Vikas Khanna talks to Mallik Thatipalli about his book, Imaginary Rain, and how it brings together his prowess in the kitchen with a desire to narrate an authentic and heartfelt tale.
IMAGINARY RAIN, the new book by celebrated chef Vikas Khanna is all about his long standing passion: food. Dipping into rich anecdotes from his personal life, the author in Khanna meets the chef in him to create this story of a woman, her journey from India to the US, and her relationship with food. Forgiveness, acceptance and exploration are the running themes of this novel which Khanna has written in a crisp and enjoyable format.
The book’s journey started in 2011 when Khanna received a Michelin star for his restaurant Junoon and in his acceptance speech forgot to mention his grandmother who imbibed in him a love for food and cooking. “She gave me so much in life and at that crucial moment I missed out on thanking her," Khanna rues. “She always believed in me and my work, so when it sunk in, what I did really disturbed me.”
It was out of this feeling of guilt that Khanna started work on Imaginary Rain as a tribute to his grandmother. He imbibed the lead character of the book, Prerna, with the traits he associated with his Biji: resilience, strength of character, and a passion for food and life. Prerna is a mother, a wife and a dreamer who runs an Indian restaurant in Manhattan for two decades. Khanna traces her narrative through loss, navigation of grief and eventual return to her passion.
A LABOUR OF LOVE
For the author much of the book stemmed from his experience as a chef and a life spent in the kitchen. “The nuances are from my life. The manner in which karipatta (curry leaves) sizzle in a pan or the way the kitchen is run, I have a ring side view to it which was easy to describe and narrate in the book," Khanna notes. As Prerna is a restauranter, it was easy for the author to (re)create the world of an Indian restaurant in New York, and the book is at its best when it is in this setting.
Continuity of culture is a running thread in the novel. It is an idea that is close to Khanna’s heart. He shares, “Fiction is always inspired by real life. A lot of what I write comes from self-reflection and throughout my journey I have stayed close to my roots. I believe the way we cook, the way we love and the way we grieve is a part of one’s DNA and one should never lose touch with it, no matter where you live.”
It is this intrinsic connection between Khanna and all things Indian that shines in Imaginary Rain. His love for food, the cultural traditions of the country and the importance of faith (portrayed beautifully through the Golden Temple), everything comes together to create a seamless and soulful experience.
The most challenging aspect in writing the book was the part set in India for which the author confesses he ‘ran to Varanasi and hid’ for weeks. He adds, “The India chapter is a dark space in the protagonist’s life when she must find answers to herself and achieve closure so that she can move on. It is where she finds herself, so it was a difficult process to bring everything together.”
JUGGLING MANY PASSIONS
At 52, Khanna dons many hats with ease: he is a filmmaker, an entrepreneur, an author, a chef, and judges a reality show. How does he manage everything? And with such ease? “I’m a creature of habit,” he says, with a smile. “Food is the worst poison yet the best medicine. So I ensure that I eat right, which corrects my body, which in turn enables my mind to be at its best.”
Khanna sticks to a tried and tested routine though he makes many a delicacy: egg whites, oats and omelette for breakfast with the occasional coffee and multigrain khichdi along with vegetables or chicken/fish for lunch and dinner. Cooking being a demanding career, the author finds his refuge in simple homemade food.
Currently, he is upbeat about Imaginary Rain being adapted for the silver screen and the legendary Shabana Azmi bringing the role of Prerna to life. “Her expression changes in less than 10 seconds to accommodate the scene," Khanna gushes. “It is a privilege to watch her on the set and witness the perfection and commitment she brings to her craft.”
Being a renowned chef, the author is clear about the expectations that will surround his novel about food. He notes, “Most people will expect some great revelation or glamour, but I have stuck to what I know best: writing straight from the heart. Not being a trained writer has allowed me to do that. This is the story of Prerna.”
Celebrating the relationship between food, culture, tradition and society, Imaginary Rain does justice to the various themes it explores. Khanna’s sensitivity garnishes it with a tenderness that elevates the experience.