Of corncobs and donkeys!


“Do you like cholam?”(corn)

“What’s that?”

“Vekkam illai!”

“What’s THAT?”

Having a conversation with Vasavi, a seven year old friend of Archana’s as we are driving home after school for tea and asking her whether she’d like corn (cholam) for tea. Growing up in Madras of Tamil-speaking parents, I’d assumed kids would have a working knowledge of the language – not to be – including mine! My response “Vekkam illai” – was to tell the kids that they ought to be ashamed of themselves for not speaking their mother tongue / local lingo whatever! 

Children of couples with different languages – like me – end up like the proverbial dhobi ka gadha – na ghar ka na ghat ka – speaking only English as their common language – the changing face of India today!

Thus began a campaign to teach them languages. Our car pool usually had four or five kids on the way to and from school so it was easy to make a game of it. I’d throw a word – either in English or Tamil or Hindi and the kids had to respond with synonyms or as close as they could get to it in the other two languages! Telugu was added to make it more fun occasionally. Instant carrots and no sticks for wrong guesses except the risk of being called a “kazhidai” (donkey)!  Vocabulary improved hugely over the next few months, including (inadvertantly) some choice ones I’d use to yell at other drivers on the road! Hey, these are Indian roads and we all know what the traffic is like! Expletives were obviously picked up much more easily and never forgotten as they came back to haunt me years later when I yelled at one of the kids – “Where on earth DID you learn language like that????! I’d ask only to be told “From you! Remember that day on that road when that chap cut across in front of you… etc. etc… ” Now if only they had as good a memory for a Physics problem, we’d have a nation of Newtons!

So here’s the cholam we had for tea that first day!


½ kg boiled American sweet corn – or – 4 corncobs – boil and dehusk

5 large tomatoes – blanch, peel and chop

1 large onion – sliced

6 cashewnuts + 1” piece ginger +2 flakes garlic + 2 pods cardamom – grind all together into a fine paste.

1 green chili – finely chopped

1 tsp red chilli pwd

½ tsp jeera pwd

½ tsp sugar

Salt to taste

1 tsp ketchup

1tbsp oil + 1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp cream or 2 tbsp hot milk

1 tsp kasooti methi

1 tbsp chopped coriander

Heat oil in a saucepan. Fry onions till brown. Remove and purée onions and tomatoes together.

Add butter to saucepan, heat and add jeera and chopped green chilli. Then add sugar and the tomato  purée, chilli pwd and ketchup.  Add cashew paste  and bring to boil. Add corn kernels and salt. Cover and cook till the raw tomato smell is gone. Add kasooti methi and mix. Switch off. Add cream or milk and swirl it in. Garnish with coriander and serve with hot buttered toast.