There were sessions on Ukraine, writing a memoir (Howard Jacobson) and recipes gleaned from communities close to the Himalayas and of course Brown women experiences in an eclectic line-up which acv attended…
By Mamie Colfox
FINDING her voice is very much the topic of TV presenter Anita Rani’s book ‘Right Sort of Girl’, which she spoke about yesterday (June 11) at the Jaipur Literature Festival’s (JLF) first full day of activities in London.
Speaking to fellow author Nikita Gill, Rani spoke about the many different themes in her book, including identity, belonging, colourism, and generational trauma, which, she explained, didn’t come without a feeling of vulnerability.
“I poured so much of my life on to this page. I was nervous about how much I’d given away,” she said, and expressed her gratitude that after 20 years of working in TV, she has been able to spark conversation with her book.
Rani’s sense of identity comes from being born and raised by a Sikh mother and Hindu father in Bradford, West Yorkshire, and her book comments on issues such as being a woman, being “brown in a white world and white in a brown world”.
Her dazzling career includes presenting the Friday and Saturday editions of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Women’s Hour’ and hosting shows such as ‘Countryfile’, ‘The World’s Busiest Railways’ and BBC Asian Network, as well as the Platinum Jubilee on Sunday (June 5) for the BBC.
Although living in England is an enormous part of who she is, she reminisced on the hot air and humid smells that bombard her every time she lands in India “you feel a wholeness you don’t have here”.
Rani’s search for her identity first began when searching for her maternal grandfather on an episode of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ in 2015 (see link below), learning that his first wife and children had died during Partition in 1947.
Speaking to Gill, Rani became emotional when talking about the generational trauma so many of the Partition generation suffered, and she continues to be amazed that no one speaks about it. She believes her generation are the ‘cycle busters’, as she calls it – those who are able to break this pattern as “they have passed on the pain, and we have the resources to deal with it”.
Gill described Rani’s book as “holding a mirror up to shame”, and they discussed what it means to edit themselves as South Asian women because “we were told to edit ourselves growing up”.
Class and colourism were also discussed, and Rani showed her disgust for the billions that the skin lightening industry in India makes and how it is “perpetuating a hideous system”.
“It’s used to put us in our place, especially for women,” she said after her family used to tell her not to go too brown if she lay in the sun.
On the Himalayan Trail…
Also on the line-up yesterday was food writer and chef Romy Gill, speaking to author Shrabani Basu about her new cookbook ‘On the Himalayan Trail: Recipes and Stories from Kashmir to Ladakh’.
Romy was owner and Head Chef of Romy’s Kitchen, and has appeared on TV shows including ‘Sunday Brunch’, ‘The One Show’, ‘Celebrity Masterchef’ and ‘Ready Steady Cook’, as well as writing for BBC Food, The Telegraph, The Sunday Times and Ocado Magazine.
Speaking about her childhood, Gill was born and raised in Bengal and food was a very important part of that. It wasn’t until her mother was diagnosed with cancer that she decided she wanted to be a chef.
Travelling through small towns to learn all different types of recipes for her book, Gill revealed the key to success “as a travel writer, you have to become like them”, and that the most accessible and delicious recipe in her book is a Kashmir inspired paneer dish which she called ‘yellow deliciousness’.
In Ladakh, she stayed in the mountains close to the border and it was the army that taught her what she could and couldn’t eat.
Writing a memoir
Booker Prize winning author Howard Jacobson spoke to Alexandra Pringle about his memoir ‘Mother’s Boy: A Writer’s Beginnings’, which was a rather witty insight into his life and his admittance that he’d wanted a girlfriend from aged four (!), a mistress at five (!!), and to be a writer from six and half years old (!!!).
Historian Simon Sebag Montefiore and Sanjoy K Roy had a compelling conversation on the parallels between Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in his book ‘Stalin/Putin: Court, War & Empire of the Tsars’, and gave an ominous warning that Russia “without noticing, has already taken the whole south (of Ukraine)”.
Today there are sessions on the Raj, nomads, culture, stories and memories – with Nikesh Shukla, Nikita Gill, Ramachandra Guja, Colin Thubron, Bee Rowlatt, and Namita Gokhale all scheduled to appear.
The festival ends today: https://www.bl.uk/events/jlf-at-the-british-library-sunday-pass
‘The Right Sort of Girl’ by Anita Rani – https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Anita-Rani/The-Right-Sort-of-Girl–The-Sunday-Times-Bestseller/27074234