Marryam H Reshii has been writing about food and lifestyle for the last 30 years. She is the Times of India food critic besides being an independent writer on cuisine and matters gastronomic. She has been working on the Times Food Guide for Delhi for the last seven years. In addition, she has done a number of books for the Times Group Books imprint about India’s food scene in terms of best restaurants, notable chefs and pairing food with Scotch whisky!
Who you are (naturally!)
My other name is Walter Mitty.
What inspired you to join your particular industry?
Would it sound too cliched to be true if I said “Because I love food”? Reading about it, watching it being made, seeing the same ingredients change usage from one country to another, from one community to another, cooking it, seeing it being cooked, looking at it being sold as ingredients and as cooked food across the world, writing about it… you get the picture.
An anecdote which epitomises your India?
I was on a cab journey from Hyderabad to Guntur, and the driver stopped at a random point on the road because he wanted a cup of tea. I hovered about, trying to look inconspicuous, when a 10 year old girl in a tattered red dress came up to me and tried to sell me peanuts in their shells. At first, I tried not to make eye contact, but when I figured out that she wasn’t going to leave my side till I had bought a rupee’s worth of peanuts steamed in their shells, I made my purchase. Instead of leaving my side to look for another customer, she hung about, watching me closely. When my expression softened as I took the first bite, she looked gratified. “They’re good, aren’t they? I knew you’d like them” she said. In that second, she had joined the ranks of all the chefs in the restaurants and hotels that I visit professionally, who watch me closely to see what my reaction to their food is.
One thing that you can’t live without?
Air, food and travel.
One thing that you hate?
If you could change one thing about India what would it be?
I’d make us more caring about the environment: more appreciative of trees, birds, streams, meadows, forests, wildlife.
Who is your greatest inspiration?
A distant uncle: Agha Ashraf Ali. An educationist and the father of the late poet Agha Shahid Ali, he was 92 years old when his beautiful house in Srinagar was destroyed in the floods, including manuscripts, calligraphy and a library full of books. Instead of wailing and ranting, he set about re-building his house so that his grand children and his great grand children (all settled in the United States) could enjoy the house and garden on their holidays in Kashmir. He’s 93 now, going on 94.
What is your favourite quote?
“Dinner is served”
I have noticed huge changes in India over the last few years but what is the biggest change you have noticed in India over the last 10 years?
Our urban sense of entitlement, our total lack of discipline, the liberties we take with the truth, our greed, our corruption. Heart-breaking but true.
What do you think are the biggest challenges India faces over the next ten years?
Unless we learn to live with less (fewer cars, less flashy lifestyles, less consumerism) we’re headed for disaster.
Which is the destination at the top of your bucket list?
There’s three of ’em: Sicily, Egypt and Japan.
What is the one place you visited that you have NO desire to return to?
Book or Movie?
Book. I can barely bring meself to watch one movie a year.
I am doing a survey to find India’s most popular breakfast, what is yours?
Coffee and croissant. Whaddya mean “That’s not Indian.” Course it is!
In retrospect, what is the one thing you wish you could have told your 20 year old self?
Believe in yourself. I didn’t for many years, with less than happy consequences.
Memsahib in India