Under my byline

Oye crunchy

Posted in Books, Foodie, Profiles by Rrishi on 27 July 2008

Advertising star and chick-lit author Anuja Chauhan rustles up a crisp snack to accompany TV cricket
The Zoya Factor cover

Four bicycles jostle for space outside Anuja Chauhan’s apartment. Three are diminutive and brightly coloured, with seats well polished by the application of active young bottoms. The fourth is black, dusty and has a practical wire basket screwed onto the front. “That one’s mine,” says Chauhan, star adwoman, author of a bestselling new “chick-lit” novel called The Zoya Factor, and mother of three.

You’d never guess it to look at her. Despite multiple motherhood and (presumably) the burdens of being creative director and vice-president at the advertising agency J Walter Thompson, Chauhan is almost girlish. She is slim, sprightly and brightly turned out at 10 in the morning; yet her engaging, offhand air does not conceal her sharp wits and capacity for instant uptake.

Even her home fits the theme: studied yet casual, with colourful walls and furniture and wonky detailing. At the bar, for instance, three brightly-painted gas cylinders with pads on top serve as barstools (and give smokers pause as they light up). When you remember that Chauhan is in advertising and her husband Niret Alva in television (he runs Miditech), the theatrical setting makes complete sense.

“Write what you know” determined Chauhan’s choice of topic for her first novel. The Zoya Factor pleased the critics and saw a giant initial print run of 20,000 copies. It is a story of love, advertising and cricket, utterly suited to the zeitgeist, even if “the first draft was written in February last year — and then the cricket team went and lost that World Cup”.

The central character is Zoya Singh Solanki, like Chauhan an ad executive, but a good deal younger. Zoya was born at the very moment of India’s World Cup win in 1983, which makes her 27 at the time of the novel, set in 2010 at the time of the 10th World Cup in Australia.

In the story, Zoya meets the team while shooting a cola commercial, and the cricketers quickly realise that she brings them luck. So she is taken on as mascot. The bulk of the story is about the love-hate (more love, really) relationship between Zoya and the supremely dishy captain, Nikhil Khoda — “I think this nation is hoping for a good captain,” Chauhan says, meaning one like Khoda. But there is also a robust dose of contemporary cricket politics.

Chauhan is the brain behind some of the smartest ads seen in India’s famous cola wars. JWT does Pepsi’s campaigns, and Chauhan’s team thought up such blockbuster taglines as “Nothing official about it”, “Yeh dil maange more” and “Oye Bubbly”.

Cola and cricket: close partners. Fittingly, therefore, she has decided to make us a quick and crunchy snack of the kind one eats while watching a match on the TV. Her children call it “Noughts-and-crosses chiwda”, inspired by the round makhana and wiggly Kurkure (“I’ve got this Kurkure obsession these days,” she says; it is a Pepsi brand — is this deliberate?). It’s ready in no time, and goes down even quicker. No Pepsi, though.


1 cup wet chiwda
½ cup sprouts
1 tsp rai
A few curry leaves
2 tbsp oil
1 tomato
1 onion
½ packet Kurkure
A handful of makhana
½ cup peanuts
½ cup water
2 tbsp oil

Heat oil in deep pan, put in rai and curry leaves and wait for crackle. Add onion and most of the tomato, both finely chopped, then haldi. Stir and wait for the “nice smell”, then add wet chiwda and sprouts. Add salt. Wait a bit, then add water and stir. Put on medium flame and cover. Alongside, heat oil in shallow pan, and quickly fry Kurkure, makhana and peanuts with a little salt. Finally, mix the two parts and sprinkle a little sugar on top. Garnish with generous amounts of dhania and remaining chopped tomato.


One Response

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  1. D said, on 15 May 2009 at 3:12 pm

    This cross-chiwda thing sounds so yum (and you make it sound so delicious). Makes me feel deprived. Sigh, I wish.

    For now, Foodie is my favorite section.

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