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The Flavours of Nationalism – Nandita Haksar

The Flavours of Nationalism – Nandita Haksar

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The Flavours of Nationalism – Nandita Haksar

Tanya Singh

Your book is a must read for anyone trying to understand how politics and culture play out in everyday lives, as well as for the ardent food lover! How did you conceptualise the idea for this book?

I am so glad you enjoyed Flavours of Nationalism; it seems to have an appeal to many people because food is such an important part of our everyday lives, especially in India. As I explain in my book the idea of writing about our cultural attitudes, prejudices to food  has been with me for a long time. But more recently, with the controversies over beef eating and vegetarianism I felt the need to make an intervention in that debate. I conceptualized the book to be light-hearted and amusing but as I wrote the book, I discovered so many aspects of the politics of food and it became quite grim.   

 

 

 

How long did ‘Flavours of Nationalism’ take to write? Is the process of writing for you regimented and structured, or do you tend to go with the flow?

It does not take me long to write once I have conceptualized the book. But once I begin writing the book comes alive and takes its own twists and turns which my conscious self had not conceived. It surprises even the author.  

 

Your collection of recipes that you have so generously shared is quite a statement – towards sharing traditions. What was the process of collating these recipes like?

I must confess I had not really thought of including recipes but once they became a part I thought of each recipe like a small homage to the person who gave it to me; for instance I dedicated the Kashmiri Raan to the memory of my grand uncle and the recipe for ginger wine to the memory of Father Tom Kocherry.  

 

You’ve written about how food can bring people together, as it can also pull them apart, today. You’ve lived across continents and cuisines, and were one of the first feminist lawyers. Would it be too reductive to say that this book, in some way, sums up your personal and political life?

Well, this book talks about my encounters with class, caste, patriarchy and cultural domination in the form of prejudices and attitudes to food.  So yes it is my food memoirs and since food seems to have been inextricably linked to my life it is about me and the times we live in.

 

What was the publishing process like for you? Were there obstacles in the journey? 

I am very lucky that I have a wonderful publisher in Ravi Singh and he makes sure the publishing process makes the book more accessible and better reading.

 

Who are the people who have supported your career, both as a human rights lawyer and as a writer?

I have had a lot of support throughout my career as a human rights lawyer; in the beginning  Indira Jaisingh played a very important role in teaching me the practice of law, the human rights movement was a source of strength and succor in the 1980s but later the movement became rather bureaucratised and corrupted by funding. 

My greatest support were my parents and my husband whose capacity for empathy with fellow human beings is always inspiring.  And there have been friends at various stages, specially women who have provided so much support. But it is my clients who have provided me with inspiration with their own courage and dignity even while in prison.

As for writing, it was my mother who instilled in me the importance of story telling and the need to write and re-write and re-write again.

I have always wanted to write but did not want to go through the process of rejections; and as I said my publishers Ashok Butani and now Ravi Singh have been very encouraging. Also in the past Nikkhil Chakravarty,  Romesh Thapar, and Chalapati Rau – all taught me to write when I was a journalist. I am grateful for their training and their encouragement.

 

What suggestions do you have for the youth today, that is inclined towards rights of the marginalised and invisible?

I have no advise for the youth because the world in which they are, the problems they face and the possible choices they have are all so different from the time I was growing up in the seventies and eighties. The world has changed and with it the challenges that life throws at the youth.  All we can do is place our experiences, especially our mistakes and shortcomings so they may learn from them and be spared the pain we went through. 

All I can say, that despite all the problems a life lived with dignity, courage and empathy towards fellow human beings is a life well lived.

About the Interviewee:

Nandita Haksar is a human rights lawyer, teacher, campaigner and writer. She has represented the victims of army atrocities in the Supreme Court and the High Court and campaigned nationally and internationally against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. In her capacity as a human rights lawyer, Haksar has helped to organize migrant workers to fight for their rights and voice their grievances. She has written innumerable articles in national dailies and journals and is the author of several books, including Nagaland File: A Question of Human Rights(co-edited with Luingam Luithui) (1984); Who Are the Nagas (2011); ABC of Naga Culture and Civilization: A Resource Book (2011); The Judgement That Never Came: Army Rule in Northeast India (co-authored with Sebastian Hongray) (2011); Across the Chicken Neck: Travels in Northeast India (2013) and The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism: From the Cold War to the Present Day (2015). Haksar lives in Goa, Delhi and sometimes Ukhrul, with her husband, Sebastian Hongray.