Saturday, September 15, 2007


Is there any other delicacy in the world that even remotely compares with those little, perfectly shaped widgets? The lusciousness of the sweet ones (their bellies bursting with the exciting promise of jaggery and coconut scrapings and the intangible whiff of cardamom), the wafery spiceness of the savoury variant, the near-perfection of the white wrap...nothing even comes near.
I trudged to the friendly neighbourhood sweet shop this Ganesh Chathurthi to buy a pre-assembled Chathurthi special sweetbox. Inside a box large enough to house a laptop, lay an assortment of sweets and karams. Wrapped in plastic. Phoney. Synthetic. Like lighting a diya with a cigarette butt. Or actor Vadivelu delivering a Parasakthi. Whatever. Take your pick.
For all that money they make you pay, you would at least expect a decent kozhukattai--that invention of pure genius--but what you get instead are two sad looking dumplings, spotched on the outside with scabs of brown. Deep-fried disasters.
Now, I am not particularly the sweet-toothed type, but kozhukattais? They are a different story, altogether.
It all comes, I guess, with growing up in a neighbourhood where, come Chathurthi, one unabashedly made a solemn pact of fidelity with the kozhukattai. That I used to live at the footsteps of one of the most beautiful Ganesha places ever--the Rock Fort in Tiruchirappalli--is only a helpful footnote.
Wafting through the fumes of disappointment at not being able to dig my teeth into the kozhukattai's soft underbelly this year, was the sepulchral memory of Padma maami who, unarguably, made the best kozhukattais this half of the hemisphere.
Widowed at eighteen, her whole existence came to fruition only during that time of the year when Ganesha came visiting. Padma maami was a classicist. Her kozhukattais were her ode to immortality.
Only the finest Ponni rice flour would do. She would sieve, sieve again and then sieve some more till the flour flowed like fine silk. It used to be great fun for us kids, thrusting our faces into the wafting white clouds of flour and come away with a nose that would have made Calvin proud.
The jaggery had to be the exact shade of brown and the coconut had to be personally sourced from Subbunni's grove on the banks of the Cauvery.
She would knead the dough with a karmic intensity--with the same mother-love that she would have lavished on a never-to-be-born child--and spread it out in mirror-thinness. Splay of the milk-white dough glistening with oil against the dark of the plantain leaf.

The dough would then be pinched with mathematical precision at exact spots to make the folds and held against palm. In went the stuffing. I remember she used to throw a fit if the cardamom was not from Jagannathan grocery store ("only he gets Ceylon yelakkai, the rest taste like goat's pellets").
She would never, ever have done a kozhukattai the ultimate disrespect of deep-frying it. They would be stacked, ten to a plate, on her copper uruli and steamed till the juices blended in perfect symphony.

She died a lonely death, in some faraway hospital bed in a Christian missionary home. No one came visiting. Alzheimer's can be turn-off for even close kin.

Of deep fried kozhukattais there will be plenty. But, what of the soul food?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Me is mighty happy.....

....about my Wiki debut.

With Jana Gana Mana being the flavour of the season, it feels good to sing along. Thanks, whoever it is that put it there.

The Madanapalle trip was perhaps the best assignment I ever had....more so, because of the visit to Jiddu Krishnamurthi's house and meeting up with those who had shared time- space with him.
Am not the spiritually inclined type, but this was the closest approximation to an on-job pilgrimmage I ever had.

I stood before the phantomic Olcott house-- at the same spot, perhaps, from where the first-ever lilt of Jana...was heard--and shivered in the almost-summer heat. History lay before me, sunning itself like a familiar beast. At JK's ancestral house, impeccably maintained by his afficianados, I still remember the goosebumps.

The Wiki entry has only made the best of memories even better.