Books, Lit Fests, News, Movies, Art, Fashion and TV of course... "I must say that I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a book." - GROUCHO MARX

My Photo

I'd write more, like you said I should. If only, there was more to me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


The other night Janet and I ended up at the Pan Pacific Hotel. We were to pick up Kunal Basu. The minute we were there, I realised this was like a karma play. "It all started here, Janet," I said.

"Yeah, it seems like yesterday," she responded.

Pan Pacific it was. Almost three years ago. Over a cup of coffee that lingered too long. Words had already transformed Janet's life and they were destined to chart mine too. Little did I know. The next morning, I thought of so many things, our friendship, our early morning conversations and the interview that had started it all.

This was done some time ago, yet when I re-visited it, a lot of things Janet said then, still hold good. If you missed this year's Ubud Writers Festival, you can catch her at the upcoming Singapore Writers Festival. Among other discussions, two culinary greats will be sharing the stage at the festival. I'm talking about Madhur Jaffrey and Janet. Food is their shared passion and it shows in almost everything they touch.

Interestingly enough, while Madhur's culinary journey took off when she moved from Delhi to London, Janet's started after her move from Melbourne to Ubud. And it was love that drew her to Bali:

I first visited in 1974 and then when I went back in 1984, I met my husband on the second day and after that I was spending most of my time in Ubud. I was open to learning and found the culture and the people there fascinating. When you are willing and when you are younger, it’s a lot easier to adapt and adjust to something that seems tougher once you’re older.

How her book ‘Fragrant Rice’ happened:The book was originally meant to be a cookbook. That was my idea, that was my passion. I love Balinese food. But once I started living there, had my children, I started seeing this other side of life in Bali, the cultural aspects too. I started jotting down stories, details of the ceremonies – each of which had so much history behind them. I would talk about them in my cooking class and people would always ask – ‘are you writing a book?’ To which I’d respond, yes, I’m writing a cookbook. They’d all tell me that I needed to put in all the other stories in the book too. That’s how it started. The collection of recipes slowly transformed into this book about my life in Bali.

What she hopes to achieve through her book and on being crowned the ‘cultural ambassador of Bali’:
I feel uncomfortable about that. I don’t think I’m quite an ambassador, I’m only doing my bit to help people better understand and appreciate Balinese culture. If the book is helping in a small way, then I’m grateful for that. When I go back to Australia, people often tell me that they’ve almost always seen it as a beach resort. But it’s so much more than that.

On the Ubud Writers Festival:
The festival was born out of tragedy, sadly enough. There was a lot negative press that we got to see and read after the bombings. ‘Fragrant Rice’ was out, I was doing the rounds of literary festivals and I thought that literature and the written word is a way of understanding things and moving ahead. It’s just such a great connect. Also Ubud and the Balinese are known for their hospitality, so I thought why not enhance their own rich culture through something like a literary festival. We were also looking at something that would be targeted at young readers, aspiring writers who were hoping to meet authors they wouldn’t always get to meet. We were also very clear that Indonesian voices should always be heard at the festival. And we’ve tried our very best to get a diversity of voices at the festival. We’ve had writers like Michael Ondaatje, Amitav Ghosh, Kiran Desai share the stage with Ayu Utami, Luxmi Pamuntjak, Putu Wijaya, so its been a fascinating cross-cultural exchange.

For children, we’ve made the events fun. When you speak to writers you realize, something magical or special happened to them when they were children. That’s when they started reading and moved on to writing. We focus on children because in addition to being our future audience they are quite literally our future.

What she hopes people take back from her book:
I suppose I want to make people understand that different cultures have different ways of doing things. It doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. It’s important to not only understand but value those differences too. It’s important to appreciate, embrace and enjoy different ways of living. Living in a different culture has certainly made my life more exciting and has hopefully made me a better person – but I’ll leave that for others to decide.

Labels: , ,