Sunday, July 29, 2012


The luscious fruit!

All of us have tasted and enjoyed the sweet delicious LITCHI fruits at one time or another. Those who have never tasted that fruit can’t imagine what they have missed. Those who have enjoyed that taste can never forget it. The pleasure of eating a freshly-plucked Litchi and sucking the juice out of it is simply heavenly -- more so if it is from one’s own front garden. I had the joy of this pleasure just two months back, at my daughter’s place, in north Bengal.

The fruit laden tree
The litchi tree stands majestically in the front garden, way back from all the flower beds, and holds sway over all it surveys. Just three-four feet up from the ground, it has branched off all round resembling an open umbrella, calling on children to climb on it and play hide and seek among its branches. With no child of tree-climbing age in the house, the tree stands alone housing various kinds of birds and insects.

This tree held a kind of fascination for me, with its fruits hanging so low that one could pluck them without an effort. I really loved watching it from the veranda while having my first cup of tea in the mornings. I am not ashamed to say that I used to get the urge to reach out and sit on the lowest branch – just three feet above the ground.  It always reminded me of my schooldays in Lakshmi Nivas, my childhood home in Thiruvananthapuram, where we had all kind of trees and various plants. Among these, I had my own tree, with very low branches; one of these was my usual place whenever I wanted to be on my own, far away from everyone else.

The tree after the fruits were gone
There are many types of trees in Gowri’s garden.  The VILVAM tree is the oldest one. The trunk of this tree is so big no two human arms could hold it – it needs at least two pairs of arms to grasp it. The Vilvam tree has special religious significance; it is used in Siva temples for archanai. Its leaves – it is a compound leaf with three leaves in one stem – are said to represent the three eyes of Lord Siva.

Then there are are palm trees, peepul trees and a large rain tree. Two of the palm trees have money plants creeping over their trunks, with leaves as big as elephants ears. Tall the palm trees may be, but because of this, they look dwarfed  when compared to other trees.

In addition, there are various fruit and flowering trees – such as lemon, starfruit, guava, a small mango tree, with a single fruit dangling among its branches, and an ARAINELLIKAI one. The last one belongs to the Gooseberry family, the fruits smaller in size with a sweet tangy taste.

The fruit laden branches
Among all these trees the Litchi tree was the one that really fascinated me, especially as I watched the flowers turn to fruit. The pity was I could not reach out and pluck an unripe litchi and eat it as I might have done with a green mango. I had to wait for Nature to ripen it.

Gathering the harvest
When these fruits started changing colour from a coppery greenish tinge to a full red coppery shade, this tree started attracting monkeys in the daytime and bats at nights. The skin and the seeds strewn on the ground all round the tree were proof to this Two boys were employed just to drive away the monkeys from the tree but I observed these boys were never seen when the monkeys appeared.  Were the boys neglecting their job or were the monkeys too clever for them? I don’t know.

In spite of these monkeys and bats, when the time came to harvest the ripe Litchi there was plenty, enough for the family, enough for the domestic servants and plenty more for the neighbours.        

Friday, March 9, 2012


A month back Raja and myself were proceeding to Pradeep’s Khet for a lunch gathering. His farm is located in Haryana, beyond Gurgaon, near the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary and as we approached it, Raja pointed out to a red-tiled roof in the distance and said, “Look Ma, there is the Meda”.

The Meda is Pradeep’s brainchild. It is a two-storeyed building, the ground floor in brick and mortar, the top floor all wood, as in any old house in Kerala., In fact, it was an old house from Kerala. Raja told me it belonged to some friends of his, who were selling it. On a whim, Pradeep decided to buy it and transport it to Delhi.

Panel by panel -- including the wooden floor, the doors, the veranda railings -- as also the rafters of the ceiling and the red tiles of the roof, were dismantled, packed and trucked to the Khet, where it was then reassembled.  It took a team of six Asaris  (carpenters), their leader a veteran traditional temple builder, more than two months to do the reassembly, two months when Pradeep looked after them with loving care, even getting one of their wives to come over and cook “special Kerala” food for them

Very proudly, Pradeep took me inside and showed me around just like parents show off their new-born babies.And he has every reason to be proud. The Meda is a heritage building from the outside, on the inside it glimmers with every modern convenience, even in the bathrooms.

And then there was this wrought iron spiral staircase which led to the first floor. On our way to the Khet, Raja told me that I might have to be satisfied with seeing the Meda from the outside as I might not be able climb this staircase.  But with Pradeep pulling me from the front and Raja prodding me from behind, I managed to do it. 

And how beautiful the upstairs was: the wooden floors, the cosy bedrooms, the long verandas on either side with their round wooden pillars. It made me feel as if I was back in a Kerala Tharavad.

With Pradeep on the balcony

It took me back to my childhood days and to my grandparents’ home in Karamanai—a cluster of Brahmin Agraharams with row-houses.  In those houses the outer walls were brick and mortar but the floors, the staircase and the partitions that divided the upper storey into two or three rooms were all constructed of wood. We children were always cautioned to play there without making any noise like jumping around or running about. And for us it was a treat to be allowed to go upstairs and hunt around among the hundred and odd things like old newspapers, utensils and other things stored there, with the thought that some day they would come handy.

 Among the many odd things that kindled our interest, were some wooden dolls –Marappachis of various sizes the tallest about ten to twelve inches in height and smallest not even two inches high. These dolls were our attractions there. They were whittled out of some dark brown wood and unbreakable. We used to have so much fun dressing up them in odd bits of rags and making chains for their necks with some Pasimani. Nowadays these Marappachis are seen only in the Bommai-Kolu during Navarathri.

As I am writing this one incident comes to my mind -- how I got the nickname Chothi. Even today I am unable to figure out the meaning of that word. This happened when I was three or four years old, on a visit to my grandparents’ home. I was warned against going up the stairs but ignoring the words of elders, I followed them up.  Having climbed three steps I tripped or lost my footing and fell down on my back with my right arm and elbow caught under my back! How I was taken to a bone setter and had my right arm in a sling for six eight weeks is another story. Well, my elder brother it was who started calling me Chothi because of my broken arm and that nickname stuck with me for a few years!

I have allowed my memory to wander away from the main point. I am afraid I have a box full of memories in my brain and like Pandora’s Box once opened, it is difficult to close it. Thank God: unlike Pandora’s Box my memory box is only full of harmless stories. 

Friday, February 17, 2012


Plain sevai. Picture courtesy

Today we had SEVAI for dinner. I had made Mor Kuttan with Chenai and Elavan which prompted Raja to prepare Sevai -- the instant ready-made type, which one has to immerse in boiling water for a few seconds and take out. And all you have to do is soak the Sevai in the Mor Kuttan and enjoy.

 Sevai and Mor Kuttan -- what a combination! It brings back memories from childhood. Not the instant, packed, ready-to-cook sevai — but freshly prepared, right from scratch, starting with grinding the rice. Making Sevai at home in those days without any electric gadgets was hard work. We children never thought how much time and energy was spent in preparing it, we were more interested in enjoying the end product.

My mother and my elder sister were very adept in preparing this dish. They used to make an occasion of this by inviting all the local family members to join us to savour the Sevai, with Mor Kuttan, Rasam, Appalam and Vattal -- all the side dishes that go well with the main dish. They were helped by my mother’s Mami to do all the hard work, who was always ready to give my mother or my elder sister, a helping hand.  

Mami was very good at preparing tasty dishes. The very memory of the ‘Karavadai’, she used to make makes my mouth water even after so many years. Kunjami as we used to call her was my mother’s youngest mami. As was common in those days her husband had a second (unofficial) wife with two children. So Mami, with her two children, was finding it a tough job to make both ends meet. By helping others in the kitchen, whenever wanted, she was able to take care of her two children with the extra income she earned. Mami was big built and real fat but that did not deter her from hard work like grinding in the Aatukkal.

In those days, most houses had an Aatukkal and Ammi fixed to the floor, either in the kitchen itself or in the work area next to it.  In most houses, there was also, in one of the walls, a hole two inches in diameter, three inches deep, and inlaid with an iron lining. We kids used to wonder about this hole in the wall and each one of us had our own explanation.   When asked, my mother  would respond with ‘wait and see’. And we had to wait till it was Sevai day to discover what it was for.

On Sevai day, Mami would enter the kitchen and take complete charge of things. Grinding the rice and all the work at the fireside was done by her. As my mother used to say someone should be in the kitchen to do all the walking and fetching things for her.  Mami’s first need was to get a good lota of coffee after which she made herself comfortable at the grinding stone to grind the well-soaked parboiled rice to a smooth paste.

Dough rolled into balls
The next step was to place the dough in a thick-bottomed pan over a low flame, allowing all the water content to evaporate. Mami would stir the dough in the pan continuously, while making herself comfortable sitting on the floor by the fireside. After that was done, she would use one and all in the kitchen to help her make the thickened dough into fist-sized balls. These dough balls were then either steamed or cooked in boiling water.

Now it was time to bring out the SEVA NAZHI, the Sevai-making apparatus. It was made of bell metal or brass and consisted two U-shaped parts, the top one sliding tightly into the lower one. The bottom of the lower one was full of small holes, like a sieve.  For the Sevai making operations to begin, the Seva Nazhi was fitted into a special wooden stool about two feet high one foot wide which a hole in the centre.

By now Mami would be in full form. She would ask for a big banana leaf which she would clean and spread on the floor in front of the hole in the wall. She would place the stool with the Seva Nazhi on the leaf. Placing the steamed dough balls one at a time in the lower part of the Nazhi, Mami, with all her power, would press down on the dough ball with the upper part. We children would shout with joy as thin strands of the Sevai would start falling on the green banana leaf.

A present-day sevai nazhi
Sometimes more pressure would be needed to press the dough balls down the Nazhi. For that a wooden pestle, about three feet long and with both ends capped with iron, was needed … and also the hole-in-the-wall. One end of this pestle was fitted in to the hole in such a way that its middle portion rested on the Nazhi. Strong hands would then press down the other end, squeezing the upper part of the Nazhi into the lower part, and thus forcing the Sevai out of the sieved bottom. A few times I had seen my elder brother giving a hand to press the pestle.

My mother by this time would have prepared all the other required side dishes.  We youngsters were now required -- only to relish the Sevai with them

   A lot of the Sevai would be left over after everyone had had their fill. Half of this would be soaked in  the leftover Mor Kuttan, the other half in the leftover Rasam. To have this for breakfast the next morning was a great treat for us -- the taste simply heavenly.

Who has the time and energy to prepare all this nowadays?  Isn’t it wonderful that we have the instant variety now: it helps old persons like me remember and savour delicious things of the past!

All pictures  - courtesy