“Hey, get away you naughty thief”
“Hey hey hey, not on my watch”
Every summer, during the morning hours when the sun is blazing, these words echo all around my quaint little street at West Mambalam, Chennai. You can look right and look left for the source of the sound, but little would you realize that like most answers in life, you need to look up. And no, I didn’t mean the divine intervention. I lean away from my morning paper to the right side of the balcony and look for the source of the familiar sound which comes from the various roof tops, where, in each one of them the most fond memory from my childhood would be unfolding.
I smile to myself thinking the ruckus from the roof tops that would ensue as the morning progressed. If only everyone had a Vanaja maami style! I lean to my left and can see the stairs leading from the edge of the drawing room of Vanaja maami’s house and up to her terrace.
The entourage starts from inside her house. It is almost like an escort for a VIP (let the pun be a surprise for later). Led by the little Diya and Aditya, the vandus of the house bounding up the stairs, followed by Shalini, the elder sister, and Raj, the elder brother, sounding a word of caution to the vandus, the middle section has Vanaja maami carefully balancing, on her hip, a heavy round bottomed vessel with the precious freshly brewed mixture, and on her tail is Rajam, the elder daughter-in-law carrying the precious ladles, and at the rear is Savithri, the younger daughter-in-law carrying the plastic / tarpaulin sheet and the most important treasure wrapped in an old newspaper.
“I shall reach first” shouts Diya. “Not unless I reach first” retorts Aditya as they race each other to the stairs.
“Hey careful, careful you two”, shouts Shalini.
“Go carefully dears ” says vanaja maami in a stern-kind tone that she has mastered over the years.
Yes, if you have had a brought up in an agraharam or the high-density brahmin population areas, you would have guessed it. It is the “Vadaam Entourage”. A delicious batter made for a snack-ready-for-frying-later, prepared end-to-end at home with raw materials that leave no waste behind (ah yes, am so much into puns), dried under the sun and then carefully stored later.
Once at the terrace, Diya and Aditya run around and play managed by Shalini and Raj. Vanaja maami puts the vessel down while giving instructions all around.
“Kids, find the stone for the paper weights.”
“Rajam, help me keep the vessel down; careful with the ladles, don’t let them touch the floor”
“Savithri, spread the sheet with the right side up”
The group springs into action and in under 30 seconds all instructions are carried out and the process starts.
The vadaam mixture is taken in the ladle and carefully laid on to neatly laid out plastic sheet in small lumps. The distance between the 2 lumps is so precise that comes with years of practice. As with every family, there are couple of folks who salivate for the wet mixture of the vadaam.
Savithri and Shalini steal a glimpse at each other and silently scoop some mixture with their index fingers and lick it with relish.
“If you keep eating it like this, we won’t have any vadaams to make”, a playful admonishment from Vanaja Maami as she notices this.
In 20 minutes, the contents of the vessel all find the rightful place on the plastic sheet. Vanaja maami mops her brows and smiles as she knows the small crowd has been waiting for the moment that is going to come in the next 2 seconds.
“Take the scare crow out” she says which triggers a laugh from the kids and a smile from the elders. A smile creases my lips as I hear this favorite dialogue of Vanaja maami that’s as popular across the area as her delicious vadaams.
Savithri, unwraps the newspaper parcel and takes the picture frame out. The framed picture shows a white lady in a medieval attire, with her eyes looking up and bowl in hand. It is a riveting picture that can hold your attention on a normal day, but Vanaja maami’s reference of the picture as a scare crow evokes a smile.
Shalini quips “Paati, pls tell us the story again”. “Yes please”, the rest join in.
Vanaja maami replies with a smile “How many times do I say it?, but ok I shall”.
“Your grandpa was an accountant with the governor’s office at Chennai. He was a very dedicated worker and the silly man believes that the governor’s daughter was secretly in love with him. When the governor was shifted to Calcutta, the governor’s daughter gave him a portrait of her as a remembrance. When we got married, I thought it was a picture of some revered saint and didn’t mind it hanging on the wall. It was not until 20 years ago, did I come to know of this history or actually her-story. Once I knew it, I wasn’t not going to have this on the wall anymore. You grandpa is mine and mine only.
The best way to extract revenge was to make her the scare crow for the vadaams I make. I don’t know what the picture does, but I never have crows attack my vadaams. Maybe the crows think, the lady is sitting and laying out the vadaams to dry.” Vanaja maami laughs along with the rest of the crowd.
“okok let us go down now and come back later in the afternoon to pick up the dried vadaams” Upon this instruction from grand ma, the entourage takes one last look at the portrait guarding the vadaams and go down the stairs with the prospect of hearing the story again in the next 3 days when they come up with the VIP again. Ok ok I know I promised the abbreviation, it is “Vadaam-In-Progress”.
I go back to my newspaper thinking, what a unique scarecrow!
Javvarisi – Sabudhaana;
Vadaamum – Crispies;
Maami – Tamil Aunty;
Vandus – Naughty cute brats
Connect with Penmancy:
Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!