Stirring up the past
> Local culinary legend Carol Selva Rajah has written an autobigraphy, Dining with Dragons, with the help of her brother, Dr Abel Arumugam
CAROL SELVA RAJAH ( far right) was known as the culinary goddess of the 80s. Her cook-shows and series of cookbooks were popular among readers and viewers. Then, she migrated to Sydney, Australia.
Now, 25 years later, the 75-yearold has come out with an autobiography in collaboration with her only sibling, renowned surgeon Dr Abel Arumugam ( right).
Dining with Dragons describes their childhood during WWII, to the time she achieved fame as a chef. Besides being filled with stories that will touch our hearts, the book also features several of Carol’s mouth-watering recipes.
Dining with Dragons will be officially launched this Friday by British High Commissioner Victoria Treadell at the Royal Selangor Club in Kuala Lumpur.
Carol will be flying in from Australia for the event. She is also expected to hold a meet-the-author session at Kinokuniya Bookstore at KLCC on Sunday at 2pm, where she will be autographing copies of her book.
She might even put on a cooking demonstration for fans. There are also plans for similar sessions in Penang and Singapore.
In a recent interview with Abel, 69, he explains that the ‘dragons’ in the title refer to the women in his sister’s life. “Women played an important role in Carol’s life, especially in shaping her personality. This book highlights the strength of these women.”
One of them was their late amah, who had looked after Carol since she was born. “She was like a second mother to Carol and me and loved us very much. Till today, Carol and I still keep in touch with her children.”
Their amah, whom they called Amah Kim, was from China. She became a widow at an early age when her husband drowned in an accident. Because of that, she was labelled a ‘cursed’ woman.
She was forced to leave her children behind in China and sail to Singapore to earn a living as a maid.
Carol, who spoke via Skype from her home in Australia, remembers her amah encouraging them to plant fruits and vegetables in their small garden during the war years to overcome the shortage of food.
“She fed my family during the war,” she says. “She taught me the fantastic values of honesty and integrity.”
Naturally, their mother Sara Arumugam also features prominently in the book.
Although she grew up in an orphanage in Penang, their mother never allowed her situation to deter her from getting a good education and becoming a successful teacher.
Abel adds that the book also gives today’s generation a glimpse of Malaysian society in the past.
“The racial harmony between us was far stronger, then,” he says. “Now, we have become an urban population where we do not talk to each other and we rarely visit each other.”
Carol says the book also emphasises on old values; of the need for family members to foster closer relationships with each other.
“We always sat around the table to have our dinner,” she recalls. “The television was off during dinner. We enjoyed our food and we had conversations.
“We would catch up on what we were doing in our work and in our studies. There was always communication between family members during dinner.”
Till today, Carol practises a no-TV policy during dinner with her children in Australia.
While, basically, the book is about the two of them, Abel does not hide the fact that they each have somewhat different opinions on how their story should be presented.
“Carol is a strong woman with strong personality,” he elaborates. “She wanted to say some things that could be deemed as sensitive here.
“She has been away from Malaysia for a long time, and does not know what is sensitive and what is not in our country today.
“I had to tone her down sometimes. I wanted her to tell the story of our lives without being controversial.”
Abel adds that for him, Dining with Dragons is a feel-good book that tells about a small family in a small town and how women can be strong individuals during times of crisis.
As to whether Abel can hold his own in the kitchen with older sister Carol, he admits that he never learned to cook when he was younger.
But since his wife died nearly two years ago, he has taken up cooking and now enjoys the experience very much.
“It gives me a fantastic feeling when people enjoy the food you cook,” he adds.
Carol has not tasted his cooking yet. When she comes back this time to promote the book, he says he will definitely cook for her.
“I am eager to hear her views,” he says with a huge laugh.