Of burnt offerings and “sweedishes”!


“Baaba maama is coming to dinner today and I’m making paayasam (milk based pudding).  Stand here and keep stirring it every couple of minutes or so”. And having given me clear instructions – in her opinion – my ever-busy mother runs off to the clinic – housed in our garage. I stand and I stir. But no one told me to not do anything else. So, in one of the two minutes breaks – must have been the frst one , why waste time?? – i ran off to get the latest book I was reading. After that, I followed my mother’s instructions to the ‘t’ – stirring every two minutes. What she HAD omitted to tell me was that there was an end point to the whole process – that the paayasam would actually get done at some point! So, i continued to stir and i continued to read. My subconscious (if i had known back then that it existed!) – was aware that weird smells were emanating from the neighbour’s house and I also felt sorry for them not having a “sweedish” (sweet dish pronounced at the speed at which Hyderabadis normally bring out their words!) made in my uncle’s honour – to look forward to.

Considering that the houses of those days had large gardens and high compound walls, whatever the neighbour was cooking must have been REALLY weird for me to smell – so I reasoned!

A couple of hours later, my mother comes running in – paayasam check! That’s when it dawned on that it was not just the neighbours but us who wouldn’t have any dessert – and that the weird smell was arising from the pot which I had been so assiduously stirring! I tried telling my mom that since the milk-based dish was now a rather dark brown, maybe we could pass it off as “chakkara pongal”        ( another rice dessert sweetened with jaggery and therefore brown in colour!).  But no marks were given for creativity (the bane of those days!) and the dish including the pot, were thrown out! My uncle – Baaba maama – kind hearted soul that he was  -told me years later when I grew up  – that the whole episode had given him more enjoyment than any bowl of regular paayasam would have done!

Let me redeem myself with a really simple and really delicious paayasam – one of the oldest puddings known to civilisation – the recipe remains almost unchanged from Vedic times! In Telugu, this is called “parama-annam” meaning celestial food.


  • Milk – 1.5 litres
  • Rice – washed – 2 tbsp
  • Sugar – 12 tsp
  • Saffron  – a few strands

Heat the milk in a heavy-bottomed vessel – a pressure cooker or an ‘uruli’ are great. Wash the rice adn add it to the milk. Cook on a low flame, stirring frequently till the rice is tender – about 20 minutes. Add the sugar and continue to cook till the rice is really soft. Add the saffron strands and switch off. Cover and cool before serving.