This week I heard that a well-known Mumbai actress received a birthday present from her husband, of a cake in the shape of a slum. That’s right, a slum. It is reported to have been created with shanties, pipes and a road sign with the celebrity’s age displayed as its “gali number”. The first reaction that went through my head when I heard this description was, “Imagine even pretending to eat clogged drains and sewage!”
But the more I thought about it, the more difficult it was to say exactly why I found the idea nauseating. For instance, would it have been okay if something bitter and hard to chew had been created rather than a sweet and creamy luxury item? Or is it mean-spirited to assume that a slum would NOT be delicious to bite into? And by the way, is it inherently distasteful to think of eating up whole neighbourhoods? Or is it only distasteful when the neighbourhoods are not well-maintained? I can remember, for instance, that for my sixth birthday the party theme was clowns, with a cake to match. At my 10th, I helped decorate a cake in the shape of a medieval castle, with ice-cream cone towers. Does this mean that my family was grotesquely insensitive about medieval royalty and circus entertainers? Or is it okay to eat delicacies fashioned into symbols associated with wealth and pleasure while confectionery in the shape of destitute neighbourhoods must be condemned? And is that because we believe the destitution is unacceptable or our willingness to admit it exists that must be avoided at celebrations?