Of generous uncles and a museum for scooters!

“Brrrrr… pttt… ptttt… pttt… thud… OUCH!” and repeat that at least a dozen times… the number of young nephews and sundry friends of theirs who have learnt to ride on my uncle’s (Murali maama) scooter!

Visiting every museum we could find on our travels through America, three aerospace museums (I’m not kidding!) included amongst the Julia Child’s museum, Smithsonian, Adler, the Met, the Deccan Sultanate show (which had me swooning in ecstasy at the beauty as much as it had me up in arms against the looting of my country during the Raj days) and many more, I am beginning to think that this trusty old Lambretta of my uncle’s also belongs in one of those – at the very least – maybe it even merits a museum of its own!

That scooter was bought, if memory serves me right, sometime in the early seventies and lasted over two decades of hard, very hard use, not counting the demands made on it by many nephews, all intent on cutting a dashing figure on their own, dreamed-of trusty steeds some day!

In their imagination, they were not riding a neutral dust brown (shows the least number of scratches!) painted chubby little, definitely middle-aged scooter but a dashing, silky smooth, black charger of a Yezdi or a tremble-with-fear-all-ye-who-hear thunder of a Bullet!

Plonk, splat… go the dreams as the dreamer takes yet another tumble! But that doughty old lady of a Lambretta taught them much more than just how to ride a bike – it taught a generation to pick itself up, dust itself off and then get right back on again – patched up with a Band-Aid where possible, wiped off with a dusty cloth where not (asepsis? antibiotics? what the heck are those??!) till the old lady was satisfied. The show was over only when the fat, old lady sang – a smooth ride with a pillion rider!

That scooter was also about a spirit of sharing in a day when most people guarded their two-wheelers as closely as Fort Knox, polishing them morning and evening and not letting anyone lay a finger on them! You could look, you could ooh and aah in admiration but woe betide you if your breath so much as steamed up the gleaming tank surface (much like an overblown beetle’s torso!). Kids were banished for lesser sins!

Murali maama, on the contrary, was happy to lend (at least we thought so – I really have to ask him what he actually felt!) his scooter to anyone who had a desire to learn. Long live his ilk of generous souls!

And for Murali maama, a connoisseur of South Indian tiffins (that’s where the Nemali love of vadas originated!), here’s one very South Indian favourite…


  • Idli rice/parboiled rice/uppudu biyyamu/puzhungal arisi – 1.5 cups
  • Raw rice – 1/2 cup
  • Poha – 1/2 cup
  • Urad dal/black gram dal/minappappu/uzhundu– a generous half cup
  • Salt

Soak the dal and the rice separately for about 3-4 hours.

Wash the poha and soak for ten minutes.

Grind the dal and rice separately to a not-too-fine batter and mix the two well, whisking to aerate. Leave in a warm place to ferment overnight or for 8-10 hours. Add salt and mix well.


  • Sesame oil (susbstitutes can be used but the fragrance cannot be replicated with other oils) – 1 tbsp
  • Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
  • Peppercorns – crushed slightly – 1 tsp
  • Jeera/cumin seeds – 1/2 ts p- crush slightly
  • Asafoetida – 1/8 tsp
  • Curry leaves – crushed or shredded into small pieces – 2 sprigs
  • Dried ginger powder – 1/4 tsp
  • Chana dal/ Bengal gram dal/senaga pappu/kadale paruppu – 1 tbsp
  • Urad dal – 1 tsp
  • Cashew nut bits – 1 tbsp
  • Green chilies – minced – 1 or 2

Heat the oil and ghee together in a small pan and add the mustard seeds.

When they splutter, add everything else and saute for a few seconds.

Cool a little and pour over the batter.

Add turmeric if you want yellow idlis.

Pour into greased katoris (small steel cups) or small coffee tumblers or idli moulds and steam for 12-15 minutes till done.

Sprinkle a little water over and demould (cool water helps to demould easily).

Serve with coconut chutney or red coconut chutney (flavoured with red chilies instead of green).

My favourite extremely simple chutney for this is 1/2 cup coconut ground with 3 red chilies, 5 spring onions, water and salt!