Over the years, books have shaped my life and influenced my thinking. Here is one of the many ways in which it steered me onto a new path, and led me to experience something totally awesome.
Chocolat by Joanne Harris
One day, out of nowhere, I had this idea to read a book called Chocolat. Being a university student, I had easy access to any book I wanted, and within no time, I was making my way through this beautiful and exotic piece of writing. This book is about passion, love and chocolates, but not in a cheesy, romanticized way. It's about passion that sustains you through your life, love that empowers you to walk your own unique path, and chocolates that change people's lives. A young mother and daughter, vagabonds and free spirits, move into a village full of repressed and stifled people. The village, somewhere in France, is a cold, bleak place where people have forgotten to share, care or smile, happiness is stigmatized, and pleasure or self-indulgence of any kind is forbidden as a sin. All hell breaks loose when Vianne opens a chocolaterie and ignites a trail of passion, pleasure, laughter, dancing and sensual gratification.
Vianne is one of the most enigmatic, strong and beautiful characters in a book. She is fiery, a humanitarian, an empathizer, and a secure single mother. She has this unique gift of healing and fixing people through her chocolates by using special ingredients, and creating customized treats that melt the most stubborn hearts and stirs the most dull, lethargic mind into frenzied bouts of passion. Slowly but surely, her quaint little chocolate shop enables the village to reinvent their life. But not all are happy with this pleasing of the senses extravaganza. The village clergy doesn't approve but Vianne is not deterred and a battle of the truly orthodox and the truly liberal ensues and culminates in an epic climax.
Apart from the story, where the book really wins is the beautiful, artistic and evocative writing style. Chocolate is so vividly and elegantly described that it makes your mind and soul hunger for the experiences described in this book. The way the favors, and the chocolate making process, and the smells are described is very soulful. It leaves you with a sense of wonder and a childlike curiosity to try things for yourself.
And that is how I got into baking. I had never before contemplated even for a brief moment the endeavor of baking a cake. But after reading this book, I couldn't resist my impulses to indulge a wild, juvenile side of me and to experience something sensual, stirring and artistically creative. It felt like it had the potential to soothe frayed nerves and to get my frenzied mind to focus in the present. Sure enough, I loved to bake. Being a student, I had limited resources, and I did everything the old fashion way. I used my hand to stir and mix ingredients instead of the fancy electric mixers used in many of the recipes. I had, maybe, a couple of bowls and baking pans that I had to often wash and reuse. Nevertheless, it was one of the best discoveries of my life. It has forever changed the way I look at baking.
Believe it or not, I baked every other day for three months. Brownies, muffins, cupcakes, cakes with frosting, marble cake, coffee cake, cookies, chocolate fudge - I made it all with a madman's glee. Late into the night, I would relish what I baked with several cups of steaming rich black coffee. The bitter and the sweet complemented each other perfectly. I shared everything I baked with my roomies, friends, families, colleagues and whoever else I could convince to eat. But the legacy of baking didn't stop there. My mom embraced baking, and invested in an oven. She also confided that she had been fascinated by baking, and had always wanted to try her hand at it but had deferred. Soon, my brother began to experiment with baking. Their thrill and level of excitement was no less than mine. Presumably, the three of us will bake long into the future.
The thing that was so moving and enriching about this experience was that it was a pure and transcendental movement. Why? Because it was more about baking it than consuming it - I actually enjoyed the process more than the final product. I was absolutely in my element and had the energy and passion of a child absorbed in her toy.
I still bake, and someday I hope to go all crazy by diving deeper into the subtleties and nuances of becoming a skilled, artistically evolved baker. There is something very calming and alluring about moving your hands and settling your eyes upon the mixing of the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, butter and vanilla extract to whip up a flavorful, rich cake with a smooth frosting. I could do this for hours. The inner child in me longs to do it full time. Maybe, someday, I will take the plunge.
None of this would have happened if it weren't for this book. Thank you, dear author.
This book shows you that for the most part humans cannot survive and thrive without passion and stimulation, and that conforming to authority in a holistic manner will deprive you of your individuality and freedom, and it will curb your creativity and breed a deliriously uninspired, dull way of living. The eccentric Vianne, and her bold, innovative ways, her kindness and her passion, her fiery independence is beautiful, and inspiring. That she isn't limited in her thinking, and isn't afflicted with the need to please or fit in but is graced with a genuine desire to help people and to bring magic in their life is very liberating to read. She challenges and leads the way, helps people with their life predicaments, and doesn't moan about having to do everything by herself. She is an incredibly kickass character, and you really should read this book.