Food for thought

Chintan Girish Modi

If you are looking for a thoughtful and funny book for young readers in the age group of 7 to 11, I would recommend Pinkoo Shergill Pastry Chef written by Vibha Batra and illustrated by Shamika Chaves. It revolves around a boy called Pinkoo who loves baking. This passion of his is highly discouraged by the men in his family, and some boys in his school, because they believe that boys should be interested in more athletic and aggressive pursuits.

They are of the opinion that things like baking should be left to women and girls. However, Pinkoo is lucky enough to have people in his life who support his dream of becoming a pastry chef. I am not naming them here, so that you have something to look forward to. Read this book to learn more about the talented Pinkoo, and how he fights gender stereotypes. Batra has written an engaging book that tackles a serious societal issue with a light touch – she coins words, uses hilarious similes, and describes desserts in a manner that will make your mouth water. This book should also be read widely by parents, teachers, and grandparents. We bring you an interview with the author.

How did you end up conceptualizing and writing such a delicious book?

Okay, here’s a confession. I’m a die-hard foodie. And desserts are my first love. That’s how Pinkoo Shergill Pastry Chef came about. Like every story, it has a backstory. It was one of those days. I was looking forward to devouring a dessert buffet yet again. But, oh, the guilt! Enter the best excuse in the world – research for my new book. Yes, all diets were harmed in the making of this book.

Why did you set the story in Patiala? Was there a special reason behind this choice?

I’ve never been to Patiala. I would love to visit the city though. The history, the culture, the architecture, and, ahem, the food! What’s not to love? So, by setting the story there, I got to experience all that and more, right from the comfort of my dining table – with the friendly neighbourhood dhaba filling in for the culinary bits.

Pinkoo wants to be a pastry chef but his father wants him to be a shooter. What dreams or ambitions did you have as a child? Did these cause disagreements with your parents?

Growing up, all I wanted to do was eat. And beat my cousins at poori eating competitions. I was the reigning champ for years. Despite my best intentions, my family’s love for the written word rubbed off on me. Before I knew it, I was reading everything in sight: channa cones, bhel puri ‘plates’, terms and conditions in user manuals. Next thing I knew, I was writing and reciting poetry (won prizes too) and plays (they were staged in school), and dashing off stories to Tinkle. I am still waiting to hear from them.

Being a first rank holder/school topper/mugpot for all seasons, everyone kind of assumed that I would do something more appropriate, something more high-brow. Like CA or MBA. But there I was following my heart and choosing to be – gasp! – an advertising writer and resident black sheep all at once. Years later, I still am. An advertising writer, that is.

Your book challenges patriarchy and gender roles without being preachy. Tell us about the thought process that went into getting this right. How many edits did you work on?

Over the years, I’ve been at the receiving end of long sermons, well-intentioned advice and unsolicited gyaan. As it happened, it always went in one ear and out of the other. I couldn’t possibly do that to others my age (used to be a time when I thought I was a Young Adult, but guess am a tween as well). I wanted to tell a story that was close to my heart, I wanted to write about stuff that meant something to me. And I wanted to do it in a way that didn’t leave the readers snorting, “Okay, boomer!”

I wrote and wrote and wrote some more till the bell went off and the teachers had to snatch the answer sheet from my hands. So many edits, so little time. 

You use words like funeriffic, grossastic, yummysome, wonderlicious, and many more that do not exist in regular dictionaries but have been invented for your book. When did you begin exploring word play? Schools tend to discourage such experimentation.

Tell me about it. It’s like fencing them in and then saying, go all out, children, unleash your imagination and creativity and just have fun. At my creative writing workshops, students get all wide-eyed and say, “We aren’t supposed to begin sentences with ‘and’, Aunty”, “That’s not even a word, Miss,”. My reply? “And where’s the fun in that. Have a FABtastic, WOWmazing time writing, I say!”

In your book, Coach Aloo says, “When the going looks tough, just close your eyes and visualize victory. It will give you a high dose of energy.” Do you actually follow this?

I love this question! Just being able to work on my books, to do what I love, despite all the tantrums life keeps throwing is enough to infuse me with a high dose of energy! Good tip though, Coach Aloo! Thanks very much. I will bear it in mind the next time life’s little curveballs come cruising.

Could you tell us about Daljit’s back story? We do not get to know him other than as a bully. What kind of a relationship does he have with his parents? Who are his friends?

I feel bad for Daljit. He’s well on his way to be the poster child for toxic masculinity. It’s all he’s seen at home and around him. Because of which he thinks if he’s anything less than aggressive, competitive, rude and boastful, he’ll somehow be less, a weakling, an object of ridicule. His domineering father – a flagbearer of patriarchy – peppers dinner table conversations with comments like “Boys don’t cry” and “Don’t shoot like a girl”. His mother meekly hovers in the background. He’s part of a clique; his friends and cronies have more or less the same backstory.

Manu’s friendship with Pinkoo is beautifully depicted. I love the scene where Pinkoo bakes a surprise cake for Manu. Were you thinking of your friends while writing it?

I love my friends, but if I’m being completely honest, I was thinking of the cake while writing it. Back when I was Pinkoo-Manu’s age (chronologically speaking), forget baking for them, I’d have bounded towards their birthday cake, elbowing them out of the way, knocking them over in a bid to grab the lion’s share. My friends would certainly vouch for this.

What was it like to collaborate with Shamika Chaves, the illustrator? Did you have a specific brief for her? Or did interactions take place between her and your publisher?

I was super thrilled when Shamika came on board. I knew she’d take us on a charming, delightful, wonderfully quirky visual journey. Sure enough, she brought the story alive with her magic. And you are right! The interactions took place between her and the publisher, though I did beseech her to give Karan Uncle some hair. In the first round, he didn’t have any. For some reason, I had always imagined him with a full head of hair.

The book is filled with food. Did you consider including recipes for your readers?

Oh! Actually, no. Now that I think about it, I’ve no clue why. It would’ve been lovely to. Thanks much for sparking a lovely idea (or two) in my head! *rubs hands gleefully*

Title of the book: Pinkoo Shergill Pastry Chef

Author: Vibha Batra

Illustrator: Shamika Chaves

Publisher: Scholastic India

Year of publication: 2021

Pages: 200

The author is a journalist and book reviewer who lives in Mumbai and goes gallivanting elsewhere. He can be reached at

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