LOVE LOSS AND WHAT WE ATE is a memoir written by Padma Lakshmi, an Indian born American author, model, and television host. This seems to be the era of biographies. There are lot of people around who are ready to share their life stories and as I am interested in biographies , I chose to read this. Before reading this book I just knew Padmalakshmi as the ex wife of Salman Rushdie. And when I read this I found a woman who has lived life on her own terms and goals and who seems to accept her present with no regrets.
Padma displays the American life style and independence outwardly, but when I read this book I found that she was very much rooted to the Indian Soil. She was open with her relationships with different men but she feels that all through she was in search of a man who can take care of her and understand her. She wanted a life filled with love and people around. Finally at the end, she seems not interested in relationships, does not want to be married and wants to just keep on doing what she loves and have a peaceful and truthful relationship with her daughter.
Padma lakshmi’s mother had a difficult marriage. She divorced her husband which was against the Indian norms in those days. She had full support of her father who helped his daughter get rid of the abusive husband who never thought once before cheating on her. It was an arranged marriage. Padma’s mother got to know about her husband through a matrimonial column, which was the typical Indian way to get into marital bliss for many traditional Indian women of those days. After separating from her husband she could not live in India as a divorced woman. She left to the US studied and finished her nursing course and got a job in just two years. These two years Padma Lakshmi was staying with her grandparents and her extended family in Delhi where her grandfather worked. When she was just four years she was sent to the U.S to join her mother. Her mother was working hard but did her best to give her daughter the comfort and protection she needed. At that time she had a boy friend who was driving a taxi. Padma’s mother married him but things did not go well and she had to divorce him later.
Padma had the same immigrant life which every coloured child in America goes through. She was bullied, taken for granted and had to endure insults, being poor and colored. She took all this with a lot of courage. While studying away from home she got some modeling assignments and happily agreed to do them to pay off her student loans. She was successful as a model though she had a big six inch scar on her arm which was the result of a serious car accident she was in. Her mother married another immigrant for the third time. Padma as a teenager was unable to adjust to this bossy step father who was a responsible man, but did not know how to be a loving father. To escape this home life she took up modeling which helped her to move around the world.
When she actually started getting bored with her modeling assignments, she wrote a cook book which was well received by the readers. At this time she met Salman Rushdie in a party. She was in her twenties and Salman looked like Hemmingway to her. He was married thrice before meeting Padma, but this did not stop them from seeing each other. When they were in a relationship, Salman was living with his third wife. Padma and Salman were in this relationship for five years. Salman Rushdie then divorced his wife and got married to Padma.
Padma was diagnosed with endometriosis after her marriage. This is a condition which many women go through during their monthly periods. The pain and discomfort causes a lot of inconvenience and the women who are diagnosed with endometriosis have difficult pregnancies. Most of the time getting pregnant itself becomes difficult. She was under extreme pain during this time and was not able to meet the sexual needs of Salman. This was the main reason they drifted apart. With the differences between them the couple decided to divorce, after living as husband and wife for three years. While living with Salman, Padma got into a relationship with Theodore J Forstmann whom she lovingly called Teddy. Both Salman and Teddy were almost thirty years older to her. After her divorce she was not ready for marriage and therefore continued her relationship with Teddy. During her relationship with Teddy, she was also dating Adam Dell who was her age.
During her long fight with endometriosis, doctors have warned her that she had very less chances to get pregnant. But when she finally conceived it was like a miracle. She wanted to know who the father of her child is. Teddy got his paternity test done and the report was a negative. She had to accept that Adam is the girl’s father. Teddy was heartbroken but still gave Padma all the needed support. Padma also felt guilty about the situation. Adam was declared the father though he never tried to take any responsibility for the child. When the baby was born Adam had a legal battle and got his surname attached to the baby girl. He later took up the responsibility as a father. While fighting this long legal battle Padma lost Teddy to brain cancer. She believes that what she shared with him was can be called true love and she respects him for the unconditional support he has always given her.
All through this time Padma lakshmi groomed herself to be a successful television host and won an Emmy nomination for the same. What I liked in the book is the honesty and her acceptance of the wrong decisions she made in her life. Her non conventional life style may be the talk for many but there is an underlying honesty in her story telling. She admits that modeling gave her money and name but not the kind of happiness she wanted. But still she opted for it for the money and the travel. Her marriage with Salman was a kind of infatuation or attraction she felt towards an intelligent mind. Her fight with endometriosis and the lack of knowledge regarding this problem speaks about the opinion educated men and women have on Women’s health throughout the world. She takes her pregnancy as a miracle and decides to give birth and also honestly tries to find out the father of her child as she wanted her daughter to be welcomed with truth and love.
Her love towards her maternal home, her grandparents and extended family is genuine and very much Indian. She always maintained proper connection with her mother’s relatives and respected the traditions and customs of the household she belongs to. She even tried to expose this culture to her daughter and gave the taste of East along with the upbringing of the west. She enjoys cooking and brings out the traditional South Indian menus in this book. While discussing her life she also gives the recipes of these Indian foods which make her very much Asian and South Indian. What surprises the reader is in spite of her westernized life style, in spite of her migration to the west at the tender age of four, her tastes now still remain Indian. She enjoys visiting her ancestral home in Chennai and connects to her relatives well. She fondly discusses her Indian roots and is also proud about them.
In this biography Padma lakshmi also tells that as a teenager she tried to change her name due to the peer pressure around regarding her Indian identity, but after a few months decided to get back to her old name. She wanted to be regarded as an Indian and chose to live with her identity all through. She remembers her grandmother’s humble kitchen and the way she cooked and served food to all. From that simple Indian kitchen her journey to the sophisticated western kitchen was not an easy one and definitely was emotionally draining to her as an individual. But she endured all of it and finally got an identity of her own despite her Eastern roots, color and religion in the Western world. She does not hesitate to say that being the first internationally acclaimed model of Indian origin did not thrill her but the cook shows and her cook books gave her the needed satisfaction.
After all the suffering with endometriosis she chose to be the co founder of the Endometriosis foundation of America. Through this foundation she is working to spread awareness in Women regarding this condition and how they can deal with it.
She does not seem to be committed in relationships and she admits that. She was seeing Teddy while still married to Salman. Though they drifted apart, she was his wife when she was meeting Teddy for romantic dates. She was then dating Teddy and Adam together. She justifies her actions saying that the men whom she was related to know about her other dates. When her pregnancy gets confirmed, she then wants to find out the father. It is only then she realizes how much she was hurting both of them with her non committed attitude. She secretly wanted Teddy to be the father. But when Adam was declared the father she finds out how much she hurt Teddy and how gracious he was with his support and love even in the most difficult circumstances.
The shocking aspect in the book was when I heard that she ate her own placenta. It was an unknown aspect to me. And only after going through this book I came to know that few people belive that eating their own placenta helps to fight with post natal depression and helps the mother to produce more milk for the child. A little bit of google search says that this is a practice in China and Vietnam but this placenta is not necessarily consumed by the mother. It is used in medicines for certain ailments in those countries. It seems a few celebrities followed this method believing that it helps them overcome Iron deficiency too. Padma Lakshmi becomes one among them. She ate her own placenta in the form of pills and believed that it helped her during her post pregnancy period. Its surprising to know how old unproven methods and practices of the east have been embraced by these rich people of the west.
Is this biography justifying her actions? I don’t think so, it is just a memoir of events which happened in a woman’s life. Padma is not hesitant talking about her past. It depends on the reader how they understand her. On one side we feel she was a woman going behind men equal to her father’s age and it puts an idea in our minds that she must be having serious psychological problems. She was always among the rich men and also could get into their lives. Did these connections help her to grow professionally is a question which cannot be answered through this memoir, but is left to one’s imagination. For some she proves herself to be a Gold digger and an ambitious woman who got a way to succeed. On the other hand it also shows her ability to accept challenges and move on, whatever may be their kind.
With all these contradictions this gives the feel of an interesting biography. It speaks about an unconventional woman, her unconventional ways and her unconventional thinking who on the other side also feels at home with tradition and customs. A stark contradiction can be observed in her life style, in thought and action.
With all these contradictions the book is readable and interesting. It’s a different biography which confuses the reader. Sometimes Padma Lakshmi sounds strong, confident and logical while on the other hand we doubt her to be manipulative and scheming. Above all these it’s a life led by a women which may not be appealing to others but that’s her life and her choice. These kind of books help the reader to grow into a non judgmental an unbiased individual which is the prime need of the decade.