On Sangam

In Tamil, there is a Thirukural (sort of like a 2 line poetry) that goes like this

sevikku unavillatha podhu siridhu
vayirrukkum eeya padum

It literally means, food for the stomach can follow when there is no food for the ears. Today, I had the honor and fortune of being treated to both stomach and ears.

Here goes the story.

I got back late evening on Friday after week long travel and will be heading out again on Monday for another week long travel. I hadn’t had anything on Friday after lunch except for coffee. I was so sleep deprived when I came home. I just spent a couple of hours with the boys and went straight to bed without dinner. I slept in for about 10 straight hours (thanks to Kumar for juggling boys morning routine) and woke up Saturday morning and had a cup of coffee. Then, I did some quick house cleaning and caught up on emails and work.

Kumar Nagarajan suggested we take the boys and head to Sangam for lunch. My friends and colleagues had all been urging me to go check out Sangam…so, I immediately said YES to Kumar. By, the time we got to Sangam, I was starving.

Within a couple of minutes of us settling down, one of the waiters came by and took my order in Tamil. I was delighted. As if that wasn’t enough, my buddy Rathan Raja came by to say hello and told me if was his family that was running the business. Rathan introduced me to his wife, sister and sister’s husband. I was very pleased at how the family was actively involved in running the business and serving the customers. I gave Rathan and family a quick update on all the rave reviews I had been hearing about Sangam.

Food arrived and the boys and I started digging in. I thoroughly enjoyed the delicious food. The beetroot halwa was to die for. My favorite was the sambar….it tasted as if Amma had made it. You all know I don’t say that often.


As we were eating lunch, my favorite Tamil songs (vaigai kari kattru nilli, vellai pura ondru, oran all unnai naan, prove samosa, henna satham etc) started playing. What can I say? I was more than delighted to spend Saturday afternoon with the boys at Sangam….with feast to ears and stomach.

As I left with the boys, I conveyed my hearty congratulation to Rathan’s family members and wished them the very best.

Sangam is located in North West Austin (intersection of Parmer Lane and McNeil Road). Go check them out at 6001 W Parmer Ln, Austin, TX 78727

https://www.yelp.com/biz/sangam-chettinad-indian-cuisine-austin-2

On Cutting Onions

Kumar and the boys are usually the vegetable cutters in the family.
They help chop. I help cook.

I rushed home after picking up boys and gave some snacks to fend of their hunger.

Since my vegetable cutter was delayed at work, I started madly chopping the onions in a rush to get dinner started.

I hate chopping onions.
I was cursing the onions as the tears started pouring down my eyes.

The boys glanced at each other and shook their head.

I did my death stare and quipped – “Quit staring at me. Can y’all focus and study?

They both quietly walked to where my sun glasses were.
They brought it to me, placed it on my face and said – “Hope this prevents those tears.
Then, they walked away quietly after clicking a picture as I continued to madly chop the freakin’ onions.

When the boys were young, I often sang one of my favorite Bharathiyar’s song to them.
un kannil neer vazhindhaal, en nenjil udhiram kottudhadi
(Meaning: When I see tears trickling down your eyes, blood pours out of my heart)

Later in the evening, the boys joked about their own version of the song:
un kannil neer vazhindhaal, naan cooling glass koddupen
(Meaning: When I see tears trickling down your eyes, I will bring sun glasses to you)

I love how the boys are always looking out for me. What more does a gal need?

On the Spice of Life – The Story of Paruppu Podi Present

{Paruppu podi, paruppu means dhal and podi means powder in Tamil. It is also called Spiced Dhal Powder.}

I would drive home from work after a long day and start cooking. Since I didn’t want the boys to feel the void, I would go the extra mile. I would lay out an elaborate spread on the dining table.

They would show up at the table day after day and asked one question – “Where is the paruppu podi?

I seethed inside….but, would just smile, walk over to the pantry and bring out the paruppu podi box.

How could I blame the boys for looking past my elaborate spread?

They had grown up with both sets of grandparents pampering them in every away possible… including food.Before the grandparents returned to India after their frequent trips to the US, they would have made tons of paruppu podi and store them in the pantry. It was what you call “risk management” or “contingency plan” or “Plan B”. You get that, right? To save the boys from my “cooking” and ensure they are fed well….at least with paruppu podi.

So, that is what happened for over a decade.
Grandparents arrive.
Grandparents pamper.
Grandparents feed.
Grandparents make tons of paruppu podi and store them in the pantry.
Grandparents return.

I go to work.
Come back.
Cook.
Serve.
And the boys didn’t give a rat’s a** about my serving.
They wanted the freakin’ paruppu podi that their grandparents had made.

I was narrating this story to my neighbor Gita.

Guess what happened a week later?

When Gita’s mom came to visit Austin, she brought over a box of yummy paruppu podi for the boys.

I am so thankful for the bonds that bind us together…..because, such is the spice of life.

On the Spice of Life – The Story of Paruppu Podi Past

{Paruppu podi, paruppu means dhal and podi means powder in Tamil. It is also called Spiced Dhal Powder.}

Amma grew up near border of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. So, she spoke both Tamil and Telugu fluently. We celebrated festivals of both states. Her cooking also had influences of both states. I grow up hearing about gongura pacchadi and pulusu that Amma had grown up with.

From my childhood, I ate paruppu podi. Thatha, Appa and Amma would make it together. It used to be Appa’s job to buy the different ingredients (red chilli, black pepper, different types of lentils etc) . Thatha cleaned and sun dried the ingredients. Amma fried the ingredients to perfection. Appa helped Amma run each of the ingredients through the dry mixer/grinder. He would keep asking “Pothumadi?” (Which literally meant “Is this enough?”) Amma would inspect inside the dry mixer/grinder and based on how coarse or fine that mixture had been ground too…. she would ask Appa to either continue or stop.

When I was very young, it was Thatha’s duty to run the powder through the sieve and place the sieved paruppu podi in a dry container.

As years passed, and I grew up, I noticed that Amma would sneer at Thatha for sneezing when he did the sieving. Appa wouldn’t sneer at Thatha…but his body language told me that he didn’t approve of Thatha’s spilling even a bit of the precious paruppu podi when the transfer happened to the dry container.

To prevent Thatha from sneezing and getting sneered at, I volunteered to do the sieving and storing job. This wasn’t an easy job. As I sieved the powder, I would feel the urge to sneeze. But, Thatha (when Amma’s back was behind him), would shake his head vigorously. All that vigorous head shake meant was “Don’t sneeze. You are going to get in trouble with her.” I mastered the skill, over the years, to hold the sieve further away from my body (and nose) and complete the sieving without a single sneeze. When I was nearly done sieving without a single sneeze, Thatha would look at me very approvingly and give me a thumbs up.

Then, I had to carefully, transfer the paruppu podi to a dry container without dropping even a bit. I realised very early on that this was an impossible task. So, I decided to learn from the best. I followed Appa’s example. I first did the sieveing and ensured that the sieved powder feel on a large sheet of paper. Then, after the sieving was done, I held up the paper and dropped the paruppu podi carefully into a dry container as Appa looked on approvingly.

I grew up during rather simple times. Nobody praised me openly. Nobody said “Great job!”

Appa and Thatha’s approving looks and thumbs up was all I got. Well, that, and lack of Amma’s sneers. That was a high enough bar to live up to.

For many months the family would enjoy the paruppu podi mixed with hot rice and ghee (clarified butter) or sesame oil.

On the Bonds that Bind us to the Beyond

She firmly believed that I never ate or rested enough.
She didn’t worry as much about other things in my life…she knew I would survive.

When y’all ask me how I am doing without her, I don’t know quite how to answer that question.
Yes, in the worldy sense, she is gone.
But, to me, she is never gone.

I see her in everything.

When that sun rises in the morning and peeks through the clouds, I know she is out there looking out for me and asking me to lead a purposeful life that day and everyday.
When that speedy car came so close to ramming me on 183, I know it is her mysterious hand that added that inch worth of buffer space to save my life.
When that strong stench of vadavam emanates from the pantry, I know it is her reminding me to add that vadavam to spice up the sambar.
When that light breeze caresses my face and runs past my hair, I know it is her coming to soothe all my pains and worries away.
When y’all tell me about how I walk fast with an upright body, my head held straight and with my piercing gaze, I know it is her decades of encouraging me to be confident and strong…even during the rough days.
When y’all embrace me with all your soulful love, I know it is her way of making sure I am surrounded by never ending love, care and support.

I am not delusional. I just KNOW it with my gut.

Today, as I made rasam for the boys, I thougth of her.
I thought of how she would make the best rasam on this planet.
I thought of how she would filter the hot rasam and pour it in a tumbler.
I thought of how she would walk over slowly with her arthritis legs and place the tumbler on my work desk.
I thought of how she would nag me to drink up the rasam right away or else she was going to smack me.
I thought of all the things she would say to threaten me to eat on time and laughed and cried all at the same time.

To me, she is never gone.

I see her in almost everything…every day.