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Home / Brunch / The Shashi Tharoor Book Review: A chef with a camera

The Shashi Tharoor Book Review: A chef with a camera

Michelin-star chef Suvir Saran’s new photo book, Instamatic, shows how he has a way with the camera as well as words!

brunch Updated: May 17, 2020 00:58 IST
Shashi Tharoor
Shashi Tharoor
Hindustan Times

I have known Suvir Saran for a quarter of a century now, as a brilliantly talented chef, a thoughtful and humane individual and a valued friend. What I did not know in all this time is that he also has a way with a camera.

The 75 photos in Instamatic, Suvir’s book, and the thoughts that accompany them are his work after a recent stroke laid him low. The pictures were all taken with an iPhone. That is no disqualification: our smartphones now come with cameras of a quality higher than many of us used to obtain from the more expensive apparatuses of an earlier era.

Eye for and I

The volume resulting from these iPhone snapshots of Suvir’s – some blurred as befits pictures taken from a moving car, some slightly out of focus to remind the reader that they reflect the author’s post-concussive brain and stroke-affected arms – is a work of art.

Some slightly out of focus pictures reflect the author’s post-concussive brain and stroke-affected arms

The iPhone images convey a certain immediacy that make them fit well into the “here now, gone in a moment” attention span of the Instagram generation. But this book rewards longer attention being paid to it. The slightly-blurred images – sometimes purposefully out of focus – deny us the clarity we are used to expecting from the photographer’s eye. Like all good art, it is intended to make the reader work for his pleasure. The pictures, and the texts that accompany them, ask questions rather than provide answers. Because their clarity and focus do not match that which people normally expect from a camera, they do the trick in making one think, see a world beyond what we might immediately grasp visually, and give one a reason to pause. 

Here is the world glimpsed through the rain-spattered windshield of a moving vehicle; a landscape captured through a window; a man or woman caught, out of focus, as they go about their daily lives. They might be you and me, or people we have spotted and never noticed as we glimpsed them from our own cars and scurried through our lives.

A fine focus

Suvir’s talent is to make art out of the banalities of our quotidian existence, to make us sit up and pay attention to that which we simply ignore or take for granted.

Suvir Saran is a chef and cookbook author who won a Michelin star for his restaurant Devi in New York City
Suvir Saran is a chef and cookbook author who won a Michelin star for his restaurant Devi in New York City

The thoughts that accompany his pictures elevate them above the humdrum. They are mature reflections, poetically expressed, of a profound sensibility, one alive to the possibilities of life, whether human or otherwise. Together with the pictures, Suvir’s gentle, moving and sometimes searing prose gives readers an insight into the world as seen by someone who has endured much pain and transcended it. The pictures and his word-pictures, seen separately and together, share a perspective at once unique and thought-provoking. 

As Suvir writes about some of his subjects:

Full of blood in their veins, ticking hearts, thinking brains, these are people, humans too. With bones and flesh, and bodies too. 

Looking beyond the here and now, towards the life-giving trees, where they meet what seems to be the sky, is breezy easy, freely free.

To catch and grasp life that shares the planet with us and occupies that same space we do on this earth, comes with eye-opening, mind-altering lessons.“

This is a volume to enjoy, and to savour. It opens our eyes for us, helps alter our mind. What greater value can any of us seek from a book?

The next time I relish one of Suvir’s signature dishes, I know the taste will be enhanced for me by the knowledge that I am consuming, literally, the work of a man who feels.

(Author bio: Dr Shashi Tharoor is a politician and a former international diplomat, who is known for his eloquence, wit and his command over the English language)

From HT Brunch, May 17, 2020

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