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Book Box | Meet Mita Kapur, literary agent, food writer

Jan 01, 2024 11:59 AM IST

The founder and CEO of Siyahi Literary Agency speaks about literary festivals, advice for writers and on cooking jungle maas

Dear Reader,

PREMIUM
Mita Kapur, literary agent and food writer

"Hey that’s Mita Kapur, literary agent and food writer," a friend pointed out.

Unlock exclusive access to the story of India's general elections, only on the HT App. Download Now!

In the melee of people around me was a slim sari-clad lady. We walked past each other, two strangers in the crowded corridors of the Jaipur Literature Festival at Diggi Palace. The literary agent looked serious, with a determined expression.

Later, when I read her food memoir, I found her sternness tempered with a love of hospitality. An English Literature graduate from Lady Shri Ram College, the youngest of three sisters, married for love into a Jaipur-based joint family, fulfilling everything expected from her and doing a lot more – that’s Mita Kapur for you.

The F Word

There is a raw authenticity in her book The F-Word. Mita talks of parenting her three children, her cosseting of her youngest son, Rehaan, and her struggle to strike the right notes with her eldest daughter Sakshi, who grew up overweight. And then there is the food: Snapshots of eating kebabs in Lucknow, of fried fish and chips in York in England, of cooking for birthdays and salvaging burnt quiche. And easy-to-follow recipes, everything from cream cheese dips to peas soup and profiteroles.

For more food writing from Mita Kapur, check out Chillies and Porridge, also featured in six food books for a festive Christmas and holiday season.

Here is Mita Kapur, on cooking jungle maas and with advice for readers and writers. Here are edited excerpts of our conversation:

Mita Kapur

Tell us about your childhood reading

 

Growing up in Jaipur, I didn’t have too many distractions. My mother pored over her medical books and my sisters read a lot. I used to watch my elder sister during the production of Shakespeare's plays in her college. There were translations of Russian literature being sold from mobile vans -- I think all of this shaped my childhood. I remember picking up The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne as a 10-year-old and not understanding the complexities of the story but it did disturb me a lot.

What is it like being the founder of the Siyahi Literary Agency?

 

I love that I get to read and discover new stories and narratives. My writers are the best part of my life. I am still very greedy about opening every manuscript submission -- who knows what's going to come out from those pages? At Siyahi, we read all submissions. We give feedback on the three sample chapters we receive. If we like what we've read, we ask for the complete manuscript.

What do you look for in a submission?

 

A fiction book has to be immersive with a freshness of voice, strong storyline, well-researched, unpretentious, and experimental. For non-fiction, it has to be authentic and deeply researched with an element of storytelling so that it can reach a wide spectrum of readers.

What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

 

  • Read, read, read.
  • Write from inside your gut, feel and live and breathe that emotion. Write honestly, write about what you know well, it shows if a writer has had fun writing the book or if is it painfully laborious.
  • Write in the language you think and imagine in.

Coming to festivities, what foods do you associate with Christmas and New Year?

 

Mulled wine, sitting around a crackling fire, music and close friends... I rustle up different dishes each year. The dessert is rose pistachio cake for sure. A favourite memory is spending Christmas in New York in 2021. There was a sparkling crispness in the air, the whole world was emerging from the pandemic and I could see a spring in every step.

What is your signature dish?

 

It varies from laal maas to jungle maas to nihari to an entire thai or Korean meal. Even sukhe matar (peas curry). Jaipur's peas in winter are the best. All I do is chaunkon (simmer) it in ghee, add hing, jeera salt, ginger, green chillies and fresh coriander. One whistle in the pressure cooker and that's it.

What are your favourite food books?

 

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle, all of Ruth Reichl's books, The Art of the Restaurateur by Nicholas Lander, and The Man Who Ate Too Much by John Birdsall, for the memoirs. Actually, it's a never-ending list.

My favourite food anthologies are A Matter of Taste edited by Nilanjana Roy, Food: An Oxford Anthology by Brigid Allen and Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink.

And finally, what are you reading currently?

 

Just finished reading Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. Currently reading Totto-chan - The Little Girl in the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi.

With this, it’s a wrap for 2023. As we go into 2024, here are my best books of 2023.

If you are the kind of person who makes reading resolutions for the new year, try the life-changing magic of a reading plan.

If you’d like your children to read more - here are tips to raise a reader. It might help to create your home library, here’s how. And here are six easy steps to build your office library.

If 2024 is going to be your year of writing, here’s how to kickstart your writing career. Write, Pitch, Face Rejection, Learn.

And until next week, happy reading!

Sonya Dutta Choudhury is a Mumbai-based journalist and the founder of Sonya’s Book Box, a bespoke book service. Each week, she brings you specially curated books to give you an immersive understanding of people and places. If you have any reading recommendations or suggestions, write to her at sonyasbookbox@gmail.com

Dear Reader,

PREMIUM
Mita Kapur, literary agent and food writer

"Hey that’s Mita Kapur, literary agent and food writer," a friend pointed out.

Unlock exclusive access to the story of India's general elections, only on the HT App. Download Now!

In the melee of people around me was a slim sari-clad lady. We walked past each other, two strangers in the crowded corridors of the Jaipur Literature Festival at Diggi Palace. The literary agent looked serious, with a determined expression.

Later, when I read her food memoir, I found her sternness tempered with a love of hospitality. An English Literature graduate from Lady Shri Ram College, the youngest of three sisters, married for love into a Jaipur-based joint family, fulfilling everything expected from her and doing a lot more – that’s Mita Kapur for you.

The F Word

There is a raw authenticity in her book The F-Word. Mita talks of parenting her three children, her cosseting of her youngest son, Rehaan, and her struggle to strike the right notes with her eldest daughter Sakshi, who grew up overweight. And then there is the food: Snapshots of eating kebabs in Lucknow, of fried fish and chips in York in England, of cooking for birthdays and salvaging burnt quiche. And easy-to-follow recipes, everything from cream cheese dips to peas soup and profiteroles.

For more food writing from Mita Kapur, check out Chillies and Porridge, also featured in six food books for a festive Christmas and holiday season.

Here is Mita Kapur, on cooking jungle maas and with advice for readers and writers. Here are edited excerpts of our conversation:

Mita Kapur

Tell us about your childhood reading

 

Growing up in Jaipur, I didn’t have too many distractions. My mother pored over her medical books and my sisters read a lot. I used to watch my elder sister during the production of Shakespeare's plays in her college. There were translations of Russian literature being sold from mobile vans -- I think all of this shaped my childhood. I remember picking up The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne as a 10-year-old and not understanding the complexities of the story but it did disturb me a lot.

What is it like being the founder of the Siyahi Literary Agency?

 

I love that I get to read and discover new stories and narratives. My writers are the best part of my life. I am still very greedy about opening every manuscript submission -- who knows what's going to come out from those pages? At Siyahi, we read all submissions. We give feedback on the three sample chapters we receive. If we like what we've read, we ask for the complete manuscript.

What do you look for in a submission?

 

A fiction book has to be immersive with a freshness of voice, strong storyline, well-researched, unpretentious, and experimental. For non-fiction, it has to be authentic and deeply researched with an element of storytelling so that it can reach a wide spectrum of readers.

What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

 

  • Read, read, read.
  • Write from inside your gut, feel and live and breathe that emotion. Write honestly, write about what you know well, it shows if a writer has had fun writing the book or if is it painfully laborious.
  • Write in the language you think and imagine in.

Coming to festivities, what foods do you associate with Christmas and New Year?

 

Mulled wine, sitting around a crackling fire, music and close friends... I rustle up different dishes each year. The dessert is rose pistachio cake for sure. A favourite memory is spending Christmas in New York in 2021. There was a sparkling crispness in the air, the whole world was emerging from the pandemic and I could see a spring in every step.

What is your signature dish?

 

It varies from laal maas to jungle maas to nihari to an entire thai or Korean meal. Even sukhe matar (peas curry). Jaipur's peas in winter are the best. All I do is chaunkon (simmer) it in ghee, add hing, jeera salt, ginger, green chillies and fresh coriander. One whistle in the pressure cooker and that's it.

What are your favourite food books?

 

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle, all of Ruth Reichl's books, The Art of the Restaurateur by Nicholas Lander, and The Man Who Ate Too Much by John Birdsall, for the memoirs. Actually, it's a never-ending list.

My favourite food anthologies are A Matter of Taste edited by Nilanjana Roy, Food: An Oxford Anthology by Brigid Allen and Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink.

And finally, what are you reading currently?

 

Just finished reading Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. Currently reading Totto-chan - The Little Girl in the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi.

With this, it’s a wrap for 2023. As we go into 2024, here are my best books of 2023.

If you are the kind of person who makes reading resolutions for the new year, try the life-changing magic of a reading plan.

If you’d like your children to read more - here are tips to raise a reader. It might help to create your home library, here’s how. And here are six easy steps to build your office library.

If 2024 is going to be your year of writing, here’s how to kickstart your writing career. Write, Pitch, Face Rejection, Learn.

And until next week, happy reading!

Sonya Dutta Choudhury is a Mumbai-based journalist and the founder of Sonya’s Book Box, a bespoke book service. Each week, she brings you specially curated books to give you an immersive understanding of people and places. If you have any reading recommendations or suggestions, write to her at sonyasbookbox@gmail.com

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