I guess it is quite natural for a foodie to indulge in a novel that features food in it though I cannot quite decide whether to call Anita Nair’s Alphabet Soup for Lovers (2015), a lovestory couched within a book on comfort foods or a book on comfort foods with a love story. She intertwines love, zest for life and memories in a novel set in a tea plantation in Anamalai Hills.
The novel is narrated by Komathi, a maid who has been Lena’s family from the time she was a girl. Though she was a fiery brat in childhood, Lena settles down into a quiet life with KK, her civil lawyer husband. However, Komathi is unhappy with the placid kind of relationship that Lena shares with KK.
Lena chooses to marry KK precisely for the reason that she is not in love with him. They are childless as Lena lost a baby in an ectopic pregnancy. To while away her time, she teaches the children in the tea plantation creche. The entry on inji shows her attitude to the young couple, which she says is too placid for a couple in their late thirties.
The turning point in their lives is the arrival of Shoola Pani, a celebrated South Indian filmstar into their lives. He comes to stay in one of the vacation homes owned by the couple. Shoola Pani is a superstar and wants a break from his busy schedule. He shaves off his well groomed hair so that he will not be recognised during his holiday.
During their first meeting, both Lena and Shoola Pani are completely repulsed by each other. Shoola Pani is shocked to realise that Lena is not bothered by his celebrity status and Shoola Pani dislikes the fact that she has recognised him. However, within a week he starts walking with her to the church cemetery in the hills. The place becomes Arcadia and they become Lee and Ship to each other, whom she names after the proverbial phrase for strangers in love- “ships that pass in the night”.
Komathi looks at Lena and recognises what she is up to and she remembers her own youth when she was in love with Rayar, a Marathi worker in the tea plantation. It was Lena who had caused him to go away much to Komathi’s heartbreak.
She remembers the comfort food of thayir with rice she used to have when he went away or the wendiyum rice that Lena’s mother fed her when she lost her baby. Lena can stand the indifference that is part of her marriage but not her vulnerability when in love.
Pics: From the novel