“Cuisines give Indians distinct regional identities”

New Delhi: Cuisines give India’s diverse communities the one thing they need most, regional identity, says noted Indian Jewish writer and Sahitya Akademi Award winner, Esther David.

“Indians would lose their communal identities if they did not have their traditional cuisines,” said David, also the winner of the Prix Eugenie Brazier, a prestigious French award, for her ‘Book of Rachel’.

“I include food in my novels because I cannot possibly write a cook book,” she told.

The writer and researcher was in the capital for the Lit for Life festival, presented by an Indian newspaper. She spoke about literature and food at a discourse, ‘Are You Really Going to Eat All That’.

David, a Bene Jew from Ahmedabad, uses the non-vegetarian gastronomic culture of the reclusive Bene Jewish community along the Konkan coast of Maharashtra to recreate the saga of the arrival of the tribe to India and its fight for survival.

According to demographic estimates, of the 65,000 Bene Jews in the world, 5,000 live in India.

“The Jews in India lead a secret life, they do not mingle much. It is a mindset borne by memories and years of persecution all over the life,” David said.

“We underplay our lives. I decided to open the lives of the Jews in India with my book. The Jews in India have a distinct cuisine, which sets them apart from the rest, giving them an identity,” she added.

The author of six books has documented the community of Bene Jews for the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv, Israel.

David has revived lost recipes from families, friends and elders in the tribe. She has used them to layer her fictional tale of Rachel, a lonely Jewish widow, and her tribe residing in a remote village by the sea.