Chakli: Of shared television, ‘natrajani’ and accidents!

The excitement is building up… kids start trickling in first, occupying the floor space in front. In a little while, older people start coming in, grinning self-consciously as they do. The women have mallepoovulu (jasmine) strands in their hair, faces scrubbed and bindis refreshed with a fresh application of kumkum (this was in the days before the “sticker bottu” or sticker bindi had come into the market and kumkum paste and kumkum were still used. The older people sit at the back. Finally the family who actually lived in the house (you thought it was a public ‘function hall’ or what???!) came and occupied the chairs at the back, which had been pushed so far back with the twenty or so bodies pressing up in front that they had no choice!

Wedding? Party? Free meals? You’re all wrong! It is the early ’80s and television had just arrived in most Indian states. Very few households, even in the big cities, had a TV set. With just one channel – the government-run Doordarshan, India was introduced to the pleasures of home entertainment (hithertofore provided by gossipy neighbours, oh-my-god amateur Carnatic music recitals by the daughters of the household and an occasional festival).

The world had entered our drawing room – on a dark decolam and chrome pedestal and India rushed to embrace it – by entertaining every neighbour, and there were many of these, who did not possess a TV set! The telecast began only after five in the evening – the government, in its wisdom, decided that only so much TV was good for the soul!

Friday evenings and Saturdays were special, the former airing a film-based music programme – Chitrahaar – and the latter with, what else, a film! Otherwise the workday evening was enlivened for those who owned a TV set, by a farmers programme! I am city-born and city-bred but I can still reel off statistics on how phosphate and “natrajani” (nitrogen) is to be used for what crop – we watched it for lack of anything else to watch!

Strangely, for all the Indian love of Antakshari, no one sang along with the Chitrahaar programme. One the contrary, they listened in reverential silence as the old time heroes and heroines cavorted around trees, singing their favourite songs!

Come Saturday, much planning was done for an early dinner so that the movie could be viewed in unalloyed enjoyment, kids were put to bed if they were young enough, exhorted to be on their best behaviour if they were old enough to watch the movie and sent off to the neighbour’s to ‘book’  a seat on the floor!

India being what it was then, no one even thought of barring sundry neighbourhood kids from this weekly ritual. The owners of TV sets were invariably a generous breed, not ony putting up with the uninvited crowd with good grace but praying silently that no snotty kid would, under cover of darkness enlivened only by the flickering screen (these TV viewing sessions were always in darkness, btw, all lights being switched off, maybe to enhance the “theatre experience” but more likely to save on power bills!) carefully wipe the gold he dug out of his nose on the upholstery! What was worse, of course, was to switch the lights on, find one kid streaking out of your house as though the devil were on his tail. Invariably this meant that someone had had an “accident”. Not wanting to miss even a second of the movie, he wouldn’t have asked to use the bathroom!

Ah well, no one ever complained that we were not an inclusive society!

Like a circle… like many concentric circles… like this…


  • Rice flour – 2 cups
  • Urad dal flour (wash, dry in the shade, roast and powder) – 2 tbsp
  • Salt- 3/4 tsp
  • Butter – melted – 2 tbsp
  • Red chili powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Sesame seeds – 1 tsp
  • Asafoetida – 1 large pinch
  • Oil to deep fry

Mix everything except the oil together adding water a little at a time to make a stiff-ish dough.

Squeeze out of a chakli mould – see pic – into hot (but not smoking hot) oil in spirals.

Lower heat and fry till golden brown, turning over once.

Check the living room for stray kids before you sit down to eat!