I admire people who pursue a creative passion alongside their regular day jobs. It's as if they have understood one of life's essential lessons that only the very fortunate few get to pursue their creative instinct as their life's work. For the rest of us, it is important that we find that passion/interest/hobby in our lives that keeps that spark of creativity alive and keeps us hungry to learn more. As long as you have that, I believe life will always continue to surprise you and keep you away from the rut of stagnancy.
I was reminded of this when I recently finished with Navtej Sarna's book, 'Second Thoughts'. Sarna is the current Indian Ambassador to the United States, who apart from being a distinguished diplomat has also traversed the journey from writing newspaper features to literary essays to poetic translations to short stories to novels.
Something to be said of diplomats and their mastery of the written word. Of the top of my head I can think of Vikas Swarup, till recently the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson and now High Commissioner to Canada who is equally well known for his literary body of work, of which 'Q & A' remains his most well known, after it was adapted in film as 'Slumdog Millionaire'. There's Shashi Tharoor, the former UN diplomat and author of a number of widely acclaimed books including the literary masterpiece 'The Great Indian Novel' that is always on my list of personal favourites. And why, even Pablo Neruda was a diplomat!
Coming back to Sarna's book, it is a collection of essays that he's written for the 'Hindu Literary Review', over a period of seven years. His main motivation is to explore the personal lives of the authors of the books he's read, as he puts it, 'to understand the mind of the writer and the process of literary creation'. His quest leads him to Wodehouse's school to Hemingway's home in Cuba to Boris Pasternak's forgotten grave to a drink with Khushwant Singh to the cafe in Cairo where Naguib Mahfouz wrote for four decades only to find it abandoned and boarded up. There are books and authors that you have read and loved, those that you know about but haven't yet read and then, there are those to whom you are introduced to for the first time in this book.
What makes this book is Sarna's deep love of books that shines through every page. It speaks to the book lover amongst us when he recounts that thrill of discovery in a second hand bookshop or that time he read Gone with the Wind whilst standing against a pole in a crowded 'University Special' bus. Of how there's no greater companion than a book to snuggle up to on a rainy day or after a hike in the mountains. You'll understand his lament of how the beauty, grace and nuances of a language are being lost in today's world of 140 characters and instant downloads. But most importantly, of how over the years, like old friends, the books that we have read have stood witness to the the different phases of our life.
So, between books and finding that balance in life, I baked a cake. It's a simple cake for those times when lost in a book for hours, you look up at one point, looking for something to keep you going. This cake does the job beautifully. I got the recipe for it the old-fashioned way. It comes from my sister who got it from her sister-in-law who got it from her friend and the chain ends here because I have no clue how she got it. It's an orange loaf and when I say orange, it's the whole orange - pith, pips et al. You simply put all the ingredients in a blender, whiz and you have your batter ready. Even by my standards, it doesn't get simpler than this.
And for all your grand efforts, you are rewarded with a beautiful, moist, warm hued cake that speaks of citrus and sunshine. If you are wondering about the pith and pips affecting the taste, there is a hint of bitterness in the cake but it is not at all overpowering. If anything, it balances the sweetness.
I think you'll enjoy it as much as we did. Have a beautiful weekend!
Recipe courtesy : Farisa Giri
Makes one 9x5-inch loaf cake*.
- 1 orange
- 180 gms butter
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups self rising flour**
- 1 cup sugar
** To make 1 cup of self rising flour, add 1.5 teaspoon baking powder and 0.5 teaspoon of salt to 1 cup of all purpose flour. (http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/homemade-self-rising-flour-recipe)
- Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C. Grease and line a loaf tin.
- Chop the orange with the skin and puree in a blender.
- Melt the butter.
- Add all the ingredients to the orange puree in the blender and blend until you get a smooth, flowing batter.
- Pour into the prepared loaf tin and bake in the pre-heated oven for 40-45 minutes or until a skewer/toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
- Cool the cake for 10 minutes before removing from tin and serve.