Life lessons from a dosa


Every person who knows to cook has a special dish that she or he can rustle up, without fretting too much about the end product – call it a signature dish if you like. And when one has people over for lunch or dinner, this signature dish will definitely feature in the menu.

But then, there is another side to this signature dish story. If you hail from South India, like I do, making dosas is something you are expected to know even in your sleep.

Image courtesy – http://www.shutterstock.com

There is nothing to beat a crispy, golden dosa that has been made to perfection, and then eaten with sambar and coconut chutney.

I do make perfect, golden dosas, crisp or soft, with ghee or cheese, or even the masala dosa, with its filling of potato masala. My friends love my dosas too!

But sometimes, especially when you have guests over for lunch or dinner, and your signature dish’s reputation precedes you, things can head south.

I have guests for brunch, and one of the items planned is the dosa. Dosas are best eaten hot. So, I set the flat pan on the stove, switch it on and mix the dosa batter with elan. I check for batter consistency, ensure that I have all that I need to get started. I do not realize this, but my flatpan has got over-heated as the flame is in full blast mode and not in simmer mode – a sure recipe for dosa disaster.

As I pour the batter with practised ease, in just ten seconds I realize that the dosa has stuck to the pan, and refuses to leave it. I use the spatula to prod it out, without making any sound. My guests are waiting in anticipation. I manage to get the mangled and burnt dosa out. Now, both the flatpan and I have to cool down.

I smile at the irony of it all. This dosa that we eat so often, and that my kids are heartily tired of …has let me down, and how!!!

Soon the flatpan cools and I am able to serve my dosas, though I still feel they could have turned out better.

But then, this is how things are in the bigger scheme of things as well. We work and perfect various skills, we plan meticulously to the minutest details, but then life throws many surprises our way, when we are unable to manifest our skills in the best way at the right time and at the right place.

But the idea is to keep trying, and enjoy the journey, and not be bogged down by the odd bad day!

Tracing the family tree


The afternoon sun streams through the grilled window, forming a golden criss cross on the mosaic floor.

In one corner of the room, I sit with my father in law. We are staring intently at the computer, as we try to bring some semblance of structure to our family history and family tree.

My father-in-law embarked on this project a couple of years ago – collecting bits of information and family stories, pulling out faded books from his childhood and patiently transcribing family diaries and notebooks that were passed on to him by his older siblings. Thus began a journey of discovery that traced our family’s history to about a couple of hundred years ago.

Image courtesy – Clipart Panda

Snatches of interesting incidents that have been passed on orally – stories that are being repeated to this very day, when the family gets together.

The family tree is wide, long and deep. The roots were dropped in a small village in South India. Today the branches have spread around the world – children, grandchildren, great grand children.

In some places the trail runs cold, we don’t know what happened to certain branches of the family.

I am helping my father-in-law transfer and structure the content on Powerpoint, so that he can share it with other family members.

I smile, as I type and make charts. My father-in-law marvels at what technology can do. I am more impressed by our family history.

There are hundreds of people, who had dreams, lived their lives in the ancestral village – their children then moving out for better prospects, carrying their rich culture, tradition and family memories with them to different corners of the world.

My father-in-law is more focussed on getting the flow chart right, he checks and double checks the threads that go down and connect the family. I am amazed by the fact that each box represents the life of an ancestor – a life lived, many stories told, many new branches created.

At the end of the family tree, the names of our family (my husband,children and me get added) – my husband is the youngest in his family, so we are ‘that’ last box on the chart.

I realize that we are not a small independent family, but a family backed by deep roots, wonderful ancestors, thrilling stories and lots of love.

The document finally gets done. My father in law is happy, I am happier!

The Mandharai Leaf


Earlier this week, one of my friends spoke to me about a South Indian delicacy called Kanchipuram Idlis.  We then went on to talk about how these idlis are sometimes steamed in small cups made out of the leaves of the Bauhinia Creeper plant; locally known as the Mandharai plant.

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                 Image courtesy            
        http://indiabiodiversity.org

The leaves are big and have a lovely fragrance.

Picnics and train journeys in my childhood were incomplete without these Mandharai leaves, as all our food was packed in dried Mandharai leaves.

These were then wrapped-over with brown paper and tied into small compact packets with twine – one for each of us. We had freshly steamed idlis soaked in chutney powder, tamarind rice, lemon rice and the South Indian’s must-have curd rice.

We usually carried food that would keep till our journey ended. These leaves were easy to carry and easy to dispose, healthy, organic and recyclable.

We eagerly waited for the train to leave the station, just so that we could get started on our packets. Pickles were packed in another small leaf.

The Mandharai leaf lends itself so beautifully to creativity. Artistically- folded, dried Mandharai leaves can be made into recyclable cups, bowls and plates.  These are usually stitched together with strands of fibre. These cups are called ‘dhonnais’.

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                     Image courtesy
              http://www.spiceindiaonline.com

If you ever visit South India, you should eat piping hot Venn Pongal (a local breakfast delicacy) in a ‘dhonnai’, and wash it down with strong filter coffee.