‘The Secret Diary of the World’s Worst Cook’ by Subhadra Sen Gupta, much like the Dum Pukht cooking of Lucknow (featured in the book), looks deceptively simple. Arguably, cooking is about bunging vegetables, meat and spices together, but talented hands can make a dish a work of art. Similarly, Sen Gupta wields words skillfully to create a book that is as light as summer rain but underlying the book, is an important lesson for children. The author gently exhorts her readers to follow their heart and do what they love to do, even though it may be to convince their parents.
In the story, young Rohin who studies in the 10th standard knows for sure that he hates science. The problem? Rohin's parents are renowned scientist and they expect him to pursue a career that relates to science, just like his older sister. Knowing that he hates science but not knowing what he would like to do as an alternate, exacerbates Rohin’s problem. He is thrilled when he is packed off to his grandparents’ place at Lucknow for the summer holidays. Here there are people who do not judge him; an additional attraction is the presence of Bajju, the cook, who encourages Rohin to cook. Chance lands him the yellowing diary of 15-year-old Hassan Ali who hates to cook but is forced to learn by his father, who is one of the best cooks in Lucknow. Rohin sees the parallel in their lives when Hassan Ali is labeled ‘the worst cook in the world’ by his father. The more Rohin reads, the more he is intrigued; he is determined to find the now 60-year-old Hassan Ali and his friend Rajjo. The quest takes him on an adventure where he makes new friends, finds the elusive khazana and finally understands what he really loves to do. But will Rohin find the courage to face up to his father? Read the book to find out.
Subhadra Sen Gupta has an irreverent voice that effortlessly speaks the language of a fifteen year old. The well-etched characters are charming, more so because of their unexpected traits. The author makes her characters real and every one of them - even the crusty ones - capture the reader's sympathy. This must-read book is a rare treasure. The story is well written and has just the right blend of cooking history, a serious message and humour. It's a must in every child's library, be it at home or school.