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

The Sun (Malaysia) - - THE RIGHT READ - BY BISSME S.

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.

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