Thoughtful Thursday

A new temple to visit
New procedures to follow
Buy this color flowers for God…
Buy ghee for lighting lamps
So that your wish is fulfilled…
Start a puja cycle for 48 days…
Spread the paddy grains in front of God
And write your wishes
To find them fulfilled…
108 circumambulations will help…
Donate to the temple annadhanam…
Give your details and we’ll mail you prasadams…
The list is endless
For wishes to be fulfilled…
Every item in the list is followed
And more lists are welcome too…

But outside the temple
The old lady who is hungry is ignored…
The animals are shooed away when they come near…
Helping others is found time consuming…
People think that talking loud and arguing
Are the ways of this world…
Bargaining for a few rupees from a local seller
Is being the smart one…

Somewhere along this journey
In search of the never ending things of life
There is a heavy loss of humanity
And kindness…

Let our hearts soar like this gopuram
In reaching to the heights
Of humanity
In looking out for others…
In praying for others…
Talking a lot by being silent…
Doing an act of kindness everyday…
Bringing a smile to one person everyday…
That is rising above the ordinary – just like the gopuram!

Malligaipoo Idly

This phrase has been with me for as long as I can remember – malligaipoo mathiri idly irukanum (Idly should be like jasmine flower)!

My amma used to make the softest idlies which I can remember. Those days, she never used a cooker for steaming the idlies. The big iron kadai (irumbu ilupachatti) was half filled with water and brought to a boil. The big circular idly mold (idly thattu) which has molds for 7 idlies was covered in a white wet cloth cut in the shape of a circle.  Idly batter was poured on the cloth exactly on top of the mold, which held the batter intact. This idly thattu fitted exactly on the iron kadai. A tomb shaped lid was used to cover the idly thattu. When the idlies were done steaming, the whole house could smell it. That was the power of cooking, which can evoke the senses even before we started to eat. The idly thattu was removed from heat. Then water was sprinkled on the idlies, which helped them to cool fast so that they can fall off easily from the cloth. A big plate was used to collect the idlies from the idly thattu. Using the cloth for steaming helped in maintaining the moisture content so that idlies remained soft for a long time.

These idlies were soft…amazingly. We can bite into it without any great effort. And yet they held on to the shape and they don’t break at the touch of human fingers.  Its no wonder that the softness quotient was compared to that of a malligaipoo.

Now, the major ingredient for that amazing softness is the urid dal (ulutham paruppu). The correct proportion of this dal is required for that right amount of softness. Less the urid dal, harder the idlies. Similarly, when the urid dal is more, then idlies are not fluffy – they come out as flat discs. After choosing the right proportion of urid dal, it is important to soak it for the right amount of time. Long hours of soaking will make the urid dal accumulate froth and starts smelling too and needs excessive cleaning. Ideally one hour is enough for the urid dal to soak to the right consistency. And while grinding the urid dal, the right amount of water should be used so that the batter is fluffy and soft. Grinding for a long time will make the batter loose its fluffiness.

Rice can be soaked for a long time, no restrictions there. But the rice should be ground enough that its neither too soft to touch nor too coarse. A light coarseness is good for idlies and for crispy dosas too. A very fine rice batter is good for dosas but not for idlies. A balance needs to be achieved here.

After getting all these proportions and grinding consistency to the right level, the right amount of salt should be added for proper fermentation. Depending on the temperature of the place we live in, the batter should be left out for fermentation. Ideally 4 to 5 hours is enough for a warm place like Chennai. There is another important factor – using our hand to mix salt will induce our body heat to the batter. And accordingly the fermentation will happen faster or slower. We need to watch the batter for fermentation levels and accordingly refrigerate it, so that the batter doesn’t turn sour.

When I write the whole thing down, it sure sounds like a lot of instructions and rules to follow. I’ve grown with all these small tit bits ingrained into the soul by practice and a lot by observing amma and paati. My paati used to grind idly batter for others in the colony and me and my sister were assigned the work of grinding all those batches. Years of grinding it, day after day, to the same consistency makes it a part of the soul.

This batter is sure to give idlies as soft as the malligaipoo and will melt in the mouth too. The softness is so crucial as it can absorb the idly milagai podi spiciness or the tangy taste of the sambar so well.

Today’s idlies came out amazingly soft to touch, melt in the mouth kind and the chef in me is very happy at the outcome!

If you see keenly, you can actually see the air pores in the idly, which conforms that they are light and soft.

Also, I try my level best to make the batter at home. I’ve tried commercially sold batter once or twice and I hated myself for buying it – they were tasteless and idlies came out very hard to bite. Somethings are better when done at home, especially the idly batter.

Monday musings: My paati – an inspiration and strength (A guest post)

I touched a chord somewhere in a dear person’s heart, when I wrote about my paati.  And when she wanted to share a few things about her paati, I am just thrilled.

Please welcome Ms. Swarna Venkataraman, where she has tried to give words to her emotions on her paati.


My paati – an inspiration and strength

She was so beautiful, inside out! She looked so radiant in her glittering ear studs, which she used to wipe clean everyday with her sari pallu to make them glitter more. Actually it was her personality that glittered all through. Her 9 gajam pudavai felt rightly made for her.  And that kumkum pottu on her forehead was such a magnet. She always chose to use the dark majenta color kumkum and somehow it suited her so well.

There are days like these when I keep pondering about her a lot – the way she tied her sari or the way she polished her ear studs or how her mookuthi shone on her nose or the way she sat on that oonjal – small details like that and I am overwhelmed with emotions about her.

My Kunjamma paati! Her actual name Kamalambal refers to the Goddess Lakshmi and she looked and lived like that Goddess – always smiling, always giving to anyone and everyone who came to her. It’s a feat extraordinary to have brought together the families of all her children and their children.

Many a times I’ve prayed for inner strength like her as she held together a family of 9 adults and 19 children! She was a great administrator taking care of every small detail in the running of such a big household. Even though my thatha and mamas were there around, it was always paati who used to organize things for every function or event.

I strive hard every day to make paruppu thogaiyal like her but I can’t compete with a legend. Thinking of that keerai masiyal made in a kal chatti or a vetha kuzhambu makes me yearn for those childhood days!

The most amazing thing that I can remember about my paati is that she can milk the cows at home. And those cows knew her so well that they will not allow anyone else to milk them, of course except the guy appointed for that purpose. The knack and skill she possessed to handle the cows always made me stand in awe of her.

She had an excellent voice and knew a lot of songs. If I close my eyes and listen carefully, I can hear her singing the Dikshitar kriti Akilandeswari set to ragam Dwijavanthi and that is capable of stirring my soul.

Every now and then, I remember her through a song, through a dish, through a sari color, through the passing cattle by my home and I feel so blessed to have been there with her.

Happy birthday to my mentor :)

I am a strong believer of the fact that people come into our lives for a reason. Sometimes we understand their need in our lives, other times we don’t. But they are there to bring meaning to our lives or make us understand the meanings of our lives.

Among all the people who have made a remarkable difference in my thinking and in my approach to my life is my husband’s eldest brother. And today, I wish him all the happiness and love, as he celebrates his birthday!

This post may come as a surprise to him or shock him too, but these birthdays are the best times to thank people for their presence in our lives and how it means a lot to us. So, I hope he’ll bear with me for writing this.

He has this simplistic way of looking at things and never minces words to express his thoughts. This is something which I yearn to be – “I live my life in my own terms”.

Another amazing quality which I am in awe of, is his magnanimity to give and not to think or talk about it later. What makes him unique is that he doesn’t have an air about him. A quality which I aspire for…

And since the time me and my husband have turned entrepreneurs, he has been a great source of positive energy for us. He has this way of appreciating us for the work we do and also encourages us to take more risks. The apprehensive me has learnt to let go and be more energetic in taking up new projects. This mentoring has enabled us to grow as an industry with the values intact.

As I believe in the fact that some people come into your life to teach you something or be there for some reason. Here is a person who inspires me to bring the best in me, just with his presence in my life.

And my heartfelt gratitude to my mentor, as he celebrates his birthday today!

Sunday rumination – Life’s always throwing lemons…

Its up to me to decide if those lemons are meant for making a sweet lemonade or to make a spicy hot pickle or just crush it out to clean the whites of stains 😀

Actually every lemon that gets thrown at me is an opportunity for me…

…to distinguish the good from the bad, in my own way

…to move away from closed doors and start looking at small windows that are trying to open for me

…to understand that some incidents happened in my life to change my course of journey and to make me think differently about the same situation

…to turn the sour lemons to sweet melons, just by looking only at things which give me happiness

…to ignore the things that cause hurt and pain to the heart – oh yeah, this could be a daunting task, but well worth the effort, as I love myself more than anyone, now a days

As I woke up this morning, “When life throws lemons, make lemonade” came to my mind…its one of those bizzare thought process of my sleepy mind. Just out of the blue, I started thinking more about that line. As I loaded the clothes into the washing machine, I thought that it need not be lemonade always and it could also be made into a pickle – the citrus-y spicy can make the tongue wanting more of it!

And when I was making coffee, came the philosophical thoughts – some days are like that – I just learn to take it as it gives me myriad of thoughts and critical analysis of myself. The only difference to the whole scene today is I don’t carry on the guilt of not performing to my standards. After all the thoughts are processed, I realize that I am more important to myself and my happiness is more important to myself and it is one of the treasured things which I should not forego at any cost.

So, keeping myself happy, whether with lemonade or lemon pickle, I go about my day, writing my thoughts in my space – a recording to be read another day to calm the mind and soothe the heart.

Friday musing – Wearing what you want with confidence…

I can say with great affirmation that I decide what to wear, clothes, accessories or anything.

But there are other kind of people too. One set of people are driven by their children. The son or daughter decides what the mom should wear. “Ma, wear sari when you come to school” “Ma, wear salwar kameez when you drop me at my friend’s place” – this and that. It can even go to levels like “Ma, don’t wear jeans…it doesn’t suit you” “Ma, those big bindi on your forehead – I don’t like” “Ma, wear small studs for your ears, these jhumkas are for younger people” – And I feel like throwing some very bad curses at all these comments as these are very opinionated either by the children’s peer pressure at school or by the family’s comments and decisions on what suits the woman / mother. Of course, its only her and always her and her dressing sense, which is under scrutiny.

Then there are women, who are uncomfortable in their own skin – they feel fat, ugly and not fair skinned – may be all put in one. It takes too much of insecurity about one’s own self to be critical of one’s body and deciding against wearing clothes which may not suit the body type. After all, we’ve this one life to live, which we can remember. Why not live it fully, by wearing whatever the heart desires!! Why should someone die in the hope that one day they can wear slim-fit jeans? Why not buy and wear them today?

Another major deterrent is the fact that the husband find the wife fat or ugly.  He doesn’t want to go out with his wife anymore, because of her body shape or structure. His reasons “She wasn’t like this before the children were born”. It takes a lot of maturity on the part of the husband to understand the consequences of being pregnant with a child and going through the process of delivery. The hormones play havoc on the women, who go through these stages. Some put on weight on their thighs alone or back alone or it could lead to different health issues after a post-pregnancy depression. Without understanding all these, the husband just wants his wife to come out of a pregnancy and delivery stage, looking like those movie stars. Excuse me…man, you’re not fit to be a human at all!

While it takes a woman of very strong confidence to look down on those kind of people like the dust in her shoes, many women are still struggling to fight their own fear of “Am not good enough for my husband”!

The other day I saw a woman, shorter than me but wearing a long kurti with side and center slits and tight pants. From my point of view, it looked nice on her, as she was wearing what she liked. But I did hear a comment like that the dress doesn’t suit her because she is short of nature. It seems that short women are supposed to wear short kurtis so that they look tall. Really? Which world do you live in…people? Even if this is true, let that woman be the deciding authority on whether she wants to look tall or short.

Sari designs – “Oh…these are for the older women”
Spectacle frames – “M’am choose something your age…this is for the younger generation”
Heels – “Oh no! A big no no for older people”
Dupatta / shawl – “A must for women, especially the heavy bosom ones”
Anarkali type kameez – “A big no for fat women”
Crisp cottons – “Thin women look like sticks wearing sari”
Myths…myths…all made by our own society…

Is covering from head to toe, an apt dress??

Also, saris are the most desired attire for married women – Really? Women wearing other kind of dresses don’t remain married or what?

First, we bring up the girl child in our homes to hold on to all the fears of the previous generations. She cannot wear pants, she needs to wear pavadai davani after puberty, she needs to wear sari after marriage, no other dress code is allowed for her.  And it’s the societal prejudices that drive the women to dress in a particular fashion.

It takes a woman, an extreme dose of strength, inner guts, trusting her intuition, a don’t-care-about-others attitude and most of all, excessive loads of self-love to be herself and wear what she desires – clothes / bags / jewelry / bindi.

So, love thyself first woman!!
Wear what you want and be happy 🙂

Music heals…

As is the norm with any TamBrahm family, especially those hailing from the banks of river Kaveri, and nearer to the musical town of Tiruvaiyaru, I started my music lessons around 5 years of age. I didn’t know if I had any interest in learning music nor did any elders at home wanted to know my interest levels. The music lessons were a must. I and my sister, accompanied by patti, went to Kalyani mami, the expert in conducting music classes and within walk able distance from home. As was the tradition, we went with a tray of fruits, vethalai, pakku, flowers and some token of guru dhakshina. And it all began on the auspicious day of Vijayadasami, when beginnings to new ventures or classes always took place.

Kalyani mami – a face I cannot forget. Her smiling face with the big kumkum bindi in the center, the kondai and malli poo and her neat way of tying the sari…sigh, she was incredibly beautiful. And her music made her all the more lovable. She was not rude to us, but firm in a lovable way. She gave into our uncontrollable laughter over the lyrics that sounded funny many a times. Even among all that laughter, she’ll find that one girl among the group of 10, who missed the sruthi or who missed the taalam. She was that amazing.

We bought the regular first book of music and of course, I and my sister shared one book. We thought that we can always sit together, as we shared the book. But from day one, we never opened the book in class. It always remained closed. Mami would teach us a new lesson, made us practice it many times, made all of us sing individually too and then would send us home. The only instruction was we had to sing it correctly without seeing the book in the next class. Both of us used to sit and practice together the new lesson, till it was etched in memory. In the next class, we used to recite the previous lesson from memory and then Mami would teach us a new lesson after making sure that we had all perfected the previous one. In the next class, she would make us sing from the beginning, all the lessons learnt so far and then only she would go to the new lesson. It was amazing how we learnt the whole book by memory and having so much of fun at the same time.

The swaras, jandai varisai, thattu varisai, mel sthaiyi varisai, geetham, swarajathi, varnam…I still remember them all from memory.

Recently, I happened to get hold of my music books from the loft and that joy was immense. I opened up the book and all the music lessons came to my memory. I just had to flip the pages and the music started ringing in my ears. I started singing even when my throat didn’t agree to that much of voice modulation.

I always try to hum some song while cooking; it was always a movie song. But after the music book came back into my life, I sing some song from the music book, learnt years ago. It may not be in accordance to the sruthi or the taalam – forgive me Kalyani mami! But there is a certain joy to that singing, which cannot be measured.

And today it was “rara venu gopala…” and I felt healed of all the stress ☺