Ranjit Lal, winner of the Crossword Children’s Book Award and honoured by IBBY for his contribution to children’s literature, talks to Natasha Sharma about his new book The Deadly Royal Recipe. In conversation with him is Natasha Sharma, author of Icky, Yucky, Mucky.
NS: I have literally slurped my way through the book! With delectable descriptions of an immense variety of food and a good know how of culinary technique and equipment, can one safely assume that you are quite the food lover? Does that just include eating great food or cooking it too?
RL: Started with eating of course. Then I had to sack the cook (who was growing weed in the garden amongst other things) and realized the only thing I could do in the kitchen was to take a beer from the fridge. So, started out ploughing through recipe books (I had gifted my mother, which now came back to bite me!) and started off grimly… But found I enjoyed it hugely…
NS: The story brings alive a marvellous world of khansaamas, camps in the jungle, foraging and cooking out in the open. Have these evocative settings in the book evolved from your own experiences? Is there any event in particular that you’d like to share?
RL: Ah, I wish they had! But you can still do a lot with imagination as your main ingredient!
NS: You are also known to be a naturalist and bird watcher with many articles and books on the topic. This story seems to reflect so many of your interests! What got you started on this story?
RL: Well, once I started cooking – a little more than two years ago, I thought I better put this experience to better use than merely eating… And besides I firmly believe all kids should be taught to cook (in school), apart from swimming, cycling, first aid, and learning to cross the road without being run over from twelve different directions!
NS: Zafira, the feisty princess of Kamargarh was a refreshing character in being quite contrary to the fussy, pale faced, helpless princesses portrayed in so many books. Did you have that consciously in mind as you drew out her character?
RL: Ugh, those are like some of those tasteless soups that are supposed to be good for you… So I had to make her more interesting with more mirch masaala!
NS: Can we look forward to the Babblers getting into more situations and working their way out?
RL: Now you’re putting ideas into my head…!
NS: You are the author of close to 25 books and have recently been honoured by IBBY. On the subject of recipes, what according to you are the critical ingredients in a well-written story?
RL: Characters followed by plot and that all important if clichéd question: What if?! After that anything is possible!
NS: Coming back to food (slurp!), any precious family recipe or your own creation you’d be willing to share?
RL: I wish I did have! But put in cream, butter, wine, stock, bacon, into anything, and you can’t go wrong (except for your arteries!
NS: What’s the one dish or dessert that can keep you up at night dreaming of it?
RL: Only one dish? Well, then anything to do with seafood…
NS: To end with a rapid fire round, please state your preference:
- Entrée or dessert?
RL: Dessert (entrées ruin your appetite)
- Jalebi or gulab jamun?
- Trains or planes?
RL: Trains to travel in, planes to watch takeoff and land
- New or vintage?
RL: Vintage cars certainly!
- Steamed or fried?
RL: That’s a no brainer! Fried of course!!