A conversation with Mr. Ajai Sharma

“Don’t be intimidated for people will intimidate you. But remember the world belongs to hard workers and not dreamers. You have no idea how proud I was when he sent me a mail saying he’s doing a book on Jeddah. And I said right then, this guy is going far. Because all the kids who are sitting and planning, they don’t matter. This matters. All the best.”

These words of advice to Ajai Sharma came from his mentor, Chef Vikas Khanna. Ajai, a budding author and a student from WGSHA has published a book titled ‘The culinary epic of Jeddah’. The book details the story of the Jeddah, a city in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. ‘Jeddah’ translates to ‘grandmother’ and the name takes inspiration from ‘Maa Hawa’, the Mother of Peace. The book takes the reader on a journey through the city and its prestigious history. Besides Jeddah’s iconic history, the book also details the food ingredients used in both, the city and country. Based on Prophetic traditions, the book mentions the Holy Quran along with some of the recipes of the mentioned ingredients.

Manipal The Talk Network was recently in conversation with the young author. Here is what he had to say:

Interviewer: What was your inspiration behind the title of your book?

Ajai Sharma: My inspiration behind the title of my book was my mentor, Chef Vikas Khanna’s book, ‘Utsav’. I’ve written a story about a culture, an ethnicity, so I feel we should call it an ‘Epic’ or a ‘Katha’. Just like Utsav is called the culinary celebration of the festivals of India, similarly I am celebrating the food of Jeddah. Hence the title of my book is ‘The Culinary Epic of Jeddah’.

Interviewer: You’ve referenced the Holy Quran in your book multiple times. Was there any particular thought behind you doing so?

Ajai Sharma: I have come across many with the same question. I could have referred to the internet or any cookbook to describe the methods of cooking and the ingredients used. But I wanted a different take on this. I thought of displaying the religious side of food. My main aim behind quoting the Holy Quran was to explain the actual meaning of that particular ingredient. I have spoken about 29 ingredients in my book, all indigenous to the cooking of Jeddah such as dates, bread and honey to name a few. I want to give my readers the story and historical significance behind each ingredient. I want to give my readers something nearly as authentic, actual and irrevocable as the Holy Quran.

Interviewer: You were just an intern when you wrote this book. What were the challenges you faced? How did you overcome them?

Ajai Sharma: My first challenge was selecting a topic for the book. I was all geared up to write a book and spoke with both my professors and family who were very supportive. I initially wanted to write about Amritsar, as it was the birthplace of my grandmother, someone hold in the highest regard. I found out, however that it would get in the way of my internship. So, I switched to Udupi as it is reachable and easily accessible. But then again, 4 months is not enough time to publish a book. But then, a bolt of inspiration struck me in the form a phone-call from my father. He gave me the idea to write about a place I’ve spent my childhood in- Jeddah. A place that many people have heard of but haven’t experienced its culinary aspect.

The second hurdle was finding a publisher. I was rejected by all the top publishing houses of the country. After 12 rejections, Notion Press accepted my book. They told me my content was new, fresh and it’s better if we moved on with the manuscript. Another hurdle was that halfway through the process, I got to know that my dissertation was a group effort. So, I had to convince the faculty to give me sole credit as I was writing the book on my own.

It is wisely said that success doesn’t come easily in life. I was told to dream with eyes wide open. And I did. I had a vision to write a book and I gave it my best shot. And I did so with the help of my friends, faculty and family.

Interviewer- Andrea Xavier Gonsalves

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