Tag Archives: Tamil

Yung Raja (Image by Hans Goh)

‘I’m a Byproduct of Mixing the Vividness of My Culture’ Says Singaporean Rapper Yung Raja

26-year-old first-generation Singaporean Indian, and a prized member of the Def Jam South East Asia roster, Yung Raja‘s debut foray into the US territory commences with the release of his brand new single “Mami”, alongside Alamo Records, home to some of the hottest hip-hop acts such as Lil Durk and Smokepurpp. The artist, who has been dubbed as Southeast Asia’s next avant-garde hip-hop artist known for his tasteful unification of English and Tamil lyricism, aims to reinvent societal views in and out of his homeland, inspire the next generation of cultural conservators, and elevate Southeast Asian hip-hop to world-class stages through his music. Raja’s past few singles have zeroed in on his heritage, identity, and freewheeling way of life in Singapore. In March, he was included on NME’s 100 lists, appearing as the first-ever Singaporean to make it to the platform’s coveted “artist to watch” list.

In this exclusive interview, he talks about spreading joy, positive vibes through his art and his heritage-influenced music.

Yung Raja (Image by Hans Goh)
Yung Raja (Image by Hans Goh)

You just made your debut foray into the US territory with the release of your brand new single “Mami”. What was the idea and inspiration behind it? What response have you received? 

I’m truly inspired by how music can lift people’s spirits, and one of my biggest motivations is to spread joy and positive vibes through my art. “Mami” was a record we made encapsulating that, especially at a time where clubs are closed and people aren’t throwing parties anymore. I really wanted to bring the club to the listener. “Mami” is a banger that’s meant for having fun, and we are super grateful to have the support of Alamo Records in the journey of breaking into the US market.

Tell us how your Singaporean-Indian heritage influences your music. 

It’s what and who I am, really. Being a first-generation Singaporean Indian, my DNA is made up of all the wonderful things that make my heritage special. Being a hip-hop artist, it’s all about showing people your real background and story. I’m heavily inspired by my culture and driven to showcase different aspects of it tastefully through my arts.

Your previous songs have largely focused on your heritage, identity, and way of life. Tell us about some of the cultural issues that you hope to bring to light through your music.

Well, for me it’s all about representation. Being a part of a minority racial group in Singapore, I am very grateful to be able to use my voice to inspire goodness in others. Whilst doing so, I’m focused on shining light on various aspects of my culture in a manner that’s palatable to people all around the world.

Humour, color, and a sense of style always seem to mark your fresh and fashionable music videos. Tell us who or what are your musical inspirations.

I’m inspired by many different artists/people from the west and east – Tyler The Creator, Dennis Rodman, Travis Scott, A R Rahman just to name a few. I guess I’m a byproduct of mixing the vividness of my culture, the pride of my roots, my happy-go-lucky personality, and western hip-hop.

What are you working on next? 

More vibrations for people! Can’t wait to share more when the time’s right… all I can say for now is stay tuned! 


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’.


 

Koozhangal film poster

Koozhangal Streams in the US: A Film On the Unknown Village of Arittapatti

It’s no mean achievement for a school dropout and one with no degree in filmmaking to win an international award on debut. Indian director P.S. Vinothraj won the Tiger award at Rotterdam, this February, for his Tamil film, Koozhangal (Pebbles) – the only Indian film selected for the competition. It marked the culmination of several years of struggle and hardship – a journey of grit and determination driven by a passion for cinema. The jury at the Rotterdam festival described it ‘as a lesson in pure cinema.’

Koozhangal placed the plight of the people of Arittapatti, a barely known village of the Madurai district in Tamil Nadu, on the global stage.

The film follows a little boy, Velu, and his alcoholic father, Ganapathy, forced to trek home across 14 kms of desert terrain, exposing the relationship they share. Riding on the shoulders of a team of newcomers, Koozhangal is making waves everywhere it goes. Although it deals with grueling poverty in the searing drought-ridden landscapes of southern India, it succeeded in captivating the jury with its beauty and humor.

Director P.S. Vinothraj (Image provided by Author)
Director P.S. Vinothraj

The idea for this film originated from Vinothraj’s life after his sister was sent home by her alcoholic husband.

“She walked for 14 kms to reach our home with a baby in her hands,” remembers Vinothraj, “Pebbles grow as a revenge tale – ‘What if my brother-in-law walked the same distance through the difficult terrain?'”

While researching for the story, he realized that many women had gone through something similar to what his sister experienced. Yet, they endured their husband and the poverty for the sake of the children. 

Though Vinothraj managed to find a producer for his script, he could only complete 75% of the film. A meeting with national award-winning director, Ram, at the NFDC film bazaar turned the film’s destiny. And, before Vinothraj knew it, actress, Nayanthara, and director, Vignesh Shivan, came on board as producers. Their star power gave the film a wider reach.  

Koozhangal capture’s a day in a child’s life. Its strength lies in the terrific performances by the lead pair – Karuththadaiyan as Ganapathy and child actor, Chella Pandi as Velu. Spectacular visuals by cinematographers, Vignesh Kumulai and Parthib, enhance further this story told from the heart.  Yuvan Shankar Raja has scored the background music. Karuththadaiyan, a stage actor, was initially not keen and had to be convinced to take on the role. Ultimately, training fresh actors who had never faced the camera was not easy but the efforts paid off.

Film still from Koozhangal.
Film still from Koozhangal.

Vinothraj believes that it is Nature that paved way for his film’s success. As for the title, it is a practice to carry a pebble in the mouth to ward off thirst during a long journey. On theme with this, Velu keeps a pebble in his mouth during the long trek. 

Selected in the 50th-anniversary edition of New Directors New Films presented by Film at Lincoln Center, Koozhangal now streams virtually in the USA through May 8. This edition includes filmmakers who represent the present and anticipate the future of cinema, and whose daring work pushes the envelope in unexpected ways. 

For tickets, log on to http://newdirectors.org.

Noted American film critic from the New Yorker, Richard Brody calls Koozhangal the best dramatic feature film of this year’s New Directors New Films.

Koozhangal will, also, participate next at the 19th edition of the Indian Film Festival in Los Angeles this year. This will be held virtually between May 20-27 featuring forty films including shorts. 

It’s been a long haul for Vinothraj whose cinema dreams are rooted in his growing years on film sets. He was fascinated by the cinematographers riding on the trolleys and aspired to become one. Moving to Chennai he learned the ropes of filmmaking while assisting short film directors.    

Today, Koozhangal is taking him places with its Asian premiere at the Jeonju International Film festival. The Shanghai International film festival scheduled in June beckons next. And, the road ahead is long for this native of Arittapatti.


Mythily Ramachandran is an independent journalist based in Chennai, India with over twenty years of reporting experience. Besides contributing to leading Indian and international publications including Gulf News (UAE), South China Morning Post, and Another Gaze (UK), she is a Rotten Tomatoes critic. Check out her blog – http://romancing-cinema.blogspot.com/ 


 

Paava Kadhaigal: Of Love, Lies, and Betrayal

Even if the four-part anthology, Paava Kadhaigal, was made up of just one segment, Sudha Kongara’s Thangam may just have been sufficient to capture its all-encompassing theme. There’s the unlikely love triangle involving a sibling and a best friend, there’s unrequited love that forms the emotional core of the film, and the forbidden inter-faith relationship between its two principal characters. But despite having a heavy agenda, Kongara doesn’t appear to bite off more than she can chew. The movie effortlessly chugs along like a Malgudi Days’ tale, and tugs soulfully at our heartstrings. Along the way, the movie brings to the fore a heartbreaking reality that while families may eventually reconcile and accept their children, when it comes to letting a human being choose their gender, the world remains a massively one-sided place

The Confirmation Bias

If Kongara’s film touched multiple themes, Vignesh Shivan’s segment Love Panna Utranum handles several genres in one slick segment. There’s horror when we see a loved one electrocuted, drama when we witness the evil machinations of a leader and his crooks, and finally, delightful humor when the man’s lieutenant struggles to say the L-word (I fell off my chair watching him mouth ESPN repeatedly; Jaffer Sadiq as Narikutty is fantastic). But while Shivan deserves credit for his creativity, I found the transition from mournful moments to comic situations a little too jarring for a short film. Shivan redeems himself with a clever trick in the end though when Penelope (Kalki Koechlin) calls and talks to Narikutty looking at her phone while driving. I wondered if she was staring at the camera and calling the bluff on the viewers and their confirmation bias; early on in the movie, we see two characters lying on a bed, and begin to assume the nature of their relationship. “How dare we?” Shivan appears to ask. I’d like to think that the friendly cuss word is for Narikutty though.

The Judgment

If there’s one thing about Gautham Menon and his movies, it is that he makes them with his heart. While they are rough at the edges, one cannot help but note they have a soul. Ditto with Vaanmagal, a segment that most viewers would relate to considering today’s life and times. It deals with a middle-class family’s worst nightmare, one in which a girl whose hormones haven’t kicked in yet is mercilessly attacked. While most filmmakers would deal with the event itself and the trauma that the victim would undergo, Menon chooses to focus on the reaction of her family instead. There’s the father (Menon himself), who personifies guilt and cannot bring himself to look at his daughter in the eye, hanging his head in shame as a man. There’s the mother (Simran) whose character is used as a pivot to deliver a message to all parents (the use of the shot atop a hill may be manipulative in the trailer, but bears significance in the movie). And the brother, the instrument responsible for restoring parity in the film’s most defining moment. No lives are lost, and yet, Menon’s segment remains the only one in the film that delivers closure for a victim.

The Great Betrayal

The final act of Paava Kathaigal fittingly falls in the hands of Vetrimaaran, one of the finest filmmakers in India today. Narrating the story of a father-daughter relationship gone sour in Oor Iravu, Vetrimaran cuts back and forth between the past and the present, culminating in the baby shower that the father (the seasoned Prakash Raj) arranges for his daughter (a fine Sai Pallavi) as a way to make amends. Vetrimaaran shows us his finesse in dramatic thrillers, by bringing every frame to life and letting every scene breathe. Take, for instance, the scene when a character heads from the courtyard to the kitchen for a jug of water. The camera follows them and stops just at the doorstep. The character takes a fractional moment longer to return, in what seems like an eternity to us. It’s a bone-chilling finish, one that involves a murder without a weapon, but punctuated by the cries of two women locked in different rooms. Cries that echo in our ears long after the credits roll by. Chilling indeed…take a bow, Scorsese of Tamil Cinema!


Anuj Chakrapani loves cinema and believes movies, like other forms of art, are open to interpretation. And when you begin to interpret, you realize that the parts are more than the sum. Adopting a deconstructionist approach, he tries not to rate movies as “good” or “bad”, instead choosing to capture what he carries away from watching them. Anuj lives in the SF Bay Area and works for a large technology company.

Tamil Film Exclusively at the San Jose Drive-In

West Wind Drive-In Theatre in San Jose will offer a special limited run three-day run of the long-awaited and critically acclaimed film Master, a Tamil-language action-thriller film directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj.

“We are thrilled to have the exclusive Northern California screening of Master,” explains Nancy Crane, Vice President of Operations for West Wind Drive-Ins and Public Markets. We are lucky to be selected to show this lavish action-thriller. The cinematography is superb and the storyline is exceptional.”   

The film follows a charming young professor (Vijay), who is addicted to alcohol, is looked down on by his colleagues but is adored by his students. He is sent for a 3-month teaching stint to an Observation Home for Juvenile delinquents. He realizes the reformatory is controlled by Vijay Sethupathi, who uses the children in this Home for his unscrupulous, nefarious activities. The story is about the clash between them and if truth triumphs!

The film starts Friday, January 15 for a very limited three-day run.  


 

Harris Makes History

“And one day, like a miracle, he’ll be gone.”

This was my favorite yard sign during the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election. During the darkest days marked by mounting COVID-19 deaths, and dog whistles to white supremacists from the White House, it seemed that day would never come.

Votes were cast before or on November 3, and for one, then two, then three days after, an anxious nation awaited the results, dispensing with sleep and most forms of healthy nourishment. We are dealing with the shock that half the nation actually voted to keep Donald Trump in office.

Four years later, this is another wake-up call for Democrats. Who are these people? Who is being left so far behind that they believe Donald Trump is their savior? There have been some analyses, talk of a shrinking middle class, traditionally the Democratic base. Some speculate that perhaps a shift of the population to the edges, those with either very low or very high incomes, have enabled Trump, The voting demographics will be revealing.

A few hours into the morning of Saturday, November 7, after hours of vote-counting, the Associated Press called the state of Nevada and Pennsylvania for Joe Biden. The news flashed across the television networks and Twitter in seconds, and a tidal wave of jubilation took over. My immediate reaction was visceral: I was in tears at what has been achieved with Harris’s victory.

My favorite headline, “Biden wins, Harris makes history” said it all. First woman VP. (Really, America? How shameful that it has taken this long.) First Black person. First Asian American, specifically, the first person of Indian descent.

Shyamala Gopalan came to the US at the age of 19, as I did, to pursue an education. We know the story, of how she got involved soon after in the civil rights movement, where she met Donald Harris who became her husband. How later, as a single mother, with a strong moral compass, she raised her daughters as Black girls and taught them that they could be anything, do anything. On November 7, Kamala’s sister, Maya Harris, tweeted this: 

Kamala Harris’s ascent to the most powerful position any woman has ever held in America is a striking reminder of “possibilities” – the single word Joe Biden chose to describe America in his acceptance speech. With a full heart, I told my daughter, “You can be President! You are like Kamala. Born in America to an Indian mother.” Never mind that she replied, with teen wisdom combined with sarcasm, “Why would I want to be President?!” In 2016, my daughter, then 11, and I watched in horror as state after state was called in favor of Donald Trump. That night, I went to bed at 9 PM, knowing where things were headed, and unable to bear it. I woke up to the horror. I remember the shock on my daughter’s face when I told her the results. To express my anger, frustration, and despair, I wrote this soon after that. And in 2020, a year of unending horrors, the smile on her face as she came out of her room, sleepy-eyed, smiling broadly, having seen the news on social media, made it seem that things would be all right again. We shared a joyous hug. Some captivating art has been making the rounds, inspired by this trail-blazing, accomplished, beautiful, formidable, competent leader.
Artist Bria Goeller worked with T-shirt company Good Trubble to create this image.
This is the one I like the best, by San Francisco artist Bria Goeller. Here, Madam Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris walks purposefully, and her shadow is the silhouette of 6-year-old Ruby Bridges when she became the first Black student to integrate an all-white school in newly-desegregated New Orleans, Louisiana in 1960.
The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell
The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell
Here is the original painting by Norman Rockwell of her walking escorted by four deputy US marshals. Notice the slur on the wall, the hurled fruit smashed on the ground. And in the midst of it, the little girl with her notebook and ruler. In the words of Martin Luther King, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The relief many of us feel is palpable. Finally, there is hope. A burden has lifted.
 

And one day, like a miracle, he will be gone. Can’t wait.


Raji Pillai lives in the SF Bay Area, and writes at www.rajiwrites.com where this article was originally published. 

Revolutionary Carnatic Musician: The Saint Thyagaraja

Indian history is full of exceptional devotees who proved the significance of love and spirituality. One such divine and gifted soul was the great “Saint Thyagaraja”. He descended on the land of Tiruvarur, Tamil Nadu in India on May 14, 1767. He was born in a Telugu Vaidiki Mulakanadu Brahmin family.

Saint Thyagaraja revolutionized the dormant Carnatic Music during the 18th and 19th centuries. This form of Music is based on unique “Ragas and Talas” (musical notes) like all other forms of Indian classical music. It beautifully expresses Bhakti (devotion) and Sringara (love). Earlier, it was performed for the praise of God. Later, it included singing the glory of great kingdoms.

Thyagaraja was inclined towards music from an early age. Ramayana and Lord Ram also influenced the musical legend. He sang many kritis (a devotional form of composition in Carnatic music) of Lord Ram. He predominantly created the kritis in the Telugu language. Still, Saint Thyagaraja is a global icon. Two of his contemporaries also gained equal fame along with him in that era. They were Shyama Shastri and Muthuswami Dikshitar. Together, these three were known as the Trinity of Carnatic Music.

Carnatic Music has survived the ever-changing modernization of the music. Its several concerts are being held not only in India but all over the world. Compositions of Saint Thyagaraja are part of almost every show. Isn’t it phenomenal that they are popular and relevant even after 250 years of their creation!

Body of Work

Saint Thyagaraja created over 22,000 compositions during his lifetime. Out of them, only around 729 survived. They lived through the generations of his disciples. One of the most celebrated creations is “Pancharatna Kriti”. It is a combination of five Kritis of Lord Ram. Each one in a different Raga depicting different moods. One of them is in the Sanskrit language. The rest of them are in Telugu.

The great Saint Thyagaraja was not inclined towards the technicalities of classical music. His devotional music flowed like a free waterfall soothing the heart of his listeners. His fans ranged from common Men to the Kings of that era.

Like a Lotus Leaf!

He was detached from worldly pleasures. He was a perfect example of the lotus leaf provided in “Bhagvat Geeta” (a prominent Hindu scripture). A lotus leaf is untouched by water even while floating in it. All the drops of water fall off from its surface, and it remains clean. Saint Thyagaraja experienced everyday family life. He had a home where he lived with his wife and daughter but he always longed for the spiritual connection with Lord Ram. He regarded him as his friend and guide in his compositions. The musical legend never ran after wealth and fame. He used to make his living by “Daan” (Alms) given by villagers and his admirers. He denied an invitation from the King to live a lavish lifestyle. He believed he was born to serve God only.

Spiritual Height!

There are many stories of him witnessing miracles where he reached out to Lord Ram. Eventually, he gave the most significant proof that he was close to God. It is said that his day of demise, January 6, 1847, was announced by himself beforehand. He declared that Lord Ram has appeared in his dreams and promised to take him to salvation. He remained a mystic both in life and death.

Thyagaraja Aradhana – Homage to the Legend

His legacy continues even today through the Thyagaraja Aradhana music festival. It’s an annual event held between January to February on his death anniversary. It’s a week-long musical extravaganza organized at his resting place at Thiruvaiyaru. It has flourished to become an international marvel. Carnatic musicians gather from all over the world to celebrate the heritage of his compositions. It’s a mesmerizing sight when thousands of people together sing “Pancharatna Kriti” in his honor.


Reema Krishnan is a content creator at Acharyanet, a platform for Carnatic music learners where they can learn music from gurus through 400+ video lessons. Being a music enthusiast and a history buff herself, she is able to provide value for her readers and her content is well-received by musicians, music lovers, and music learners of all ages and at all stages. 

On the Presidential Debate: “Candron Enkolo!”

Unrestricted international travel – the one thing that has been denied to millions across the world – has been mine, these past few months, through the act of reading for hours in an uninterrupted fashion. I read the political news of the day and then jump backward in time to read Tamil writings from the 5th-8th centuries. My mind reads modern English words, phrases, and paragraphs at lightning speed as I devour political news, and then slows down as I read and sound out unfamiliar words and verse in classical Tamil.

The psychic reading worlds that I move in could not be more different. And yet, the two worlds collided in a remarkable fashion in my head at the conclusion of the first Presidential debate between President Trump and Democratic nominee, Joe Biden. At the very end of the debate when asked about voting these were a snapshot of the responses. 

Trump ranted, “As far as the ballot is concerned it is a disaster…they are sending millions of ballots all across the country. There is fraud, they found them in creeks, they found some with the name Trump in a waste paper basket, they are being sent all over the place…this is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen..there are many states all run by Democrats….one percent of ballots cast in 2016 were invalidated. We don’t like ‘em we don’t like ‘em and they throw them out.” 

To this charge on mail-in voting, Joe Biden declared, “There is no fraud.”

I couldn’t believe that a sitting President would in such a cavalier manner dismiss the act of voting. Was he not responsible to ensure that there was indeed no fraud? The next day, the political pundits went after who won and who lost the debate. Trump was a bully, some said. Biden missed points when he could have made a stinging comeback others said. Ping-pong. You hit – I hit back. I was not interested in any of that. 

When I heard that exchange, my mind careened backward all the way to the words of the fictional character Kannagi in the Tamil epic Silappadikaaram.

Candron enkolo? Candron enkolo?”(Wise men, where are you?) she screams in agony on discovering her husband Kovalan is killed by the king’s men.

The Silppadikaram is considered one of the five great Tamil epics written by a Jain Prince Ilando Adigal.  In the story, Kannagi and Kovalan are married with the blessing of the elders in their families. Their young lives are upended rudely when Kovalan falls in love with Madhavi, a courtesan dancer and he soon leaves Kannagi. After spending years with Madhavi, Kovalan realizes the folly of his ways and returns to his dutiful wife Kannagi.

They soon leave the kingdom ruled by the Cholas and travel to the land ruled by the Pandyas and enter its largest city Madurai. Here, Kovalan decides to sell his wife’s silambu (anklet) to make a fresh start in life and takes it to a jeweler in the marketplace. The cunning jeweler who also happens to be the royal jeweler sees the similarities between the Queen’s anklet and that of Kannagi’s. The jeweler had stolen the queen’s anklet and when Kovalan entered his workshop, he saw the perfect opportunity to frame the unsuspecting Kovalan for the theft. The jeweler hurries to the king and accuses Kovalan of theft. Dragged by the king’s men into court, Kovalan’s head is severed with one stroke and when Kannagi finds her husband dead, she screams in anger – “Candron enkolo?” (Wise men, where are you?)

The morning following the debate I wish that there had been 535 messages on social media and in every publication across the country. The 435 members in the House and 100 senators should have signed one statement which had just one sentence. “From now till election day, I will personally work to make sure that your vote is counted, regardless of whether it is a mailed-in ballot or if it is a ballot cast in person.” 

Without the protection that my vote and every other vote will be counted, how can we even say that we live in a democracy? Forget the fact that we want a Republican or a Democrat based on our political beliefs. Where are the checks and balances in action that we read about in civics textbooks? Each one of the 535 representatives has been accorded the power they enjoy because of thousands of votes that have been cast in their favor. I should be able to take the fact that my vote will be counted for granted in a mature Western democracy. 

When a sitting President talks of his own administration and says that they are sending millions of ballots all across the country and that there is massive fraud, where is the massive counter-response from legislators? To a President who relishes in the spectacle of political theater, can I not expect every legislator to stand in dramatic fashion as one to say, “Your vote will be counted. I will work to ensure that basic right for all the people I represent in my district, in my state.”

Candron enkolo?” –  Wise men, where are you? Kannagi howled within the fictional plot. Of course, these words were spoken at a time when only men could be counted amongst the king’s advisors and as those who upheld justice. 

Today, I ask – Candron enkolo? – Wise men and women of both parties, where are you? 


Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is a former editor of India Currents magazine. 

Will Sambar Die With Me?

My cousin Ravi and his wife Radha were visiting America  for the very first time. One day, as I was waiting to pick them up for a drive around town, Radha was unusually late. As she slowly stepped into the car, she handed me a small box, saying “this is what made me late, wanted to warm it up for you.” I could smell the treasure. “Elai Adai!” I screamed with joy (translates to leaf pancake). The last time I had savored this heavenly dish was at Radha’s daughter’s wedding in India about three years ago. I was teary and grateful for her thoughtfulness. All through the car ride we reminisced over my grandmother’s cooking and the culinary precedent her ancestors had set. The taste goddess had blessed my family tree with amazing cooks. In Tamil, there is a term for this, kai manam, which means “aromatic hands” meaning that whatever one cooked was filled with flavor and taste.

We talked about my great-aunt Rashamma who lived alone in a big house surrounded by her paddy farms, mango and jackfruit groves, rubber plantations, and cows. Rashamma was known for her “kai manam.” She worked and managed the farms by herself; she was quite the busy landlady. Cooking was the last thing on her mind. But when she stepped into the kitchen, she created magic with the least amount of ingredients. I can never ever forget her keerai masiyal (a mashed spinach dish), that she whipped out with the bunch of spinach that she had just picked. Every time I make this dish it always takes me back to her kitchen.

All this talk about food and family tree made me wonder—what will happen to my cooking lineage? My cousin and I wondered what our kids will cherish when it comes to our culinary heritage. Will  elai adai and keerai masiyal die with me, along with sambar and rasam? Will my two boys ever know the value of the dishes I ate as a child or savored as a grown-up? Will it matter to these Indian American kids, who prefer In-N-Out burgers to idly sambar, that the idly is also a part of who they are?
I almost had a panic attack thinking of the-almost-extinct dishes of my heritage. For example, I fear the endangerment of the quintessential Avial (a mix of many vegetables like long beans, winter melon, pumpkin, drumstick, raw mango, raw plantain, in a coconut green chili paste with yogurt) which is scorned at my dinner table with a “Yuck! Who invented this dish that looks bad and tastes bad?” sending a dagger through my heart bred in Kerala. The pavakkai pitla (bitter gourd in a tamarind coconut sauce), which is welcomed at the dinner table with “I think I’ll make myself a sandwich” or “I’m going out to eat,” I relegate to the dinosaur category. And the list goes on.

That evening as I walked into my home, I could smell garlic and basil simmering on the stove. My son was cooking dinner. He asked me to taste the one-pot pasta he had made. He noticed the longing in my eyes and continued, “I will cook all your dishes one day, but for now it’s just pasta.” I chuckled and smiled hugging my son, for it really didn’t matter if its pasta or pitla that he was cooking. What did matter was that I had passed on the love for cooking to the next generation. Hopefully, the “heritage” recipes will come in time!

Rashamma’s Keerai Masiyal

Ingredients
2 cups tightly packed fresh spinach
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon urad dhal
3-4 dry red pepper

A pinch of asafetida
3-4 green chilies sliced
3-4 curry leaves
¼ cup fresh coconut scapings
Salt to taste

Method
Clean, chop and cook the spinach in little water. Puree it and set aside. Heat coconut oil and add mustard seeds and let it splutter. Add urad dhal, dry red pepper, curry leaves, asafetida and green chilies. Add the fresh coconut scrapings and sauté for a few minutes. Once it is a little toasted add the pureed spinach, mix well and season with salt. Serve as a side dish with rice.

Avial
This is a famous Kerala side dish that is served at feasts and weddings. There are many variations to this basic recipe.

Ingredients
Vegetables used are winter melon, raw plantain, long beans, pumpkin, carrots, and drumstick.
Raw mango (a few pieces)
2 cups of vegetables julienned
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon coconut oil
3-4 curry leaves
1 cup sour yogurt
Make into Paste
1 cup fresh coconut scrapings
3 to 4 green chilies

Method
Place the vegetables in a large flat sauce pan with winter melon at the bottom. Season with salt and add coconut oil, salt, curry leaves and turmeric. Cook the vegetables in a medium flame without mixing too much. Use a flat ladle to gently mix so that the cooked vegetables don’t become mushy. Now add the ground coconut chili paste and mix. Lower the flame and add yogurt and mix. Cook for a few minutes. Check the seasoning and serve hot.

Elai Adai
This is a delicacy made in homes and it cannot be found in restaurants. It requires a banana leaf (elai) that is warmed over a gas flame to make it pliable without letting it tear apart. The outside shell is made with raw rice that is soaked in water, drained and made into a thin batter with salt (adai). The filling consists of fresh coconut, jaggery, small pieces of ripe jackfruit and cardamom. A ladle of rice batter is spread into a circle, on a banana leaf. The coconut filling is spread on the bottom half on the rice batter circle. Then the leaf is folded on top of the filling. The sides are folded and secured with a toothpick. This leaf pack is then steamed. It tastes like a modhak.

For all of us who want to cherish our culinary heritage, the best way is to write down family recipes in a Word document to  share with your children. Maybe one day in the future, they will look through the document, feel inspired and try one of mom’s ancient recipes!

Maybe, they will even ask me to show them how to make Elai Adai—a recipe that cannot have precise, written measurements—a recipe that needs to be learnt by watching to be able to emulate—a treasured treat from the taste goddesses hailing from my family tree!

Praba Iyer is a chef instructor, food writer and a judge for cooking contests. She specializes in team building classes through cooking for tech companies in the Bay Area.praba@cookingmastery.com