A Conversation with Amulya Malladi
Devi Veturi, the protagonist of Serving Crazy with Curry, and Amulya
Malladi met at an indiscriminate time and place to have this conversation.
In the middle of the conversation things went a little crazy as Shobha,
Saroj, and even Vasu showed up to chat (accuse?).
Devi: In the first version of this book, which you titled Thicker than
Blood, I die and then my sister, Shobha, becomes the protagonist.
What happened? How did I live?
Amulya: Well, you did die in the first version. I wrote about two hundred
pages of that book and then realized that it wouldn’t work. I
couldn’t sleep at night and feel content about how the book was
falling into place, so I knew that it needed to be scrapped. I scrapped
it and went back and wrote it again and again and again. That suicide
scene where you slit your wrists has been written innumerable times.
But then, one day, it struck me that you’d live, you’d stop speaking and
you’d start cooking weird food. And the title of the book would be
Serving Crazy with Curry. It all just fell into place . . . like magic.
I have a question for you. Why did you try to commit suicide?
Someone who read the book said to me that this kind of bad stuff happens
to lots of people and lots of people don’t kill themselves.
Devi: Lots of people are not me. I think it’s important to remember
that my emotions and my feelings are different from everyone else’s.
You are probably strong enough to deal with a loss of career, loss of a
baby, loss of a man in your life, and loss of self-respect, but I wasn’t.
And like I said, it was not just a careless thought, it was planned. I really
wanted to die. I couldn’t see any reason to live. Imagine this: You
hate going to sleep every night because tomorrow is going to be the
same empty day and when you finally go to sleep you hate waking up
because it’s going to be the same crappy day. I think after a while you
reach a point where you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and
it all becomes pointless.
Amulya: But now you’re smart enough to know that killing yourself
was not such a bright idea.
Devi: It’s not fair to call it a stupid idea. It was what it was and it
seemed like a good idea then. I can’t go back and live my life. I can
only live forward. If I had to do it again, I hope I wouldn’t try to kill
myself but I can’t be sure of that.
Amulya: Now, the whole Girish business; were you really in love with
him? Or did you sleep with him because he was Shobha’s and that
would be a nice “F*** you” to your sister?
Devi: I would never use language like that. That’s Shobha’s style.
But yeah, I think it was a little of both. I was in love with Girish
and even though I knew I could never let Shobha find out about us,
there was a small perverse pleasure in sleeping with her husband.
But when I told her the truth there was no pleasure, perverse or otherwise.
I was terrified of losing Shobha and I realized that I didn’t love
Girish enough to lose my family. They were more important.
Amulya: I have to know, why the cooking?
Devi: I’d like to know as well. Since you wrote it in, why don’t you tell
Amulya: Hmm . . . well, I think you started cooking all that fusion
cuisine because you wanted to do something that was different, yet
you wanted to hold on to what was. You wouldn’t speak, so you used
food as a communicating medium. You expressed your feelings
through it, joy, fear, boredom, anger . . . all of that.
Devi: You mean, since I stopped speaking as a result of my traumatic
experience, I had to do something, and cooking was it?
Amulya: Absolutely! A budding hobby that I think will make a fabulous
profession for you.
Devi: I love to cook. The smell, the texture, the taste . . . everything.
Do you cook?
Amulya: I think you like to cook because I like to cook. Also, another
reason why you were cooking like a veteran chef was because the
kitchen had always been Saroj’s domain and your trying to take that
domain away from her was a subconscious effort on your part to tell
her that you can control your life since you can control her kitchen.
You were asking her to back off. She saved your life but you didn’t
want her to take control of it now that you were alive. And speaking of
Saroj . . . I’d like to talk to you about your mother.
Devi (sighs): Do we have to?
Amulya: Well, I thought you all made up, nice and neat in the end.
Devi: Your end is not my end and we didn’t make up nice and neat.
Well, we’re on better terms than we used to be . . . but she’s still a
pain in the ass.
Saroj: Mind your language, Devi. Talking about your mother like this,
you should be ashamed.
Devi: This is a private conversation, Mama, you can’t just barge in.
Saroj: There are no private conversations for you. After pulling a stunt
like that in your bathtub, do you really think we’re going to let you talk
to anyone you feel like without knowing what you’re talking about?
Devi: Oh, Lord! Here she goes again.
Saroj: One thing I want to make clear. I am not a terrible mother or a
terrible cook. You kept saying that all the time, Amulya, and it hurt
Amulya: I . . . I . . . am sorry . . . ah, well, so, how are you doing since
your mother passed away?
Saroj (shrugs): It is very hard to lose a mother . . . a parent. Now I remember
her with great joy, but I also know that if she was alive I
would still be despising her.
Amulya: Do you think Shobha and Devi will always have mixed feelings
Saroj: Why should they? I have been a good mother. My mother was
never around, I have always been around. They have no reason to dislike
me or have mixed feelings about me.
Amulya: And how are things with Avi?
Saroj (smiles): Wonderful. I didn’t know about the letters, you know.
I wish I had known what he was going through, I wish . . . maybe if I
had known, I would have been different. I don’t know. But I am happy
my marriage survived. I look at Shobha . . . so many boyfriends since
the divorce . . .
Shobha (comes in and interrupts): Don’t exaggerate, Mama. Just one.
I have just one boyfriend and have had only one, this one, since
Shobha (laughs and shakes her head): Hell no! A guy who hits on a
married woman is not a very nice guy. Actually, this is someone I met
through my new job. I got hired as a director at Microsoft, did I tell
you? It’s wonderful working there and I met him at this breakfast
meeting. He works for MSNBC and . . . we clicked.
Saroj: Clicked? My foot. He is some foreigner, from Scotland or Ireland
Shobha: He’s Italian. He has the accent, you know, gives me the
goose bumps. Mama just doesn’t get it.
Saroj: I do get it. You leave your good husband and sleep around like
a loose woman. No shame, Shobha, you have no shame.
Amulya: Well, looks like things are pretty much back to normal.
Shobha: Of course. Did you really think things would change?
Devi: I’ve got to go, a seminar at school. Jamie Oliver is coming. I’m
so excited about seeing him.
Amulya: So, things are going well at the culinary school?
Devi: Fabulous! I already have three job offers for when I graduate
next summer, one right here, one in Atlanta, and one . . . in Europe.
Shobha: Ask her where in Europe.
Devi: I’m not leaving the U.S.
Amulya: No plans to go to Oxford?
Saroj: Why should she go to Oxford? She has a job in San Francisco.
She will take that.
Devi: I’ll probably go to Atlanta. I don’t know. I haven’t made any decisions.
Look, I really have to go now.
Amulya: It was nice talking to all of you.
Saroj: You make sure you clear it up that I am a good cook and a good
Shobha: She will, Mama, she will.
Amulya: Whew! Odd to have a conversation with people I created.
Very odd! Maybe I need to get some help.
Vasu: Before you do that, maybe you and I should talk.
Amulya: You’re dead.
Vasu: Sure. But then none of us really exist and you’re still chatting
away with us. So does it really matter that I am dead?
Amulya: Okay. What do you want to talk about?
Vasu: I think you misunderstood me. I loved Shekhar, yes, but I also
loved Saroj, very much.
Amulya: Not just as much.
Vasu: But I loved Devi more than anyone else. I thought about it and
realized that you made a mistake. You show me as this selfish
woman . . .
Amulya: Never selfish. You were a woman with screwed up priorities,
but you were never selfish.
Vasu (smiles): That is something then. I don’t want people to think
that I don’t have the capacity to love. I loved my daughter, my granddaughters,
Avi, even Girish. I loved them all. But I also loved Shekhar.
Amulya: I understand. You held the family together in many ways. I
think Saroj wouldn’t have fought to make things work with Avi if you
hadn’t been her mother. Devi would’ve broken Shobha’s heart and her
parents’ if she hadn’t known what it meant to love a married man
Vasu: I guess I gave them the good with the bad. So, does Devi have
a new man in her life?
Amulya (grins): I think she’s still mooning over her sister’s exhusband.
Vasu (smiles back): They will make a lovely couple. She will love him
madly and he will adore her . . . maybe they will get together; have
children, the nice house . . . everything.
Amulya: I’d like that. It would be scandalous enough and it would
burn Saroj’s ass.
Vasu (laughs): Well, thanks for the chat. I better get going. And as a
doctor, my recommendation would be for you to get some help. It
isn’t healthy, Amulya, to talk with characters in your books, dead or
1. Why does Malladi choose to open the book by discussing the “day
it would happen,” specifically delineating Devi’s plans for suicide?
What tone does this choice lend to the narrative? Why do you
think the author presents Devi’s decision-making process, instead
of opening the book with the suicide attempt itself?
2. What does Devi’s list of reasons to live and die indicate about her
values and the problems she faces? Why do you think she commits
3. Saroj admits that she often “thinks of leaving her family without
warning” (p. 15). What holds Saroj back, but propels Devi forward?
How are the two women more similar than either of them
would like to admit?
4. How is Saroj traumatized by the discovery of Devi’s almostlifeless
body? How does she present her role in foiling the suicide
attempt as an accomplishment? Why does Saroj shift the focus to
be “all about her”?
5. What is Saroj’s attitude toward each of her daughters? How does
she project her own unhappiness upon them? How does each
woman deal with the prospect of failure?
6. The comparison between Shobha and Devi literally begins at
birth. How does this constant assessment influence each
woman’s conception of herself? How does it color their relationship
with one another? Why does Saroj value Shobha for being
7. “Instead [they] stood as adversaries,” Saroj says of her marriage
(p. 25). Why has her marriage with Avi crumbled? How are other
interfamilial relationships similarly adversarial?
8. How does the relationship between Saroj and her mother, Vasu,
compare with the rapport Saroj has with her own daughters? Why
does Saroj resent her mother? What is her attitude toward her father?
9. Why does Devi decide to stop talking? How does this decision
mirror the actions she took as a small child? In which ways does
her silence liberate her, and how does it hold her back?
10. Why doesn’t Malladi disclose what happened to Avi’s arm at the
beginning of the book? How does his disability inform his behavior
and influence his choices, particularly the decision to come to
11. At first, what about Avi is so endearing to Saroj, and vice versa?
How have they both changed since the early years of their marriage?
12. “Life is so much fun,” writes Avi in an unsent letter to Devi
( p. 69). How has each character in Serving Crazy with Curry fallen
away from embracing the good things in life? Who comes closest
to reclaiming a sense of joy in the book?
13. Much to her mother’s dismay, Devi takes over cooking duties
from Saroj after she moves back in. What does the kitchen reprea
sent to both mother and daughter? Why does Devi start to cook?
Do you think that she’s always wanted to? How is it a collaborative
process for each of them, and how is each proprietary over the act?
14. How is adjusting to the United States difficult for Saroj? Does Avi
feel the same way? In which ways are their children traditionally
“Indian,” and how do they identify more with their American contemporaries?
15. Why does Saroj blame America for all her problems? How does
she idealize India? How does she embrace all things traditional,
from the relationship she wants with her son-in-law to the food
16. In which ways do Shobha’s feminist beliefs belie her feelings
about love? How is she a risk-taker, and in which ways would she
prefer to play it safe? How does Shobha’s firing jar her “perfect
world”? What about this event spurs her to break up her marriage?
17. How is Vasu a loving woman? In which ways is she selfish, especially
in regard to her family? What does she value the most in
18. Vasu refers to Saroj’s photographs as depicting a “contrived family.”
What comprises Saroj’s vision of a perfect family unit, and
how does this dream differ from reality? How is Vasu’s conception
of family more unconventional, and how has this both
strengthened and weakened her family bonds?
19. How do the characters in the book identify themselves by what
they do, and by what they have accomplished or stand to accomplish?
How do each of them react when they are at loose ends occupationally?
Why doesn’t Saroj work? Do you think she regrets
the decision to not finish her education?
20. How does Saroj become a more sympathetic character as the
novel unfolds? What do you learn about her that makes her less of
a one-dimensional “nag,” as Devi classifies her? Why does Saroj
confront Avi about the problems in their marriage? What does
21. Were you surprised to learn of Devi’s miscarriage? How does her
family react to the news? Do you think she could have told them
about it before she tried to commit suicide? Why or why not?
22. Were you surprised to learn that the father of Devi’s baby was
Girish? What do you think might have happened if she had carried
the baby to term?
23. Are you surprised by Shobha’s reaction to Devi’s affair with
Girish? Do you think Shobha’s attitude will change over time, or
have the sisters really breached a chasm in their relationship?
24. Do you think that Devi will ever tell the rest of her family about
her affair with Girish? In which ways are Shobha and Girish well
suited for one another? Devi and Girish?
25. How is writing cathartic for Avi and for Devi? Why does Devi
write down the ingredients of her recipes? Is this just a cookbook
journal or is it more?
26. What do you think will happen after the story ends, especially in
the unfolding of relationships? Do you think that there’s any
chance of a Devi-Girish pairing? Why or why not?