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Posts: 1,495
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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The Cook

Why don't we know the cook's name until the last page of the novel?

What do you make of him? He is an incessant talker, a storyteller, and his wild stories are often set in direct opposition to the "real" stories we get in the novel.

How close is he really to Sai, and how close is he really to Biju?
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Posts: 2,509
Registered: ‎01-31-2007
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Re: The Cook

rkubie wrote:
Why don't we know the cook's name until the last page of the novel?

What do you make of him? He is an incessant talker, a storyteller, and his wild stories are often set in direct opposition to the "real" stories we get in the novel.

How close is he really to Sai, and how close is he really to Biju?

I really do not know that much about the cook. He seems constantly afraid. Some of the discussion questions at the book were the following in addition to what you posted:

1. How did the cook get his job with the judge?
2. Did the cook accept his position in society?
3. Did he fulfill his responsibilities despite the judge's treatment?
4. Why did the cook embellish the stories he told to the judge?

In terms of my impression of the cook in chapter one:

The cook had to cook under unbearable circumstances and conditions.

On page one, "Here, at the back, inside the cavernous kitchen, was the cook, trying to light the damp wood. He fingered the kindling gingerly for fear of the community of scorpions living, loving, reproducing in the pile. Once he'd found a mother, plumb with poison, fourteen babies on her back."

Boy, if I was trying to light a fire with wet wood in a kitchen full of scorpions I would not be happy either. I wondered if the symbolism was about the country as well and all of the countries warring with it and on its back. And the country itself was full of some poison. Maybe I am reading more than is there in that sentence aside from what the poor cook's lot in life was.

The next sentence which described the house and the kitchen's environments and the tools he used was unbelievable. On top of all that, even the cook's physical body was falling apart like his arthritic knees.

"Eventually the fire caught and he placed his kettle on top, as battered, as encrusted as something dug up by an archeological team, and waited for it to boil. The walls were singed and sodden, garlic hung by muddy stems from the charred beams, thickets of soot clumped batlike upon the ceiling. The flame cast a mosaic of shiny orange across the cook's face, and his top half grew hot, but a mean gust tortured his arthritic knees."

I think that the poor cook was a tortured soul, inside and out. Inside he tortured himself that he did not have his beloved son and outside he was tortured by what he did for a living and by the judge who made him feel no better than the fool he recanted he was to the boy thieves.

It is odd that the conversation which the cook had in the kitchen with Sai was so disconnected. When Sai came to see what was taking the tea so long for the impatient and crabby old judge. The cook talked of his bones and his joints hurting and that he might as well be dead. And Sai's response as if she was thinking of herself and not what the cook even said, started saying that it was "foggy" and she didn't think the tutor would come. How is that for miscommunication. They are not listening to each other at all.

The cook had to make do with no more gas or kerosene and wet wood and the judge didn't care. All he wanted was his crumpets and tea and the poor cook even scurried about giving the judge some left over chocolate pudding which he had to warm in a frying pan on the fire he made from the wet wood. He obviously expected to be beaten and probably was by the judge because he cowered when he was dragged out from hiding under the dining table when the boy thieves came.

This sentence was powerful:

"His lines had been honed over centuries, passed down through generations, for poor people needed certain lines; the script was always the same, and they had no option but to beg for mercy. The cook knew instinctively how to cry. These familiar lines allowed the boys to ease still further into their role, which he had handed them like a gift."

I wondered if Desai was not just talking about a cook - but about India, its people and about colonialism. What was the impact on India and other colonialized nations? Maybe that accounts for the inheritance of loss which is passed down from generation to generation. The boys representing the bullying countries who might come to humiliate and exploit those who were poorer and could not defend themselves. Maybe I am reading too much into these lines but that is what I felt when I read them. The cook needed to be cut a break; but one does not appear to be in sight.

Both Sai and the cook were jointly afraid of the judge as evidenced by the following line(s):

"Both Sai and the cook had averted their gaze from the judge and his humiliation, and even now their glances avoided the tablecloth and took the longer way across the room, for if the cloth was acknowledged, there was no telling how he might punish them. It was an awful thing the downing of a proud man. He might kill the witness"

These sentences show me that the judge beat and at least punished both of them. That the judge had been humiliated before by life and that certain things were never brought up to the judge because of fear. I think the cook feared the judge.

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