Tuesday, February 21, 2006

What is in a name

What is in a name? A rose by any name...be that as it may. We all love to have a beautiful name over which we have no choice, just like we have no choice over our parents. Even before we know how to pronounce our name, we have been stamped with it. Of course, these days, people have the option of changing their names legally, if they don't like their given names. Otherwise, how will we see so many advertisements like, I, so and so, shall henceforth be known as si and si. The only thing, I don't understand is, how can he expect people to start calling him si and si overnight, when all along they were calling him as so and so. I am also told that certain communities in India change the name of the girl after marriage. I am not sure how much say she has in this process.
In the olden days, it was customary to name a child after its grand-father or grand-mother or a village deity or some great personalities, etc. It was said that this way, forefathers' names could be remembered at the time of various religious rites. Just so the still living elders should not be offended, when the child who is named after its grandma or grandpa, is called by their name, the child was usually called by a pet name. Here again, there were ingenious ways of finding a pet name. For instance, parents who lost their elder children named their child as "Pichai"(alms), as if to tell God, it is your alms to us, don't take him also away or "Kuppai" (worthless ), so that God will not consider of taking away something that is worthless. Mostly, there was a pattern followed, in all the families. The oldest was Konthai(just child in vernacular), the next was "Ambi"(younger), and then Papa(again a small child). And names like Rasa(prince) Chellam(the favourite one), Mani(precious jewel), were very popular. Similarly, girls were named: Kunja(the younger one), Ammini(just a girl), Thankam(gold), Shonnam(Gold), Rasai(princess), Ponnu(Gold), etc. When one got only daughters, the 3rd or 4th was named "Mangalam" (vote of thanks) or "Sampoornam" (finale) so that, the next would be a son or when one already had a dozen or so of kids, they were named samporrnam or Mangalam, so that there won't be any more additions to the family(no birth control devices were known then and the children are gifts of GOD).
Parents who couldn't waste their time in inventing endearing pet names for their children named them, chuppalai, ammalai, cheethalai, konthai, kunjaan , kichan etc. Some people are called Amman (uncle), athai(aunt)akka(elder sister)anna(elder brother) and so on, by the whole community.
There was a family, where the oldest son was Ambi, the next Kunjambi and the youngest chinnambi.(They couldn't think of any new names, perhaps).
When I had my first baby, my young brother who was only about 5 at that time asked me what the child's name would be. When I replied that, naturally, he would be named after his paternal grandfather, i.e Subramanian, my brother started crying aloud. In between sobs, he said "even if you name him as Subramanian, don't call him by that name or the usual pet name for Subramanian - Chuprai. Then his friends will start making fun of him by calling him, Chupramania-Apravaya. Find a nice name for him." There were always some small jingles for all the names, like the above. Ammini-kummini, echumi-pachadi for Lakshmi, Naana-koona for Narayanan, Balan-olan , Raman-kooman,etc.
Then, of course, we had the famous (?) nicknames, given by the friends and community at large, depending on the person's behaviour pattern, stature or looks. Many of these names were an honour to the conferred persons and some could be used only in the absence of the persons. Some names, though not very pleasing got stuck. People wouldn't recognise the person by his original name. There were names attached with humorous anecdotes about a person, a humorous comparison of a person's physical characteristic (an unduly tall and thin individual being referred as "arappana" or a very crafty personality as "Sakuni" , a very charitable man referred to as "Karnan", somebody who had the habit of snatching away others' belongings was called "Kakkai").We even had a "Mother Theresa", who was always helpful to others. Some of the not-so-palatable description of a person's disability is "nondi", "loose", "castor oil", etc. Some names, though not very pleasing got stuck. People wouldn't recognise the person by his original name. Though such nick names were used very often in our village, I must admit that most of the time references to people by the nick names were very seldom done to insult or offend them; rather they were used as identification. They just got stuck to them. There is an innocent humour when you hear them used in the villages. May be their practice has something to do with the humour adopted by the artists performing classical arts such as "Ottan Thullal", "Chakyar Koothu" etc which were part and parcel of the village life in the years not so long ago. The locals did not forget to honour the achievers of academic pursuits. Decorations such as "Pundit", "Dikshitar", etc were conferred and referred with respect by the entire village. By and all life was very interesting and such names served also as a means of remembering various personalities and incidents. They also gave rise to humorous literary activities.
Times changed. People had more exposure. The younger generation migrated outside the hometown and home state and they started naming the children differently. Though the practice of naming the child after grandparents continued, that name was mostly used only during religious rites. The child was given a modern name like, Pratap or Prasad or Vikram, etc. Names depicting seasons such as spring (vasantha or vasanth) or celestial stars like Ashwini, Rohini, Swathi (mostly the name of the birthstar) became more popular. Then came the "Kumar" era. Every child was named as some kumar, Ratheesh kumar, Santhosh Kumar, Prem Kumar, Ram Kumar, Krishna Kumar, Ramesh Kumar. There was a 'sh' era also. We had names ending in 'sh,' like Rajneesh, Lathish, Umesh, Ramesh, Suresh, Yogesh, Monish, etc. Among girls, it was the "Shree" endings, that became very popular, We had Vijayashree, Jayashree, Umashree, Ramashree, Divyashree, Rajashree, Lakshmishree, etc. Then came the big era of permutations and combinations. Children were named taking an alphabet or two each from the parents name. Couple who had names, Sundar and Uma would name their child as Suma. Kamala and Balan named their child as Kala or Mala, Rajan and Vasanthi named their child as Ravin. As long as it made some sense, it was ok. But which child would pardon its parents, if he or she were named Chimsi or Baiji or Vitu or Bindish or Ripu? Can you guess what would be the name of the parents of a girl by name, "Simla" or Ditu. , may be Simpson and Kamala or Divakar and Tulsi? It has become a very interesting pastime for me to read the credit columns of TV serials, these days. The names that roll out, like, Titu, Jojo, Mimi, Nano, engages me in a big guessing game of what would be the name of the parents.
People have other reasons to name their children also. I am reminded of an interview, published somewhere. A girl whose name was something like, Lisi Jayaram (whose father's name was something like Joseph or Mathew) was asked how she got a surname as Jayaram, when her father's name was Joseph or Mathew? The girl unabashedly said, "My mother wants me to become a great singer like Vani Jayaram".
And then there are children of patriotic parents who have names like, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Subash Chandra Bose, etc. The parents, for sure did not know that Gandhi and Bose were the surnames of the great leaders. (Many people in rural India still think Indira Gandhi was the daughter of Mahatma Gandhi).
Of late, we have started naming the children and calling them also by names like Lakshmi, Parvati, Krishnan, etc (neo spiritualism) and the old nick names like, Ammu, Paru have also started reappearing. May be the cycle is starting all over again.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Recipe: Podipodicha Pulinkari

This pulinkari was a favourite of my grandmother's, especially so if it was made with jackfruit (ripened) and my grandfather detested the curry. The usual conversation at meal time whenever the pulinkari was made went something like the following:

Grnadpa: What is for Lunch?

Grandma: Podipodicha Pulinkari

Grandpa: Unkamma Pulinkari (Your mother pulinkari!)

Even to this day, whenever I make this pulinkari, I am reminded of the scene in our ancestral home on pulinkari days, when we children used to burst out laughing. We made it a point to be at the dining hall, when my grandfather came to eat his lunch, when pulinkari was made. My little cousin had named this pulinkari as grandma's ammapulinkari.

Once my youngest brother who was then 3 years old, told a neighbour, my mother has made "mooku podicha pulinkari" today. The lady came to my mother curious to know, what this new dish was and we all had a hearty laugh.

All said and done, it is wonderful pulinkari (sambar) to go with rice or dosa or idli.

This pulinkari can be made with any lightly sweet vegetable, like, red pumpkin (squash), ripe mango, ripe jackfruit or a combination of red pumpkin and raw plantain, etc.

I give the recipe for basic pulinkari, in which any of the above mentioned vegetable can be added.

To serve 4


Red pumpkin 250 gms


Ripe Mango 1 big


Ripe Jackfruit 10 - 15 pods ( seeds removed )


Red pumpkin 200 gms
Raw plantain 1small

Tamarind paste - 2 tsp


Tamarind - the size of a lemon( Indian lemon. I have seen giant sized lemons at US)
Turmeric powder 1tsp.
Jaggery 25 gms.
Salt to taste

For garnish:
Oil 1 tsp.
Mustard seeds 1tsp.
Redchilly 1 no.
Curry leaves one sprig

To roast and powder:

Raw rice 1 tbsp,
Red chillies 3 nos.
Methi seeds ½ tsp
Lentil or toor dal 1 tsp.
Hing or asafoetida peasize

Wash the rice and dry roast to golden brown color along with all the other ingredients for powder. Cool and grind to a fine powder .When powdered this gives a nice aroma. Keep aside.
Cut the vegetables to 1" cubes , the jackfruit pods 1" pieces
Soak the tamarind, in 1 cup of warm water, if you are using tamarind. Squeeze the pulp and boil adding one more cup of water. Add the vegetables and cook, adding turmeric powder and salt. When vegetables are almost cooked, add the jaggery and boil for 5 more minutes. Mix the ground powder with one cup of water without lumps and add to the cooked vegetables.( If using, tamarind paste, the tamarind paste need to be added at this stage only ). Allow the mixture to come to boil. If the curry is very thick, add more water and boil.It should be thinner that sambar.(The pulinkari will thicken when it cools.) Remove from stove and add few curry leaves.
Heat another pan and add the oil for garnish. When oil is hot, add the mustard seeds and red chilli (broken into small pieces). When the mustard seeds stops spluttering and red chilli pieces have turned darker in color, remove from stove, add the curry leaves and pour into the prepared pulinkari. ENJOY.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Recipe: Capsicum (Bell Pepper) Masala fry

This is a very tasty fry, very easy to make in a very short time.

2 servings
Capsicum 200gms
Onion 50 gms
jeera 1 tsp.
cardamom 1
cloves 2
cinnamon ¼" piece
turmeric powder ½ tsp.
garam masala powder ½ tsp.
dhania jeera powder 2tsps.
Dosai molagai podi 2 tsp.(see recipe below)
salt to taste
oil 1 tbsp

Cut the capsicum in 1"square pieces. Slice the onions fine. Heat oil in a non-stick pan, add jeera,cardomom, cloves and cinnamon. When jeera starts spluttering add the sliced onions and fry until they start changing color. Add the capsicum pieces and fry for 5 mnts.Add the turmeric powder and dhania jeera powder. Fry for another 5 mnts. Add salt and fry for another 3 mnts. Finally add the dosai molagai podi and fry for another 5 mnt. Your tasty capsicum masala fry is ready. This is very good with chapatis.

The dosa molagai podi gives the dish a cripsy texture.

Alternatively, a powder made with 1tsp sesame seeds and 1tsp groundnuts can be used.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Recipe: Dosa Molagai Podi

Dosai Molagai podi

Bengal gram dal 1cup
Urad dal 1 cup
sesame seeds 2 tbsps.
hing a small piece(size of a pea)
Whole red chillies 15 nos.
curry leaves 1 sprig(optional)
salt to taste.
oil ½ tsp.

Heat oil in a thick bottomed fry pan and add the hing. When the hing is fried, add the bengal gram dal and fry till it is light brown in color. Remove and cool. In the same fry pan, fry the urad dal, until it turn light brown in color, add the sesame seeds and fry for 3 more mnts. Add the red chillies and curry leaves and fry until the curry leaves are crisp.Cool all the ingredients and mix well. Add salt.Powder to a coarse consistency.Store in a airtight jar. Will keep for 6 months.

This powder can be served with Dosa or Idli, mixed with little oil or ghee.

This powder can be used in many curries to enhance the taste as well as to add crispiness to the curry.


If I reacted to the postponement of my father's first anniversary in trying to think If we have been disrespectful in one way or the other, the question of," now when" was uppermost in all of us siblings. The oldest brother of mine ( the eldest son ), who according to our scriptures, is the one who has to perform the rites being in the lead, had already contacted our priest locally. He diplomatically said, the usual custom is to perform the anniversary on the 11th day ( i.e. the day we are freed from the 10 day isolation resulting from the death of our cousin) ,but in any case, you consult with your priest at your village. By now, my other brothers also started asking me about the possible dates when we could perform the rites.I could only tell them to wait until we hear from our village priest. We were all sure, he would find out some convenient date(!) to suit everyone. I also added that, if only my astute and blessed mother-in-law were alive, she would have quoted some such incident from the past. Her favorite anecdote was the postponement of her father-in-law's first anniversary rites because of the birth of a son to her sister-in-law. I had, actually, not asked her in detail about how the rites were performed on a later day, if the rites were performed on all the 4 days or it was capsuled for two days. I can never find out now.

This takes me back to my childhood days, when any such doubt would be clarified with authority by the then headpriest of our village (who happened to be my fathers maternal uncle), whom we fondly called"Amman".When he had said his opinion, there was no second opinion sought in any matter. Or on later days, after our "Amman" passed away, there would generally be a discussion among the elders in the village, as to how it was performed on similar occasions in the past. Today, if my mother has to get an opinion on this issue, she is the only elderly person in the whole village, all others being new comers to the village or a very young generation.

By evening, my older brother had received word from our village priest. "You can either perform the rites on the 11th day or perform it on a later day conveniently. You need to perform only the Sradham and the homam.My brother is yet to get the views of the other brothers.

My youngest brother, who incidentally was in town, brought up another question? If the rites could be performed on the 11th day, how do we sanctify all the clothes that we will be carrying with us on that day? A very relevant question. When someone from the close family dies, it was a practice to observe a 10 days abstenanace and social isolation from all functions and sanctify the whole house on the 11th day by washing all clothes and utensils used during this period and sprinkling holy water. If all were to reach there on the 10th day or 11th day, what will we wear when we wash all the clothes that we carry? All the customs have been drafted in days when people did not normally move out of the closeknit society. Such questions were never asked nor had to be answered. In rare occasions where people had to travel they usully arrived well in advance and such problems rarely arose. Besides, the dresses wore by the people were very simple and therefore could be shared
without much problem. The lifestyles and practices pose such technical problems these days. Today the generation of middle aged men and women face such problems when one knows about such practices and at the same time cannot observe them due to various constraints.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Recipe - Microwave Aloo Gobi Masala


Though,many housewives in India today, own microwave ovens, more often than not, they are used only to heat up left over food, so much so the other day some one was mentioning to me that she had bought a new oven to heat up left over food.

Having used a microwave oven to cook many traditional Indian dishes, I wish to give some recipes, which I have tried successfully.

Aloo Gobi Masala


Potato 250 gms.
Cauliflower 250 gms(1 small head)
Onion 100gms
Green chillies 2
ginger garlic paste 1 tbsp.
dhania powder 2 tsp.
jeera powder 2 tsp.
chilli powder 1tsp.
turmeric powder 1/2 tsp.
garam masala 1 tsp.
salt to tast
oil 1tbsp.
coriander leaves 1 sprig


Scrub and wash and cut potato into 1" cubes. Wash and cut cauliflower into medium sized flowerlets. slice onion.

Fill a micorwave proof dish with potato cubes and cauliflower and 1/4 cup of water and cover with clingwrap. Prick the wrap with a fork at two or three places. Microwave high for 3 mnts.Remove mix well and microwave at 70% for 5 mnts.Keep aside. Put one tabsp. oil in a glass dish and add the onion and microwave high for 2 mnts. Remove, add the ginger garlic paste, mix well and microwave high for 1 mnt. Remove add the cooked potato and cauliflower and all the other spices, except garam masala, mix well and microwave at 70% for 5 mnts, stirring once in between.Sprinkle the garam masala and microwave at 70% for 1 mnt more. Remove, mix well and garnish with finely cut coriander leaves.

Generation in the middle

I was woken up early today morning by a phone call announcing the passing away of a cousin, we grew up with. For a moment,i couldn't reract. After life took us to opposite corners of the country , perhaps, I have met him only a couple of times in the last 40 years.

When I started reacting to the message, once again my thought was, what will happen to the anniversary rituals of our father, slated for the next week? Now, the first anniversary rituals are very elaborate and important and are spread over a period of 5 days.
All arrangements for the rituals have been initiated well in advance. All my siblings and in-laws have made travel arrangements. I have already packed my bags and have booked my travel for tomorrow. The death of an immediate cousin, means a ban of all rituals for a period of 10 days at least. So, now, what?

In the village, where I grew up, it was usual practice among the folks to look for reasons for incidents such as the persent one. Cancellation or postponement of such important functions were never looked upon by the village folks kindly. Invariably they were able to link the causes with some disrespect shown to the elders or some other misdeeds!. Their argument was, there has to be some reason for everything / some malafide action committed some time. They strongly believed in "You do your duties well, you will be rewarded". Somebody doing well in life, he has done "punyakarma". Somebody having difficulties in life, he has done "papakarma".Take care of your elders, you will be taken care of by your offsprings. Help the needy, you will be helped in need. Take care of others'children, your children will be taken care of.Having grown up in these surroundings, involuntarily, my mind starts analysing the past one year, to see where we have gone wrong as to displease our forefathers? In the next moment, being bombarded by new management theories of modern days, I hush my mind not to make judgements. After all, questioning "why some thing happened or did not happen" will only bring forth some excuses so think how we can improve upon the present situation. This disagreement between the present day "me " and a childhood spent among the traditional, well meaning rural community is an everyday occurance, these days. I can never decide if this is right or that.

The present day generation, being brought up in nuclear families cannot understand why one should waste so much energy in trying to find out a reason for anything and everything. At the same time, not a day passes, without the media reporting, events like,"Last minute cancellation of ticket/ giving away to someone who wanted to travel on some urgent mission" saves somebody's life (the flight crashed), "extension of work in a foreign country cost the engineer his life"(engineer's work in the foreign country was extended by one month and he was killed in some blast there during the extended period).Do we still attach some importance to these causes and means or is to only to provide some sensational news? I am at a loss to understand.

As my husband always says,"we are destined to be a confused lot, that we are the transient generation, who have grown up imbibing certain values and are living in a period which has totally different set of values".