“Love, Loss, and What We Ate” by Padma Lakshmi

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I am not really an aficionado of anything that is commonly associated with Padma Lakshmi – Salman Rushdie, her ex-husband; Top Chef, the cooking show for which is a judge; or her earlier modeling career. Thus, it would never even have occurred to me to give this book a try had I not heard an interview with her on NPR, shortly before the book’s release. Prepared to dismiss it as just another publicity stunt by a celebrity I wasn’t at all interested in, I was pleasantly surprised to find that she came across in the interview as an intelligent, articulate woman who had written this book primarily to talk about a painful medical condition she had battled with for a long time — endometriosis, in which tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside it — and to raise awareness about it. What especially struck me about that interview is that she was very matter-of-fact about her looks and attributed them to genes that she was just lucky to have inherited. I found that to be quite an enlightened attitude in contrast to the vanity most people in the fashion industry seem to have, even if they make a conscious effort to hide it. My curiosity was definitely aroused and it wasn’t long before I had borrowed a copy of Love, Loss, and What We Ate to read.

The blurb on the jacket cover was further promising, according to which, through all her travels in different parts of the world, Padma Lakshmi’s favorite food remained “the simple rice she first ate sitting on the cool floor of her grandmother’s kitchen in South India. “ How could this not tug at the heartstrings of those like me who were born and brought up in India?

It turned out that the actual book, however, was somewhat of a let-down. I found that it was primarily a chronicle of her life to date, from her childhood in India, growing up in the US, her modeling career, her growing interest in cooking which led her to publish some recipe books and eventually led to the Top Chef gig, how her endometriosis was diagnosed and treated, how her marriage to Salman Rushdie happened and why it didn’t last, how she had a baby despite the odds, and her steady relationship after Rushdie with a business tycoon whom she lost to brain cancer a few years ago. As a biography, Love, Loss, and What We Ate is not any more interesting than that of any other person who would take the trouble to write down their life stories. There was nothing particularly insightful in any of the experiences she describes. The writing is decent, but not exceptional in any way; in fact, it tended to be quite rambling at times, with lots of trivial details about her trips to different places, her experiences at modeling shoots and TV sets, and so on. I started reading the book word for word as I usually do, but found myself skimming through it after the first few chapters, looking for something that would justify the time I was spending on it. Sadly, I didn’t find it.

Love, Loss, and What We Ate – a catchy title, by the way – would be most interesting to someone who actually cared to know more about Padma Lakshmi and what makes her tick. For anyone else hoping to get some insights from someone who was – and still it – a celebrity and was married to a well known — and somewhat controversial — author, it would be a disappointing read.

Love, Loss, and What We Ate
Author: Padma Lakshmi
Publisher: Ecco
Publication Date: March 2016

Reviewer: Lachmi Khemlani runs a technology publication in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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