May 6 2016
She might appear an unlikely figure to open a literature festival, but the country’s best known baker will have two books out and a TV documentary that will reflect her own remarkable – and at times turbulent – journey as she revealed in a talk with the much respected columnist…
By Tasha Mathur
ONE OF BRITAIN’S most celebrated chefs was told to bleach her hands before she made the cake for the Queen’s recent 90th Birthday celebrations.
Nadiya Hussain, the winner of the country’s most popular TV show, “Great British Bake Off” made the startling revelation to shocked gasps at the opening event of the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival in conversation with journalist and commentator Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on Wednesday (May 4).
While Hussain was delighted to be making a cake for her Majesty, she felt uneasy by the request, and made the admission as the two women discussed racism and anti-Muslim sentiment.
“I was asked to bleach my hands before I made the Queen’s birthday cake,” Hussain casually remarked to the audience at the Cavendish Conference Centre, close to Asia House, in New Cavendish Street in central London.
Hussain said that she also came under attack from people in her own community who didn’t think it was appropriate for a Muslim woman to be on a TV show (with men).
She said that her husband had also been lambasted for allowing her to make her own decisions and that some felt he was not exercising enough control.
Alibhai-Brown said she could relate to that and declared: “’My ex-husband couldn’t bear that he had a wife that wanted to do things with her life.”
Hussain said she was unperturbed by it all and insisted: “I never claimed to be the perfect Muslim, Bengali or British (person) because there’s no such thing.”
The victorious Hussain, whose win made headlines around the world, has two books coming out shortly.
One is a children’s book aimed at getting such stories “out of the bedroom and into the kitchen” and a more conventional one, aimed at adults.
She is also to make a two-part documentary for the BBC, exploring her culinary and ethnic roots by taking her back to Bangladesh. The programme will be called “The Chronicles of Nadiya”.
Being married at the tender age of 20, meant Hussain’s life quickly centred around her three children and husband, she told the sold-out event.
Husband Abdal could see her talents going to waste as she began to lose her confidence and decided to apply to the TV show for her.
“I’d lost so much confidence that I couldn’t even do train journeys alone any more”, Hussain admitted.
Hoping to regain her confidence and break away from her circle of comfort was all Hussain wished and little did she know how much her life would change as a consequence of the application her husband made.
Despite having a column in the Times newspaper, and appearing on many prime time TV chat shows, Hussain said she was not fazed by her recent celebrity status and continued to see her main role in life as bringing up three happy and healthy children.
The Luton-born Bangladeshi told the audience how her love for baking came from cookery lessons at school where she would wash the classes’ dishes in exchange for being allowed to watch her teacher’s cooking prep before the next class.
Both before the talk and after guests enjoyed a range of cakes and pastries provided by a local Patisserie Valerie.
Jemimah Steinfeld, Asia House literature programme manager, told www.asianculturevulture.com why she wanted Hussain and Alibhai-Brown to open the festival.
“There were no headline-grabbing book launches coming from Asia during the end of April and start of May period and so knowing that Nadiya was writing books and Yasmin had published a book relating to Asian communities in the UK, putting them on stage together seemed like a fitting start to the festival,” she explained.
The Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival continues until May 18.
Among the highlights for those interested in South Asian aspects of the extravaganza are:
- Hijra (today). It explores themes of love and gender with poet and performer Shane Solanki, fusing comedy, spoken word, and film.
Saturday (May 7) 11am – Jungle Into the Journey based loosely around Disney’s latest film, “The Jungle Book” and focusing around learning and fun for kids.
- Tomorrow, May 7, 2.30pm – ‘Who’s the real Rudyard Kipling?’ with acclaimed biographer Mary Hamer.
- Tomorrow, May 7, 4pm – ‘Adventures in Asia, Deeper than Indigo’ – Author Jenny Balfour-Paul looks at the life and times of Thomas Machell, a 19th century explorer who travelled to indigo plantations in rural Bengal, the coffee estates of Kerala’s Malabar Hills and from India to Egypt by sea with Muslim merchants. These adventures are chronicled in her own critically acclaimed work, “Deeper than Indigo: Tracing Thomas Machell, forgotten explorer”.
- Wednesday, May 11, 6.45pm – ‘The Good Wife’, Writers Ramita Navai, Elif Shafak, and Sharmila Chauhan, discuss changing family mores in Asia, with novelist and Daily Telegraph journalist, Radhika Sanghani, whose debut fiction, “Virgin” attracted huge media attention.
Friday, May 13 , 12.30pm (Lunchtime) ‘Word of Mouth’ – Three authors whose work is about food, travel and recipes get to discuss the culinary cultures of the Asian continent. Hear Caroline Eden, Eleanor Ford and Summaya Usmani.
- Wednesday, May 18, 6.45pm ‘Closing Night Special – A Passage Across India’, a celebration of all things Indian from Bollywood to chic clubs of Mumbai and Delhi, author Mahesh Rao discusses both the high and low life in India with Sameer Rahim, literary editor of Prospect magazine, which is one of the partner sponsors to the festival and has a special offer for subscriptions. This particular event is sponsored by travel firm, Greaves India.
There are also a number of talks around Chinese and other cultures that make up the continent.
Steinfeld explained prior to the festival opening: “Literature has always been one of the best vehicles through which to see the world, to confront stereotypes and to challenge assumptions.
“At a time when Asia is changing immeasurably, I wanted this year’s festival to reflect that. Starting off with the notion of the alternative voice – who is being listened to and dominating discourse versus who is not – a really exciting and dynamic programme has emerged.”
For bookings and full details of the festival, please see http://asiahouse.org/events/category/asia-house-bagri-foundation-literature-festival/
All Pictures: George Torode
*Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, ‘Exotic England: The Making of a Curious Nation’, Portobello Books (in paperback now), see