the Restoration rake did become the reformed rake, as morality triumphed and sentimental comedy took over.

Richard Braverman argues that the failure of Fainall – the rake figure in the play, and hence positioned as the villain, lies in the fact that he hadn’t adapted to the changing times unlike Mirabell. Fainall hence represents the old crumbling aristocracy in the face of the new society governed by money.

In an analogy related to the chocolate house, Braverman writes that Fainall’s power has been proven symbolically impotent. His Rakish status is outdated and dead when he asks, “Bring me some Chocolate.”

Braverman writes,“Fainall is himself powerless by the location of his ‘court’. He holds forth in a chocolate house, a venue of new men and social equality, rather than the tavern, where rakes traditionally assemble to restore themselves after a debauch.”

Fainall’s court, representative of royalty and aristocracy, has been replaced by a chocolate house. An institution governed by power and privilege secured through birth and blood has been replaced by an institution governed by money.

In a paradox, the social set up of Chocolate Houses, governed by money, ends up democratising power and debauchery. Debauchery and Rakishness earlier reserved for the elite, are now due to the power of the money, available to all. Hence, to spin the words of a common anecdote to suit the purpose of the argument — when everyone is a debauched rake, no one is a debauched rake.

In another paradox, the chocolate house becomes a symbol is of, in this context, one associated with the spirit of Revolution in the eighteenth century. The spirit of the chocolate in the Chocolate Houses reflects a democratisation of society based on money but also, the debauchery and cruel decadence of the rich and the royal, in sharp contrast with the dying poor, which became a premier cause of the French Revolution itself. One has to but look at the instance of the royal family’s Flight to Varennes in 1791 where Marie Antoinette refused to part with her silver chocolatière, to realise the significance of the chocolate symbolism.

Chocolate Houses, were as Braverman calls them: “A venue of male sociability reserved for news and gossip, wit and especially cards.” The decadence associated with gambling ran so deep as to destroy whole inheritances, fortunes and even kill people. The addiction to gambling and the destructive power of it is evident in the legendary White’s betting book, which archives wagers from 1743 to 1878. It consists of bizarre predictions like:

“Mr Howard bets Colonel Cooke six guineas that six members of White’s Club die between this day of July 1818 and this day of 1819’, reads one typical entry (Colonel Cooke won). Elsewhere there are bets on which celebrities will outlive others; the length of pregnancies; the outcomes of battles; the Madness of George III; the future price of the stock; and whether a politician will turn up to the Commons in a red gown or not.”(Green, 2017)

To return to the cruel underbelly of the cruelty of Chocolate Houses – what chocolate itself was representative of was slavery. Labelled by Carl Linnaeus, the 18th-century scientist as Theobroma cacao — food of the gods – it was a product of the exploitation of the slaves, from the plantation culture in the colonies of Africa to the very trading of cocoa beans as a commodity along with the slaves.

Another insight that further reflection upon the connection of Slavery and Chocolate offers is into the relationship between the Old World and the New World. A chocolate according to James F. Gay was more “American than American Pie.” It was one of the few things, a subset of trade practices that was linking the two worlds together amidst their fraying strands of connection as the New World declared its independence.

Chocolate allowed other products of slavery to flourish, like Sugar. If one were to compare the recipe of Chocolate drink between the two centuries the comparison yields the following result.

In 1692 the following recipe was published by M. St. Disdier of France:

“2 pounds prepared cacao

1 pound fine sugar

1/3 ounce cinnamon

1/24 ounce powdered cloves

1/24 ounce Indian pepper (chile)

1 1/4 ounce vanilla

A paste was made of these dried ingredients on a heated stone, and then it was boiled to make hot chocolate.”

By 1700, Sidney Mintz notes, “Chiles” disappeared completely from the recipes and was replaced with an extra ounce of sugar. He attributes this to the significance of sugar as a luxury product that “embodied the social position of the wealthy and powerful.” He further elaborates “sugar’s usefulness as a mark of rank—to validate one’s social position. To elevate others, or to define them as inferior.”

The aristocracy’s clinging to chocolate to define their status and the increase in the portion of sugar and cocoa which represents the new money culture emphasises how Chocolate became a symbol of the Old and New period. The fact that the bitter cocoa extract of the 1650s which was discarded by all became the envious frothy “food of the gods” liquid of the eighteenth century symbolises the nature of the change that the turn of the eighteenth century brought. It was a change that said loud and clear that the aim was to not destroy the old culture, but in the true essence of its utilitarian economical reasonable ideology, the purpose was to preserve the best parts of the old, while recreating a convenient New.

The seeds of the Industrial Revolution themselves can be seen in the production of cocoa as people discovered newer implements to mass produce chocolate as demand for it increased. In France, 1776 Dorset invents a hydraulic processor to grind cocoa beans into a paste, facilitating the first large-scale production of chocolate. The constant inventions and experimentation with the recipe of the drink and its associated implements hinted at an age obsessed with science and innovation.

To conclude, chocolate and chocolate houses themselves became an emblem of social relations and more importantly a social change in the eighteenth century. The consumption and production peaked and declined with the beginning and ending of the century, connoting the whimsical time of the Eighteenth Century.

The production declined in line with the revolutionary ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity but when chocolate returned in the Nineteenth century as a product of an Industrial mass production rather than, the colonial upper-class decadence, it was here to stay.

As I end my last column of the year, it is but obvious for me to enquire of the reader if you have stayed with us from the basting through the roasting and finally plating?

If yes, I hope that the next time you look at that chunk of chocolate in your hand or read about the picnic of Blyton’s Famous Five, you will think of food as more than just bread and butter that Anne made and Julian ate.


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Morsel
Yours Truly is an ambitious young adult who writes about the only thing they are accomplished in: eating.

Written by Devika
Updates monthly


Column icon by Kanishka
Featured image by Sanna Jain

 

Creating Stories: Because Snapchat is Never Enough

The world had a lot of plans for 2017, but WhatsApp deciding that it needed its own version of Snapchat stories was not one of them.

The merits and demerits of this feature aside (I think we can all agree that while the update was made with good intentions, the removal of the original typed WhatsApp status was a poor decision, one that WhatsApp had to rectify due to the backlash.) – the temporary story making form is a growing trend. Instagram decided it needed it, WhatsApp brought it in, and even Facebook has its own version now.

Everyone is telling a story.

The era of peak TV has brought with it something else – the understanding that someone is always watching. We pose for the invisible camera that is our movie, and with the right filter it starts to look more and more like the epiphanic moment of romantic revelation coming closer. Of course, if one chooses to be part of another movie, the right filter can give you the tortured detective ideal that you need – with the fairy lights making your existence just a little bit more Peter Pan than whatever it had been before.

Democracy in literature has allowed us this right – we design ourselves, we make ourselves, we fashion who we are – and with the right filter, we can make our own movies. The constant storytelling is almost voyeuristic, since the designing of your self is in constant view. Everything, from the caption to the image, to the time limit and the words said – everything goes through a mental screening. And this process entails just one decision: who do you want to be today?

The tools which allow this constant self-fashioning can be examined further. What is the difference between the article you share on Facebook, the picture of your room on Instagram, or the written status you choose for WhatsApp? What does it say when you share a meme about what kind of humour you like, and on which platform it is allowed? How is it that on Snapchat – which is more exclusive, allowing you to decide who sees the story – captions can have swear words? Facebook, on the other hand, works as a more general platform where we avoid putting up anything our parents would disapprove of.

The differences between these platforms bring us to the issue of the performative part of our identity. We make ourselves for other people to see almost constantly, and the way we make ourselves changes with the group we interact with. There’s nothing inherently new about this. Every person changes depending on whom they speak to – but currently, this performance has become more defined, and caters to a larger audience. The way we fashion ourselves has increased with the sheer number of tools we have to do just this – because with every meme we post, we add to what people think of us.

The focus of literature and movies also shows the way this fashioning has changed. The democratisation of media has allowed almost anyone to imagine that they are part of this grand narrative – this movie, one with the right playlist, the right words, the right poetry, is theirs for the taking. We design our lives to look like these movies – the validity of unsaid experiences fades because, as in movies, the most hidden moments of a character’s progression are always part of the scene. Therefore, even moments of peaceful solitude are captured and shared, so that the experience becomes an interesting blend of your own performance and the constant feedback of your audience.

Everything becomes a story to be told. And in that we become stories – constantly read, and constantly needing an audience.

Cheers,

T in a Cup


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A Cup of T
‘T’ as in me, ‘Cup’ as in tea, ‘Of’ as in preposition and ‘A’ as in article. Bringing you thoughtful rants on TV, books, society and various other things induced by too many cups of ice tea.

Written by Tanvi
Updates every fortnight


Column icon by Sanna Jain
Featured Image by Stuti Pachisia

“CALCUTTA”

Jodhpur Park, 5: 35 p.m.

The burner was rain-splattered. There was a tear in the blue tarpaulin overhead, which went uncared for unless rainwater plopped into the tea that was slowly simmering. Simmering now; it would boil over soon enough. But Bablu da turned down the knob at precisely the right moment, before it did. 8 rupees for a bhaand.

The burner took a break. Calcutta is a city that often seems to be, to the outsider, on an endless break. You’d be envious of its languid vacation. Men women children yellow cabs mini-buses hand-drawn rickshaws sprawled across the asphalt bed, inhaling the tar and the light blue sky all at once. That’s Calcutta for you. The City of Joy, of culture and heritage and music. To her lovers, Calcutta’s cacophony is music. Hot debates over steaming cha-shingara is an orchestra. The dull hum that sets in every night, as the brown oil-soaked paper covering the egg-chicken rolls sticks to the plates, is a lullaby. Calcutta’s lovers are probably among the most possessive. After all, it’s the city with a soul. Argue with that, and you may subtly or not-so-subtly be labelled vapid.

It was all very laughable for a while. A city with her people and their eccentricities. It was cute, almost. But for how long does one laugh at isolation? For how long do you find yourself amused when you’ve walked the entire stretch from Park Street to New Market and felt nothing but empty and alone?

I was always asked why I don’t say ‘Kolkata’. ‘Kolkata’, ‘shohor’- names given to a city by her lovers. Excuse my gendering of it, but Calcutta to me has always been feminine: the bashful beloved, the cruel mistress, or the cool and aloof singer at the downtown bar. Or it could be conditioning. I don’t know. I haven’t bothered to find out. That is how it has been, you see. My romance with Calcutta, however fleeting, has always felt like a hand-me-down raincoat. Friends who had inhabited this metropolis for years had often resembled condescending, elder siblings. The things they own are simply…better. And now that I have them too, I better value them, love them. The lack of romance, however, was more my own. Never felt second-hand. And that bothered me. I struggled to experience Calcutta. I went to College Street, strolled among the lawns of Victoria, sat sipping cha at Princep Ghat as dusk resisted the night. Calcutta did not become shohor.

Coming back to nomenclature. ‘Calcutta’ is endearing, yet foreign. My relationship with the city has been an exhausting and persistent process of inching closer and shrinking away. I was always heavily aware of being on the outside. Calcutta doesn’t belong to anyone, but her people do belong to her. I yearned for the sense of belonging that I never felt, be it in Maidan, in Coffee House, while flicking the ash off a dying cigarette, or in the by-lanes of Shobhabazaar. Park Street remained a blur of neon lights and Chinese food and debates over the steak at Oly Pub. Despite living in the southern part of the city, it never grew into my go-to place for a night-out. Yellow cabs flitted in and out of sight, from my 27th floor balcony. The world down below with a million people, dreams in their veins and coals in their hands, did not have to make sense to me. If only I could get a little closer.

Romance is Bablu da’s steaming bhaand of perfectly coloured tea in rain. But Calcutta and I were locked in a long-term relationship, and there was no love lost between us. We gave each other space, and too much of it. We were respectful to each other, and did not stop its turning into cold civility. I had typed ‘but’ instead of ‘and’ in the previous two sentences, but hit backspace each time. Because I don’t know if there is any regret anymore. I knew regret. I had seen it on the face of the old manager of Paramount, as a twenty-something abused Lenin, and ordered sweet lime juice instead of daab-er shorbot. Regret was Au Bon Pain in place of Music World. Regret could be spelled out.

How do you spell nothing?

I can be apathetic. I can be distasteful. But I can’t refute Calcutta. Every time the air-hostess welcomes me to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport, the city and I greet each other like old lovers who neither accept nor reject one another. We are going to spend some time together now. Struggle, to tolerate, if not love.

Image by Deyasini Chatterjee


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Vagabonding ft. Chai
Ramblings from the life of an insomniac Lit major living by Stevenson’s aphorism: “The great affair is to move”, and trying to make sense of life and its squiggles.

Written by Deyasini Chatterjee

Updates monthly

Of English, American Cheeses clubbed with Paneer in the Melting Pot

On a low flame, place the non-stick frying pan of the latest quality. With a little butter, add the hunk of rare English Stilton cheese that Chachaji brought for the family from his last Europe tour. As soon as it starts melting, add about five slices of American processed cheese available in your nearest supermarket. The two melted masses should mix into each other, but don’t be alarmed if bits of the American cheese stick out of the goop. It is an inherent quality of the American cheese, especially when cooked with an English one. To give it an exotic and exciting taste, add turmeric, cumin and red chilli powder.

Serve with a dash of saffron brought straight from the hills in an airtight plastic bag, available at your nearest supermarket.

Spread on English wheat bread or roti, whatever suits your taste.

As identities around the world get further convoluted with the circulation diverse ideas, some embrace the oncoming change, while for others, it becomes important to assert their authenticity through their “Indian-ness” or “American-ness” in the face of the massive ideological onslaught.

Amidst this tumult of the citizens of the world coming to terms with their hybrid-cosmopolitan identities informed by the chaos of politics, circulating ideas, cultural and religious influences, economic conditions, our movements, restriction of these movements and multiple other factors, the space where these play out becomes very important.

Our food obviously embodies this tumultuous state of our identities while reflecting the metaphorical heat these identities are cooked under. Whether it’s the slight bashing of religion or the tadka of politics, our food reflects the space our identities are created and exist in.

The 2006 Man-booker novel of Kiran DesaiThe Inheritance of Loss puts food and its associated imagery to brilliant use by using it as a literary device which paints a raw, heart wrenching and yet, a satirical picture that encompasses multiple ideas. Though Desai’s work does not reek of the excessive “Indian spice” that Indian-English writers often, in their bid to appear exotic, generously sprinkle —pardon, pour— all over their product, her novel does create a coagulated mass which — though an extremely intelligent and well thought-out one—might be hard to digest for a mundane reader.

Publisher’s Weekly writes about it as ‘…alternately comical and contemplative…[Desai] deftly shuttles between first and third worlds, illuminating…the blinding desire for a “better life”.’

Jemubhai Popatlal Patel, usually known as the Judge throughout the novel, inhabits the identity of a colonial servant—the babu, rendered a foreigner in his own country as he disregards his Indian origins to eat even his rotis and puris with a fork and knife. The novel circles around him and his household consisting of his granddaughter Sai, his cook, and the latter’s son Biju.

The cook, his identity consumed by his profession, has no name or identity beyond his kitchen and the house of his employer. But in an attempt to give his son the dignity and independence that he lacks, he sends Biju to the USA. The novel literally jumps between the First and Third world as it captures the experiences of Biju in America. The Judge’s present day household is caught between the Gorkhaland insurgency and the Judge’s own colonial memories.

One of the most important images that make the relationships between most of the characters in the novel painfully clear is that of the Dining table in the house. A dining table, even in an Indian household much like this one, indicates several things. First, it represents a desire to be Western-ised, for eating at a certain time together on a table, bound by rules and etiquettes, is a western experience passed on to the Indian population during the colonial mission. The Judge’s adherence to the rules dictated by the dining table and his insistence on following all the essential rules related to the etiquette of eating in the correct order of the courses indicate a colonial hangover (which we still haven’t found a cure to).

His treatment of people who do or do not adhere to these rules also indicates his relationship with that person. The dining table becomes a site of his relationship with people, beginning with his wife, Nimi who he detests because of her “uncivilised – Indian” mannerism. His treatment of her is forever documented by the table cloth which still carries the stain of the port wine from the time he spilled it while trying to fling the glass at her for “chewing in a way that disgusted him”.

Meanwhile, his beloved dog, Mutt, despite her status as a “kutti” in the eyes of the world, is the closest to him. This is indicated by her seat not only at the dining table, denied to various human beings like the cook, but also in a position of privilege which is right next to him, which is denied to even his family members. In fact, troublesome times emphasise the animal’s position of extreme privilege, when the dog of this upper class family eats better than the human beings of the household. The Judge bars himself and his granddaughter from eating meat (a privilege never accorded to the cook in the first place) so his dog could eat meat in a time of curfew when supplies are limited.

The last person who has the good fortune of finding a place at the dining table is Gyan, Sai’s lover and tutor. Gyan, by virtue of his education and despite him being from a lower class earns a place there, reminding the Judge of his own humble origins (a reminder that the Judge does not enjoy). Gyan’s unfamiliarity with the cutlery and the food – for which he is scorned by the Judge who is “slicing the meat expertly off the bone” – serves as a reminder of the Judge’s own experience in England during his ICS education, which alienated and humiliated him because of the lack of his English manners. His Indian lunch of puri-sabzi packed by his mother, much like his appearance and lineage, became a marker of shame for him abroad. By the time he returns, he has completely overturned this, alienating himself from his culture to such an extent that from his powdered face to his stew, everything is – or at least ardently strives to be – English, making him the butt of jokes for the English and the Indian community, as he fits into neither.

In a parody of the rules of the English dining culture and those looking to emulate it, Desai inserts an incident recalling the hunting tradition wherein the babus emulated their western contemporaries. The Judge returns to the camp empty handed after every six o’clock hunt and in a bid to preserve his respect, the cook roasts a chicken and calls it a ‘Roast Bastard’ “just as in the Englishman’s favourite book of natives using incorrect English. But sometimes, eating that roast bastard, the Judge felt the joke might also be on him. . . Kept eating as if he were eating himself, since he, too, was (was he?) part of the fun…” (Desai 63) The “roast bastard” hence becomes representative of a class of Indians which can be called the bastards of India themselves, an irony not lost upon the Judge.

Sai, his granddaughter herself inherits this sense of alienation. This is indicated in the incident at the beginning of the book where she is unable to serve the intruders Indian tea. Only English tea is made, because her convent education from Dehra Dun taught her “cake is better than laddoos”. This alienation, along with her familial connection to the Judge, is what binds them together and makes her the only family member that he does not hate for she too, is an outsider in her own country.

Finally, we have the cook who, as mentioned above, is not even thought of as being deserving of a place at the table. And it is here that we shift spaces from the dining table to the kitchen, for the kitchen encompasses every aspect of the cook’s life.

This is the place where he began working as a child under his father. The kitchen becomes a space representing the community in the book, as the cook and Sai bond over cooking, while abroad, Biju [his son] shifts from one restaurant kitchen to another like a fugitive who is, still, connected to his father in India, through the experience of serving those above them and through the same medium.

The kitchen for Biju and the cook represents the source of income, but for Biju it also represents alienation. In chapter five, while cataloguing the restaurants that Biju switches from, Desai highlights the nature of the lives of the immigrants residing abroad illegally, torn as they are from their culture and thrown in a “melting bowl” where their identity disappears under that of the majority culture:

“ …Biju at Le Colonial for the authentic colonial experience.

On top, rich colonial, and below, poor native, Colombian, Tunisian, Ecuadorian. . .

On to the Stars and Stripes Diner. All American flag on top, all Guatemalan flag below.

Plus one Indian flag when Biju arrived”

Not only is the immigrant alienated from his culture, but in a bid to keep some of his principles intact he has to choose between jobs and precepts of his culture like Biju does in the form of cooking for a steak house where he comes to terms with his work by making a “holy cow and unholy cow” distinction. Feuds like the India-Pakistan one have also been kept alive in a dingy American kitchen thousands of miles away from the countries.

The kitchen also becomes a space that differentiates between people of different classes and gender. It is acceptable for the cook to be there because of his class, but insulting for the Judge.

This kitchen also becomes a site of violence where not only the chicken “weak with anxiety” is massacred and roasted, but also unwanted housewives over “accidental” choola fires. Nimi Patel, the Judge’s wife suffers the same fate and the Judge “chooses to believe it an accident.”

Food represents nostalgia on one hand when the cook weeps for his village’s roti, and Biju complains of angrezi khaana, but on the other hand, it also is a site for the articulation of favouritism and belief in the superiority of one’s own group.

We have Lolita aka Lola arguing over the superiority of “Her Majesty’s Jam” over the American alternative with Mrs. Singh, both connected to the nations indirectly through their NRI daughters. We also have Father Booty propounding his home-made cheese in the face of a global movement of packaged cheese where he is rivaled by Amul itself. A major part of the Gorkha movement is to deny Western products like whisky. Gyan, influenced by the movement, and as a way of asserting his superiority over Sai, calls her foolish for mimicking the West by eating cheese toast, chocolate cigars and brandy-doused cake for Christmas, a festival of the West. Sai retorts by saying that he didn’t mind it when he was consuming them, i.e., when he was a part of the privileged class.

Desai in her bid to address multiple debates like Westernisation, the immigrant crisis and the refugee crisis, makes this novel timeless by virtue of its ambiguity regarding these issues. The food in the novel also addresses these issues and several more, including class, privilege, love, poverty, hybridity, colonisation, cosmopolitan identities, and so on, thereby emulating Desai’s message [as the author understands] of ambiguity which allows the reader to choose the path they prefer, indicating that there isn’t any right or wrong. They are just ideas, and one can choose whichever one they want, whether it is to eat your roti with a fork and a knife or sprinkle extra red chilli on your Cheese toast.


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Morsel
Yours Truly is an ambitious young adult who writes about the only thing they are accomplished in: eating.

Written by Devika
Updates monthly


Column icon and featured image by Kanishka

The Secret Life of Fiction

Fanfiction.

It’s a word that puts off many people, and I felt it was prudent to begin the article by stating it outright. There is poetry in discussing exactly where stories go when the final word of the book is followed by the fullstop-of-finality. We all like imagining the spaces where our favourite characters disappear, and exactly what would happen to them if we coax them to fill these spaces.

And that’s where this world of fiction created by fans lives. Fanfiction is a huge, incomprehensible phenomenon, one which you won’t always find discussed in mainstream media. Fanfiction occupies an alternative space, one of the mainstream-yet-not popular culture, yet sees blooming trade. Within this framework, homosexual identities find assertion while different cultures are expressed. Ultimately, a huge popular network is organically built on stories that are considered ‘not suitable for the mainstream audiences.’

Fanfiction has had a profound impact on the way we view fiction and more importantly, texts in this real world. Since this fan-created content is so organic in nature, it is often very hard to notice the impact that it has within the fandoms as well. Within the Harry Potter fanfiction world,The Shoebox Project is a hugely influential fanfiction. It well-known for having set the foundation for how the Marauders will be viewed and written about for years to come. Fanfiction like The Shoebox Project allows the creation of fan-lore- a concept that is both beyond the author and yet, at the same time, so common a truth that it almost becomes canonical in its existence.

Without bombarding you with too many examples, let me explain what this means. Theories which are based within the framework of the canonical piece, yet at the same time never specifically stated are what become popular fan-lore. I’m going to try and use Harry Potter examples since they are the most well-known, but a very common example of fan-lore in action is seen in the fact that the Astronomy Tower has become something of a beacon of romantic shenanigans, a spot where the most make-outs take place. As a popular phenomenon, fanfiction has allowed the occurrence of the death of the author. With the existence of fanfiction, spaces of fiction are reclaimed by readers and the voice of God is lost. The idea that the author no longer has the final say in the characters or the story is not very new, however, technology has allowed pop culture to explode to a point where fans can create their own story through a collective imagination. This isn’t something that has been seen before, with the obvious exception of religion.

It allows us to open closed doors – because the story might have a solid reality, an existence driven by the author. However,at the same time, it can move beyond the author. The interaction with the story never ends, because everytime the readers write more headcanons, more fanfiction, more alternative universes- the story keeps changing with the characters.

The alternative space that fanfiction provides is interesting in the way it allows readers to express themselves. For instance, Fanfiction sees a wave of alternative sexualities – everything from homoerotica to asexual characters are depicted with a normalcy that one can never find in mainstream media. Fanfiction is alternative and extremely subversive in the way it opens this world for alternative identities to create themselves and define themselves within mainstream media. Tropes which are common within heterosexual romances find themselves in homosexual courtships, minor characters are expanded upon, claimed, and reimagined.

As a space of subversion, the power of fanfiction lies in its ability to create a fan-lore – an existence which is beyond the author, beyond the book, and yet, within the framework. As long as the story fits canon, there is no real proof of fanfiction having not happened – and hence, the story is almost certainly rewritten in these parameters. The most popular fan-lore, in fact, can also gain canonicity due to the effect they have on the author or on the way the book is viewed. Within the world of fanfiction, anything is a text – and, I think, that is the most important effect it has had on the way we view fiction.

Cheers,

T in a Cup


tanviedit

A Cup of T
‘T’ as in me, ‘Cup’ as in tea, ‘Of’ as in preposition and ‘A’ as in article. Bringing you thoughtful rants on TV, books, society and various other things induced by too many cups of ice tea.

Written by Tanvi
Updates every fortnight


Column icon by Sanna Jain
Featured Image by Kanishka

Of Crispy Bacon and Farm Fresh Apples and Milk

Put the corn cob into the boiling water and watch the kernels turn golden. Meanwhile, put a dollop of freshly churned butter into a pan and, fry the bacon strips that you bought from the butcher down the road. Take in the buttery aroma and the sizzle of the bacon. Once crispy and red, take ‘em out of the pan, sprinkle some seasoning and shift them onto a plate. Take out the boiled corn on a cob, rub some salt, butter and lemon on it for taste and put that on the plate too. Finish your wholesome meal with a glass of fresh creamy farm milk that Bessie gave in the morning. Remember to put two cubes of manufactured sugar you bought from the market to enhance the taste. Don’t forget to put the whisky aside for the night.

With the media going crazy over the election of Trump as the new “leader of the free world”, Orwellian literature is making a return in popular culture. Various media houses allege that Orwell in his most popular works – Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949), predicted our dearest, Donald Trump.

As analysts, researchers, political thinkers and even mundane and completely-isolated-from-politics-people like me, wonder about the consequence of this debacle by the superpower of the world, one of the thoughts that comes to the mind of a glutton such as yours truly, is about the food. The United States at the moment stands as the largest exporter of food products around the world. And here’s a scary afterthought that Henry Kissinger articulates well — “If you control the food supply, you control the people.” Kissinger uttered this in the 1970s in the context of USA’s bid to control the global grain-and-food market, and in 1974, in his “National Security Study Memorandum 200” report, Kissinger goes as far as speaking of the utility of targeted overseas food aid as an “instrument of national power.”

Besides helping you discover the melancholic fact that here’s another instrument of destruction and power that Trump wields, this article also asserts the accurate representation of contemporary society in Orwell’s Animal Farm. So yes, I agree that Orwell predicted this godforsaken apocalypse, but as the facts suggest, this article orients itself in a very specific way, drawing from a place of severe importance for me, that is Food, friends, Food.

What happens when a pig controls all the food supplies of a society and ultimately, controls the constituent members of that society?

In Orwell’s anti-Stalin, allegorical satire where animals have taken over the farm after banishing the humans that dared control them through a revolution brought on by the mistreatment they suffered, pigs control the post-human agrarian society, as they stand the smartest.

And smart they are, for from the very first instance of the pails of the milk vanishing for the use of the pigs just days into the revolution, to the not-so-intelligent, not-so-equal common animals being convinced into believing that they have more than enough, rather much-much more than they had under the rule of their human masters, even though they grow thinner and weaker and their new “comrades” grow fatter and pinker. (Well, doesn’t that sound familiar?)

 In the garb of democracy people are giving up rights, privileges and resources for the sake of their country and because it’s a democracy, the ‘people’ still rule, all while a certain class of animals — I meant ‘people’ — continue to enjoy that privilege. The image that Orwell paints in Animal Farm does make the pain in some sore spots, quite profound.

Apart from being a representation of the contemporary social politics surrounding food, the food as a trope in the novel is also used by Orwell to highlight multiple contrasts. The most prominent contrast, highlighted in the first paragraph itself, is that of animals versus humans.

However, aren’t we animals too? Apparently not, as Orwell chooses to show how we grew away from being animals as we developed more complex and supposedly, smarter systems of governance and then, chose to tame the rest of our fellow animals to establish ourselves as the “superior beings” much like the Pigs. They grow from animals into, “animals who are more equal than others.”

The first paragraph of the novel has Mr. Jones (human) of the Manor Farm (later called, Animal Farm until reinstated as Manor Farm) stumbling in, “ too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes,” an image that shows us his obvious, if you would allow me, “human-ness”.

Alcohol as a concoction is primarily consumed by the Homo sapiens of the animal kingdom. While other members might choose to indulge in the same from time to time and mostly, by accident, none of the other species have reported an addiction problem and most definitely, not a running consumerist-capitalist-economic system, based on the same.

Besides alcohol, Orwell introduces another “human” attribute of Mr. Jones, as he forgets to shut the pop holes. This is done, not just to show his forgetfulness (a folly most Homo Sapiens and other animals are often guilty of) but to show – as it is a Human that decides to rear, tame and control other species of the animal kingdom – the failure of his responsibility to take care of them. It is because of this failure, along with various other human reasons (as Old Major the Pig stresses) that the animals decide to revolt. Old Major, in his address to the animals before the death, highlights some key contrasts between humans and animals, and in doing so instructs the animals of the farm that in “fighting against Man, we must not come to resemble him”.

Ironically, at the end of the Animal Farm, having traced the journey of how the pigs have established their “pigocracy” (as critics have remarked) and, grown more “human” as they begin to walk and consume alcohol, Orwell articulates the position of the new master in place of man thus, “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which”. Moreover, as history repeats itself, it is already impossible to say which is which, all over again.

In his speech accusing Man of being the tyrant, Major begins the revolutionary speech that inspires a rebellion with a poignant recap of the condition of the animals. How they are born and given only enough food to keep them alive as the rest is taken by man. How they are slaughtered with hideous cruelty and the produce of their labour is also stolen by man. In a remarkable and true assertion, Major remarks, “Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. He is lord of all animals.”

Hence, to inspire rebellion and not become a man (which is, as mentioned above, a mission that fails), Major forbids the animals from adopting the vices of man such as alcohol, tobacco, “touch money, or engage in trade…also, above all, no animal must ever tyrannise over his own kind.” Animals of the story engage in a revolution that becomes stale and dry which is an imagery the food itself embodies in the later parts of the book as animals eat dry grass in a cold hard winter, while Pigs enjoy whisky inside the house.

Besides being the centre of the revolution and the politics that prevail in the Animal Farm, food also, is the epicenter of everything. The major reason behind the revolution is primarily the malnourished condition of the animals, which in turn could be attributed to Mr Jones’ drinking problem. Post the success of the revolution, one of the concerns of the animals is that they might starve to death without their master as there would be no one to feed them. But Napolean, after the dismissal of Mr. Jones, takes all the animals to the store shed where he, “served out a double ration of corn to everybody with two biscuits for each dog,” thereby indicating that times were going to change.

One of the major politics attached to food is that of the politics of identity. The manner in which a person provides for their sustenance, dictates much of their self-respect, based on whether they are earning their bread and butter or being served on a silver platter or worse, are dependent on someone else for your meal and hence, your life. The animals much like many other traits and attributes of humans, represent this one too.

What pleases them most is the barley, wheat, and apples, which they grow and which belongs to them through their own labour. They are finally free of the human manacles and their stomachs are full because of their hard-earned bread. This feeling of community that earning your own bread creates among animals is thoroughly milked by the Pigs. When food runs scarce and the animals have far less than they ever had while the pigs enjoy their milk and apples and whisky, it is the portrayal of yet another divide between the classes created amongst animals through food.

The Pigs’ taking to alcohol and human food can be seen as a betrayal of the principles of the revolution and Animalism. However, this is not the first time in the book that food represents betrayal. The first question that Mollie, the white mare asks after the revolution is, “Will there still be sugar after the Rebellion?” for which she is shunned by the rest of the animals, especially the hypocritical pigs who see sugar as a form of human civility, much like the ribbons Mollie also wants. Ultimately, it is for sugar, a luxury that civilisation allows, that Mollie betrays her comrades and no one speaks of her again.

Food, hence, also represents civilisation in the book as is seen in the rumours circulating about the Animal Farm. The farm is barbarous according to the rumour that the animals in the farm practice cannibalism. At the end of the book, when Pigs clink glasses with humans and sit around the table with them as equals, “their struggles and difficulties were one.”

As a strategy for coping with the hard times that the animals are facing on the farm, Moses the raven (Ah, Orwell, you magician) preaches of a New Land called “Sugar Candy Mountain”. As the name itself indicates, the centrality of food imagery as symbolising relief and comfort is evident. The new place boasts of, “everlasting fields of clover and the linseed cake and lump sugar growing on the hedges”. As the animals themselves reasoned, their lives were, “hungry and laborious” and, the Promised Land proposed a place, however fantastical, where better lives are led.

Much like the representation of the failure of the revolution, the pigs’ “evolution into man”, replacement of one form of tyranny into another and, the power play rampant in the society – food as a trope in Animal Farm has been used constantly and continuously by Orwell to take one violent bite of the apple after another – to break the politics into pieces, either more easily digestible ones or more choke-worthy ones, depending on the reader’s perception.

Animal Farm locates human society and everything that governs it in the simplistic world of the animals and it is within this that he brings in all the complexities, one at a time such that the reader processes not just the complex nature of the problem, but also the hows and whys of its coming into being.

It is like a recipe, and we as readers understand and judge it better because we are presented with the finished product that tastes horrible post the heat of the cooking process and are taken through the recipe, step by step, from its raw form to the finished product.

While time does not allow me to elaborate on multiple other instances of brilliant food imagery that Animal Farm uses, I do urge you to make a detour to the classic and spot them for yourself. Seeing that you are a member of our cursed race and, consume and don’t produce anything besides ideas — read the book, and save yourself from becoming a pig.

God knows, we have enough of them already.


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Morsel
Yours Truly is an ambitious young adult who writes about the only thing they are accomplished in: eating.

Written by Devika
Updates monthly


Column icon by Kanishka
Featured image by Stuti Pachisia

Of Carols and Crayons

Midnight at Marine Drive, pavbhaji on various chowpattys, a stroll through the Hanging Gardens: most of the Mumbai Darshan items and more, had been ticked off, having lived in the city for five years. However a little hamlet remained unnoticed, undiscovered. Enclosed in a blink-and-miss by-lane of Charni Road, Khotachi Wadi is where Bombay pauses to breathe. It’s a world of crayoned bungalows with wooden staircases, of chrome walls and mosaic murals, and armchairs and floors polished by daylight. With each step into this pastel palette, the din of Girgaum chowpatty ceases to be muffled background noise. There are no cars, no autos and no two-wheelers squirming their way through the crimson BEST buses. Only one little boy calling out to another to fetch a new cricket-ball. Only an aged man reading the newspaper in the sun, his morning tea steady on a rickety wooden stool. And a cat escaping Mrs. D’Souza’s wrath as she hangs out the day’s laundry to dry.

It was Christmas when I visited Khotachi Wadi. A time of repose and rejoicing. The village, with a predominantly Christian population, had decked itself with fairy lights and porcelain figurines of the Babe in the Manger and the Three Wise Men. I sat on one of the benches outside the chapel and noticed, that in a world of unfeeling anonymity, the inhabitants of Khotachi Wadi were known to each other on a first and surname basis. A Mr. Pereira had been invited to dine with the Mistry family. Unfortunately for Mr. Mistry, the guest had not been mindful of the invitation and Mrs. Mistry’s loud grievances of having fried the surmai in vain were now upon the old gentleman.

Taking in snippets of the lives of the families who resisted the mad rush outside so effortlessly, I felt the balmy sea-breeze graze my face, as did the high-rises looming over Khotachi Wadi from all sides. I wanted to pinpoint where the beauty lay, whether in the seamless blend of vibrant colours, the quiet quaintness or simply the gentle assertion to hold on to heritage.

It is fashionable to visit the English countryside and put up a ‘check-in’ on Facebook. There’s also no doubt that Juliet’s casa in Verona can enrobe one in a romantic reverie at any time of the day. However, the window-sill above me, with flowers longing to swing down just a little lower, shouldn’t have to credit itself any less. It is just as beautiful. Khotachi Wadi is a small space, and there isn’t much to see. It does not overwhelm you; it may not inspire you to compose a lyrical ballad. But it does allow you to forget the blurred chaos for a while. The quiet here is the sweetest sort of silence. Maybe Khotachi Wadi does not make Bombay what it is, but it certainly is the oasis the metropolis needs.

Images by Deyasini Chatterjee


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Vagabonding ft. Chai
Ramblings from the life of an insomniac Lit major living by Stevenson’s aphorism: “The great affair is to move”, and trying to make sense of life and its squiggles.

Written by Deyasini Chatterjee

Updates monthly

Manufacturing Memes

In a world of Peak TV and rising popular culture, communities enjoy a lot of in-jokes – those wisecracks that go viral simply due to their relatable nature . Memes, no matter how they are pronounced, are generally characterized by the universal nature of their likeableness. Their creation has become so intimately commonplace that they exist even within small communities – for instance, universities use them to market themselves, to make their publicity look a little less like publicity.

Let’s return to a bygone time, one of the Rage Comics, where Derp and Derpina reigned supreme. Essentially ,the time when seventh graders on Facebook had a handle on what was going to be meme-ified and what was not.

Look at the current memes, particularly those on a white background, with one image attached. Using current trends to establish something that will gain likes and laughter reiterates relatability. Memes are no longer merely funnythey are a marketing strategy attempting to give a more human picture to the corporation that uses them by using the best tools of the very millennial they wish to address. The idea behind this is simple: the perceived irreverence of the corporation in question makes them more real and accessible – perhaps a little less like a heartless machine that swallows people and spits them out according to profit and loss.

Regardless of the way humour is being used for these purposes, the essence of this “relatability” of memes is interesting in the way it operates. The meme is currently primarily used by the Liberals – Tumblr, a website which is known for tumbling into predominantly progressive views, after all, set the new format of the meme. Before Tumblr, during that dark period in human history from 2004 to 2008, memes were in the shape of Rage Comics, and type cast figures were used to indicate emotions. Tumblr text posts, which reached insane popularity, have set the standard for the current memes – the ones with a plain white background and relatable text in the middle.

This forced “relatability” isn’t meant to be good or bad – it’s a result of the way the meme culture has turned. Where it’s easier to approach target audiences by employing things they enjoy – such as memes – corporations have begun to use them for publicity. The beauty of this publicity is that you will never realise it’s publicity. The meme culture began as organically generated popular content – a democratic understanding of what should be considered good or bad. Instead of a bunch of aristocrats and elites telling you what to enjoy, the meme culture is one of the nicer, purer things that was started on the internet.

Nice things aren’t meant to last.

Healthy, home-grown and organic memes are a joke, of course. But here we are, corporately-generated memes trying to get the one thing that money had not been able to buy – the word-of-mouth review. Obviously, obviously we’re going to have someone else get their grimy little hands all over it and not realise what’s going on until all of us are laughing at a plain white text post of questionable font that says something relatable about the multinational chicken joint or something.

Naturally, the quality is going to drop. We can’t have good things for too long.

Cheers,

T in a Cup


tanviedit

A Cup of T
‘T’ as in me, ‘Cup’ as in tea, ‘Of’ as in preposition and ‘A’ as in article. Bringing you thoughtful rants on TV, books, society and various other things induced by too many cups of ice tea.

Written by Tanvi
Updates every fortnight


Column icon and featured image by Sanna Jain

Seven Days of London

“Walk straight down the road, and you come to a nice little pub…”

The beginning of most of the responses I received on asking for directions in London. London is a big city. It is an endless sprawl of white, terraced houses and centuries old red-brick buildings with a generous sprouting of towers here and there. And parks. Lots of parks. Parks in which I could see myself ten years down the line, unwinding after a day spent in a cab, calculating which of the twenty-one Gloucester Roads to take, before the well-meaning driver decided to lunge down a random side-street for no apparent reason. That’s the thing about cab-drivers in London – they are extremely polite, friendly, and safe. However what’s slightly (only slightly, mind you) odd, is their absolute reluctance to admit that they don’t know the direction to your location. Hear the overtly casual chuckle in their voice once they finally have it figured out, and you’ll know why it’s said that the British have certain idiosyncrasies which you come to accept with time.

For instance, you don’t talk on the tube. You don’t talk on the tube when you need to ask what the next station is in case you’ve missed the previous one; you don’t talk on the tube if your fellow passenger’s bag occupies more of your lap than his; you don’t talk on the tube if you’re about to die. And while in the tube, you certainly do not have the ultimate luxury of making small talk. As a foreigner I had a hard time, nearly choking myself on occasion, trying not to laugh at the hilarity of the dumb silence. But it’s a different world above altogether. Londoners love conversation once they’re out of the bowels of the earth. Although a reserved sort, most of them love to chat you up about the most unusual and insignificant of things, such as seats on the London Eye and bacon sandwiches. And the weather. Always, the weather.

Perhaps it was these very peculiarities that made me feel the way I did about London. The way the parks looked like places I could come back to. The other side of the planet, a different timezone, the very people whose ancestors had colonised my country. Yet geography and history faded into oblivion as I waited at the bus-stop in Knightsbridge. During my weeklong stay, I had turned a hundred identical street-corners, walked a hundred alleys – alleys which promised quiet and shadows, alleys in which you missed a lover; alleys, also, which reminded you that you were enough on your own. Enough to read London in Blyton and Dickens, and enough to explore it all by yourself with a little help from strangers and Harry Beck of the London Underground Map repute.

London was unique in the way it functioned as a metropolis. In a foreign city, you’d expect to experience a constant dissonance from ‘home’, and/or the fear of missing out. Never having had a home-base in twenty years, the first was out of the question for me.

But London, a city bubbling over with history and art, never made me choose between the Tower Bridge and Portobello Market. There was an air of familiarity in getting treacle pudding from the cafe across the street; a sense of accomplishment in figuring out which Eastbound train to board. And the final triumph of childlike glee came at being asked for directions to Westbourne Terrace. In seven odd days, London had a made a home out of itself. It was the most satisfying blend of heritage and modernity, of vinyls and headphones, headphones patiently waiting at a traffic light with no cars in sight. It was a blend of silver rain and silver sunshine. In seven odd days, London made me want to stay, and that was enough.


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Vagabonding ft. Chai
Ramblings from the life of an insomniac Lit major living by Stevenson’s aphorism: “The great affair is to move”, and trying to make sense of life and its squiggles.

Written by Deyasini Chatterjee

Updates monthly


Column icon by Sanna Jain
Featured Image by Hitashi Arora

Of Bread and Butter, Tea and Feasts

Stir in two spoonfuls of English tea leaves into the boiling hot water and watch the swirling water meet the crimson-brown of the tea leaves as they release their color and aroma into it. Strain the prepared liquid into the china teacup and stir in two teaspoonfuls of cream – three, if thou art feeling generous – and two sugar cubes, please.

Stir, and thou shalt see the creamy white mingle with the hot water as they become one while sugar crystals dissolve within the union only to be tasted when thou raises the delicate china to thy lips. It will be a storm of sensation as thy lips feel the searing heat of the tea, thy tongue tastes the creamy sweetness and thy nose is assaulted by the strong aroma.

When one talks of literature and tea parties together, the first book that comes to mind is undoubtedly — Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland. From the Mad Hatter’s tea party, a parody of the Victorian dinning etiquettes, to Alice drinking or eating anything labeled “DRINK ME”, a reflection of the rampant adultery of food at the time, Carroll’s Alice books are full of food references, each carrying a deeper meaning. However, in this piece, though I shall pay a visit to Alice for a cup of tea, it shan’t be by falling through the rabbit hole, but instead through the manner of stepping through the looking glass to visit an old friend who is older, and definitely, more mature.

This maturity is also reflected in the various food references that Carroll makes in the less popular sequel to Alice’s adventure i.e., Through the Looking Glass.

To begin from the first chapter itself, which carries various references to food that convey the changes in our protagonist’s life, we find Alice holding the disgraced Kitty (black kitten) up and, threatening to punish it. Her punishment and the very manner of her assuming authority is a reflection of her own life where she is punished by her Governess. The first punishment that strikes her is to “go without dinner” and what more, since the punishments are being saved up for the end of the year – it would mean going without fifty dinners!

Another thing that is of concern is her reaction to her imagined punishment, “I shouldn’t mind that much! I’d far rather go without them than eat them!”

The above incident indicates a lot to the reader. The idea of punishment has entered the mental arena of young Alice, which indicates that she now knows the distinction between what is an acceptable activity and what is not, and what will, or will not, lead to disgrace or punishment by the authority above her. Hence, she applies the same to the authority below her, which is the animals, since no one in the social power structure— as is the belief—is below a seven-year-old besides animals, a statement made by Carroll which he overturns by making her queen later in the book.

Now, according to Victorian convention for the upper and the upper middle class, dinner was one of the only times of the day when children could socialise with their parents. They had to adhere to the strict behavioral code of conduct and propriety during the meal and, for the rest of the day they were mostly accompanied or taught by their governess or their nannies. Therefore, Alice’s indifference to dinner, on one hand, could indicate her class, for only a spoiled child who had enough food to waste could dismiss it, especially in an age where food was scarce due to population explosion. But on the other hand, it might also indicate her indifference towards, and dismissal of, her family or her parents, for, due to conventions and mostly Victorian attitudes towards children and childhood, she has hardly had any contact with them, and sees them as unimportant, thereby dismissing their presence, which is anyway bestowed on her only during dinner time.

Talking about indifference, we move to the next instance, wherein Alice is thirsty and tired after a run for maintaining the status quo, and is offered a biscuit that is very dry which ends up almost choking her. Quite clearly, even as Alice keeps repeating that she doesn’t want the biscuit, this reflects the larger scene in life— one is hardly given what one wants or in this case even needs, in life.

Alice, in order to appear “civil” accepts the biscuit and, it could be an indication from Lewis’s side (quite fond of parodying Victorian mores), that following the strict civil code of conduct might leave one very dry and uninteresting, but also, could end up choking literally, in this case, their desires and wants, as one is unable to express them – which is what happens in Alice’s case.

Choking leads us to death, which in turn leads us to Alice’s meeting with the Looking Glass Insects who, as mentioned above, also display Lewis’s dislike for conventions and rules. Hence, their inversion or parodying, as happens in this case. The insects look like their names— butterfly is bread-and-butter-fly, “Its wings are thin slices of bread and butter, its body is a crust and its head is a lump of sugar”. It lives on “weak tea with cream” and dies without them. Alice reflects, “that must happen very often” and the gnat replies, “It always happens”.

Carroll through the simple metaphor of food conveys a number of things, and the first amongst these is death. Our protagonist is now old enough to face the reality of life, in the form of facing death and the harsh truth that “it always happens”. The bread-and-butter fly becomes a metaphor for the lower classes, who crawl at the feet of the affluent classes (as the fly does with Alice) looking for their sustenance, and die without it.

Victorian England was also, an age of malnutrition. Death therefore, was common due to population explosion and, while the affluent had as much as they wanted, the poor had to live an impoverished life.

Weak tea indicates that very kind that the poor would take, as enough leaves for a strong one could not be afforded. Bread-and-butter was considered the meal of the poorest of the poor, as they could not afford meat, only bread. The White Queen constantly murmurs “bread and butter, bread and butter” and, the Red Queen’s statement on her remains, “She never was really well brought up…poor thing!”

Though “poor” here is meant for pity, and not “well-brought up” as in the Victorian times was a clear cut offensive statement about one’s class, the White Queen seems to fit in the said category due to a lot of reasons: her untidy, unruly dressing style, her food choice and of course, the Red Queen’s remark.

“Bread and butter” in this case, might hold another significance i.e., to earn one’s bread and butter is to earn one’s living and hence, the White Queen’s obsession with murmuring “Bread and butter” reflects the consumerist society that Victorian England became, especially in the case of someone with power.

Another instance of this is the poem recited by Tweedledee and Tweedledum, in which the Walrus and the carpenter lead the young oysters away and eat them. Consumerism, Industrialisation and, development led to Urbanization during the Nineteenth Century. The movement of the Oysters from their sea bed i.e., their home, to wherever they are led by the Walrus and the Carpenter reflects the movement of the rural population to urban areas led by the dreams and fantasy that the urban developers led them to believe in.

This fantasy on a larger level also indicates the larger fantasy and dream Alice herself is buying into, much like we as readers do when we buy fiction. The very act of buying a fiction novel is consumerism as stories and ideas themselves have a cost, as many scenes in the book indicate when each word costs a certain sum.

The movement of the Oysters with the Carpenter and the Walrus shows us the fantasy that most of the rural folks bought into. The Urban Classes leached them of their hard work and consumed their very beings in return for meager wages, and this is pointed to in the literal consumption of the oysters by the Carpenter and the Walrus.

The discussion that Alice has with the twins post the recital of the poem is also very interesting. She cannot tell who she likes better— the Walrus because he was guilty (yet he ate more as Tweedledee mentions) or, the Carpenter who ate as much as possible, if not as much as the Walrus (as Tweedledum mentions). This is not just a reflection of blurred lines between good and bad, but is also a likeness of the Upper consumer class who are the ones consuming most of the hard work of the poor. Consuming here also stands for exploitation, which in the Oysters’ case comes in the form of the betrayal of the Oysters’ trust.

Before concluding, it is essential for me to address the final scene of Alice’s feast, which many critics see as a reflection of the tea party from the previous book, but in my opinion, though there are similar elements, a lot has changed, and the most prominent of them is that Alice is the hostess, the queen so to speak, instead of the uninvited guest as in the previous party.

Her reaction “Where is the servant who is supposed to answer the door” shows her growth as a person who realizes the power structures and, the delegation of responsibilities. Her subjects and her fellow queens drink to welcome her. They place her in a position of honour and respect, unlike the previous book’s tea party. Alice’s contemplation about how she wouldn’t know whom to invite indicates an ingrained Victorian etiquette that taught young girls everything from guest list designing, to the making of the dishes.

One can read biography into her introduction to the leg of mutton as Brinda Bose mentions – “King James I ‘knighted’ a loin or mutton at the table of Carroll’s ancestor”. One can also read Alice’s discovery of her own power and strength into the instance when she asks the pudding to be brought back, hence going against a figure of authority – in this case, the Red Queen, who many critics have said represents the governess – by realizing that she too, has power. The cutting of a slice from the introduced pudding on one hand might indicate personification of an inanimate object post-which it becomes difficult to start, and on the other hand it might show the anguish of the consumed object, representative of the poor or even animals who are eaten. Finally, it points to how Alice learns the manner of using her power and how far she can go with it, because there will come a time when the oppressed or the dominated will speak up – in this case, the pudding, which does speak up.

The way Alice judges her guest’s eating and drinking manners, “just like pigs in a trough” shows the parodying of the toast etiquette by Carrol and, an ingrained etiquette code in young Alice who knows the right from the wrong.

The ending of the feast when all hell breaks loose and Alice herself pulls the tablecloth and shouts “I can’t take this anymore!” in the eyes of a Victorian audience would, even today, be a nightmare for any host, indicating a failure. When she screams, one may ask whether “this” is a reference to the madness of her party or the parodying of the Victorian etiquette or, even the Victorian etiquette itself? But Carroll leaves this riddle unanswered like many others littered across his books. But I would have to say that this is a rare case of fantasy hiding behind reality as Alice wakes up, instead of reality hiding behind fantasy, which is the usual case. But I guess, when fantasy starts reflecting a darker and, a more twisted version of reality, it is reality that we return to, so as to create an alternate version.

Through the Looking Glass is replete with such food references that hold a deeper and a darker political-societal meaning, but the word constraint wouldn’t allow you another morsel today.

This doesn’t mean you have to go hungry! You could return to the book and try spotting some of these instances for yourself – that is, of course, until I prepare for you another one of my dishes.

Until then, don’t forget to enjoy whatever you consume.


devika_edit4.pngMorsel
Yours Truly is an ambitious young adult who writes about the only thing they are accomplished in: eating.

Written by Devika
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