My Secret Life: Madhur Jaffrey, food writer & actress, age 74

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The Independent Online

The home I grew up in ... was a very large house on the banks of the Yamuna river, just outside the city of old Delhi; it used to be an orchard and was filled with fruit trees and gardens, and there were cows and horses.

When I was a child I wanted to be ... first a doctor, because she was the only working woman that I'd seen and she was doing something worthwhile. Later, I wanted to be a painter.

The moment that changed me for ever ... was the partition of India. It was very traumatic and I saw how politics affects a country. As one group rejoiced, others were in mourning, as a country was torn to pieces.

My greatest inspiration ... when I was at Rada, I went to see a film starring the wonderful Italian actress Anna Magnani, who was earthy and marvellous. And the next day I rolled into an exam feeling totally inspired.

My real-life villain ... I find intolerance, wherever it comes from, to be villainy of the worst sort.

If I could change one thing about myself ... I'd be much taller. I'm 5ft 2ins and remember being at the Berlin Film Festival, receiving the Best Actress award for Shakespeare Wallah, and people saying, "Oh, but you're so short!"

At night I dream of ... my night dreams are fearsome, but always end just as something is about to happen. My day dreams become my inspiration and I do whatever I can to make them a reality.

What I see when I look in the mirror ... is a rather short person who is getting on, but is comfortable with that.

My style icon ... I really don't have one. Ever since I was little, I have dressed to suit myself and my body.

My favourite item of clothing ... is rather odd for me: a flared, short, red-leather coat, with a turned-up collar. I feel very rakish in it.

I wish I'd never worn ... a lot of coloured bangles I wore as a teenager. I had enough to suit every set of clothes I owned. I used to jingle-jangle about and rather overdid it.

It's not fashionable but I like ... comfy shoes.

You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at ... knitting, embroidery and gardening. We have a big garden in our country home and grow flowers, vegetables and fruit trees.

You may not know it but I'm no good at ... the sciences. I am uncomfortable with anything to do with that.

All my money goes on ... the garden, on planting trees and special flowers and bushes.

If I have time to myself ... I sit and read a magazine, usually on design and architecture. I particularly like The World of Interiors and the Architectural Digest.

I drive ... I don't – my husband does. I sit and snooze and he gets very jealous.

My house is ... one is a 14th-floor high rise in Manhattan, which is a simple apartment I've had for 40 years in Greenwich Village. And a very nice old house in the country, just two hours outside New York, which used to be a tavern and then a farmhouse.

My most valuable possession is ... nothing material, but my children and grandchildren matter the most to me in the final analysis. They're all here in the States.

My favourite building ... the Taj Mahal is one of them. It has a stunning symmetrical beauty and a kind of purity.

Movie heaven ... the Coen Brothers, I love: No Country For Old Men, Fargo. Mike Nichols' Working Girl, Italian films, Swedish. I'm a movie buff, so I will watch anything.

A book that changed me ... Robin Hood. When I was a little girl, I would become him in my mind. It gave me the belief – nothing to do with being male or female – that I could do anything. It made me feel invulnerable. There was a pure joy at being anything I wanted to be.

My favourite work of art ... it could be Rodin's The Kiss or something by [the American acrylic painter] Elizabeth Patton. But I could go back to any decade and there'd be at least one person that I thought was wonderful.

The last album I bought ... I downloaded one by John Coltrane. I listen to a lot of jazz from that period.

The person who really makes me laugh ... I used to love Seinfeld and every time I see John Cleese in an episode of Fawlty Towers, I fall into fits of giggles.

The shop I can't walk past ... is Arche shoes, which are so comfortable and look so good. Nothing else compares. They're one of those things I just keep buying.

The best invention ever ... fire, or I wouldn't be cooking today.

In 10 years' time, I hope to be ... sitting around in the garden of my country house, with a sunhat on and just watching things grow.

My greatest regret ... I really don't have any as I've lived my life the way I've wanted to and I'm pretty content. Little things here and there, perhaps, but when I look back, I did what I did because I needed to at that time.

My life in seven words ... God's been kind and given me alot!

A life in brief

Born on 13 August 1933 in Delhi, India, Madhur Jaffrey is a celebrated food writer, television presenter and award-winning actress. Her best-selling recipe books have long been a fixture in homes throughout Britain and the US. She trained as an actress at Rada, and a varied acting career followed. She was named Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival in 1965, for her role in Shakespeare Wallah, and her other work includes the Hollywood film Six Degrees of Separation, starring Donald Sutherland and Will Smith, BBC's soap opera EastEnders, and the US crime drama Law & Order. She has three children and lives in New York with her husband

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