“Kayamma” I used to call her as a child. She always used to wear a necklace with large corals and I would be forever fascinated by the big orange stones. Whenever I used to ask her what those stones were, she would tell me that they were ‘kaai” and that’s how I started calling her Kayamma.
As a more grown up child, when I lived with my grandparents, my great-grandparents lived next door. When my grandparents were traveling out of town, my great-grandparents and me would kind of take care of each other.
She had some fantastic dishes in her repertoire. I remember watching her cook. She was extremely particular about a couple of things in cooking.
One, the thalippu (tempering) had to be generous – be it the mustard seeds or the udad dal or the quantity of oil used, she hated when people skimped on these things in the tempering of a dish.
Two, she loved asafoetida (heeng) and her cooking was always redolent of this spice. So much so, that I would tease her as ‘perungaayam paati‘ (asafoetida granny, in Tamil), especially when she used chunks of asafoetida and a tiny intact piece, which wasn’t dissolved properly would find its way into my mouth while eating sambar-rice.
Her other love was gingelly oil (nallennai) which she used liberally in her dishes and even tiffin items like upma.
I used to hate asafoetida, mustard seeds and gingelly oil as a kid, and true to my genes, I have duly fallen in love with all three of them today.
I use the strongest possible asafoetida to spike my tambrahm dishes and its effect can only be experienced, not explained.
She spent nearly 50 years of her life in Matunga (a locality in heart of Mumbai that came up in 1930s-40s with a large number of Tamil brahmin families) from 1940-1989 before they moved to Mulund to be closer to my grandparents.
My uncle had a joke about her that instead of learning Hindi, she ended up teaching Tamil names of all the vegetables to the bhaaji wala bhaiyyaas (vegetable vendors) from UP in the Matunga veggie market.
Kayamma is thrilled to see her great-great-grand child
She passed away at the ripe old age of 92 in the year 2009. She had the good fortune to see two great-great grandchildren in her lifetime. This is one of my most favourite dishes she used to make and each time I make this in my kitchen, it is with many fond remembrances of her.
Recipe for Tamarind poha / beaten rice / Puli Aval