Interview: Suresh Jayaram, author, The 1Shanthiroad Cookbook
Suresh Jayaram is an artist, curator and art educator. He founded the 1Shanthiroad Studio/Gallery, a non-profit arts organisation based in Bangalore. The 1Shanthiroad Cookbook (published by Reliable Copy) comprises recipes and anecdotes around food involving visiting artists and friends of the organisation who, alongside making art, also left their imprint in the kitchen.
The 1Shanthiroad Cookbook is a collection of recipes, food memories, anecdotes and illustrations. In many ways, it is the work of a collective. Is this your way of acknowledging the role of the collective in the arts?
1Shanthiroad and the cookbook has been a collective collaboration of creative beings who have enriched this place by living and working here. The kitchen has been part of the living experience and the food cooked and served has been a catalyst for conversation. It has nourished hungry artists and kept their creative juices flowing! The artist studios/residency and my home flow like yin and yang of the architecture, its open courtyard and built spaces are like a maze of interconnected public and private spaces that seamlessly connect and coexist with each other. The philosophy of this place is being open and non-judgemental. As a core idea, it is like a “sarai” in the crossroads of one’s journey, and an oasis for conversations across local/global, native and cosmopolitan trajectories. And this cookbook is a result of these transactions.
You mention that your mother was a doctor and a perfectionist in the kitchen. Your socialist father would assist her by chopping vegetables. You learnt to keep an open house and kitchen. Ideas around community and egalitarianism are strongly built into the book. Were you thinking about these while working on the book?
My parents’ temperament and socialist ideals are fundamental to my upbringing. I learnt how to cook by watching my grandmother and mother. My mother juggled her job as a government doctor and made sure there was food on the table. We had relatives who helped to keep the house running. It was a refuge for anyone who wanted to stay, run away from violent husbands and a space to heal. Food played a significant part in this nurturing process.
How did you decide which recipes to include?
I was helped by Nihaal Faizal and Sarasija Subramanian who are the chief collaborators on this project. They are also former resident artists. They have set up Reliable Copy - a unique artist publishing house. I always want to support young enterprises of artists and this was an ideal project for a collaboration. It also celebrates the legacy of 18 years of the existence of 1Shanthiroad.
The book is divided into various sections such as breakfast, snacks, dips, curries and gravies etc. We wanted to create an eclectic, cosmopolitan book reflecting the range of people who have cooked in our kitchen and contributed to the volume. Many of these are their home recipes because we usually ask visiting artists and friends to cook something that reminds them of home and represents different cultures of living and eating. In the process of making the book, we also realised that there are many people who can perhaps cook but writing a recipe is an art.
It is not a normative book, so to speak, and you are also an artist. During the writing and design process were you thinking of the book as being akin to an ongoing exhibition or an installation in text?
Yes, we wanted to create an aesthetic experience. The making of the book and the process of cooking are part of my philosophy of looking at “Living as Art”’. Akshay Sethi was another resident artist who created the series of drawings that adorn this book. The objects are part of my collection which adds a look and feel of this space. The front cover uses my doodles of the cooker and the mixer grinder - two presiding gods of the Indian kitchen. Also, you will notice the motif of the annapakshi on the inside. It is a motif from my mother’s wedding saree and the metaphor of this mythical bird is ideal to announce the book because it was believed that the bird could separate water from milk, light from darkness owing to its immense wisdom.
The book was envisioned as an aesthetic experience - to savour the different rasas of art and food. We are now curating meals based on recipes from the book and the drawings included in the book were exhibited as part of the book launch. The buffet spread served during the book launch also comprised recipes mentioned in the book and it inaugurated the year’s first public event at 1Shanthiroad after the pandemic.
The cover graphic on the book features a mundane mixer grinder. I can’t think of another cookbook with a similar, non-attention seeking cover. How did you make this decision?
The hard cover with an embossed mixer and cooker are decisions taken by Nihaal and Sarsija. Their exploration of the printing process with Judge Press, one of the oldest printing presses in Bangalore has evolved through experience. The graphic designer Roshan Shakeel’s layout and design plays an important role in this process. The result is a collaboration of creative minds. The cover actually makes you curious. And I think the designers also wanted to feature my drawing on the cover to recognise my association with the book and its making.
Finally, where do you see this book - in the library or the kitchen?
I see this book in the kitchen with oil stains and dog ears! To be used, shared and relished.
Kunal Ray is a foodie. He also teaches literary & cultural studies at FLAME University, Pune