About the book

 

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This is the first and only publication about urban India that blends food, art, and labour in Dharavi, itself a microcosm of modern Asia that many mistakenly think of as Asia’s largest slum. Eight women, most of them housewives, reveal their lives in stories and recipes that resound with the lively accents of Dharavi’s cultural hotpot. Seared vegetables, slow-cooked meats, moreish gravies, and desserts of subtle sweetness light up a menu of complex culinary traditions. This cookbook presents a colourful parade of unfamiliar Indian recipes, while exploring why and how women cook, and what food means to them beyond its life in a meal.

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The beautiful backstory: It’s true. This book is filled with dozens of recipes reflecting the amazing variety and complexity of urban cooking in Dharavi, one of the largest informal settlements in the world, and certainly the largest in Mumbai (India). But there’s more. Eight intriguing personal stories about beauty, adventure, and domestic labour will take you on a journey that explores what art is and who or what makes an artist.

This book evolved out of the Dharavi Food Project, a cooking and discussion workshop conceptualised and curated by Prajna Desai for Dharavi Biennale (2014-15), Mumbai. Dharavi Biennale was a collaborative art event organised by the Mumbai non-profit SNEHA (Society for Nutrition, Education & Health Action) with support from Wellcome Trust, UK.

In the Dharavi Food Project, women from diverse ethnic and linguistic backgrounds participated in 13, full-day cooking sessions. These sessions threw open a window not just on Dharavi but also the nature of female work in a culture that implicitly undermines their value as creative people, producers, and cultural exemplars. The book explores, through stories and recipes, how home-bound women in modern Asia inhabit the world—as thinker, mystic, politician, health professional, and teacher. Food, that most basic but also most invisible act of production, allows the wheels of culture to turn. Women like the ones in this book make that happen.

The Indecisive Chicken is a food-filled discovery about how the everyday act of cooking by ordinary housewives transcends mere household work, impacts their emotional and psychological health, and contributes to a world of sensual pleasures that one usually associates with art. Ultimately, what you’ll find here is also a challenge to received notions of aesthetic merit, the value of domestic productivity, and the economic impact of non-working women on society.

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This bi-lingual (English and Hindi) book is a collaborative publication by Prajna Desai (the book’s author) and Dharavi Biennale (Mumbai, 2015).

Recipes contributed by: Kavita Kawalkar, Bharti Majewadia, Jigna Majewadia, Sarita Rai, Usha Singh, Kavita Vishwakarma, Rajani Borse, and Rizwana Qureishi.

The book features photographs by Neville Sukhia, with Hindi translations by Nandini Patodia. Book design by Alex Johns.

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