One of the people in my life who had a profound influence on my early years was my maternal grandfather – Nemali Krishnamurthy. Thatha was a most interesting gentleman, deeply interested in everything in life – from flora and fauna to cuisine to English literature to waltzes and foxtrots – at which he was an expert – so much so that he actually won first prize at a club Christmas ball when he was over seventy years old!
Born with a diamond spoon in his mouth, Thatha had a very privileged upbringing – with an English governess, horse-riding and dancing lessons! For a while, he was a Prince and then became well, if not quite the proverbial pauper, definitely lost the family fortune! But men and women of those days were made of a tough fibre – he picked himself up, continued to live life king-sized and enjoyed every bit of a bit – a true bon viveur. Grew roses, bred dogs, had to have his drink of an evening and on the other hand, the Hyderabadi habit of making a ceremony of paan (betel-leaf bundle) rolling with bits and pieces added carefully from his silver dabba, dancing at the club, history, neighbours – there was nothing he was not interested in – all with a large and hospitable heart!
Very Anglicised (not a bad word those days, though we squirm a bit in our more politically correct times!), he was a stickler for absolutely ‘propah’ diction and taught me how to ace the practice we had at school of having to read the news at assembly every morning. He taught me how to read the paper, condense the headlines and deliver them with panache – came in very handy later during B-school presentations!
He was quite tolerant of most things that parents and grandparents are fussed about today but an absolute stickler for what he considered were values that could not be violated – one of these being sneaking – tale-telling. He didn’t care that the neighbouring gardeners of various grape and mango gardens used to complain about his grandchildren stealing fruit and then running away too fast to be caught – thought it rather a sport, in fact but catch one of us telling tales out of school and BANG – retribution was as swift as it was dreaded! To this day, I think none of his nineteen grandkids will forget those lessons!
When I was about eleven years old or so, thinking myself unobserved, I was dancing away happily in front of the mirror to a film song. Thatha came in without my noticing him and when I did, I was terribly embarrassed – I was a pre-teen- remember? One is embarrassed about everything in life! He must have known it because all he said was he’d teach me a few steps if I wanted!
My thatha also used to make the most divine upma in the world – a simple dish that is very easy to ruin, I assure you!
Here’s my thatha’s…
- Bombay rava– semolina – 2 cups
- Ghee – 2 tbsp + 1tsp
- Green chilies – 3 – slit
- Ginger – 1/2 ” piece – grated
- Onions – 1 – chopped very fine – optional
- Curry leaves – 2 sprigs
- Sugar – 1/2 tsp
- Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
- Chana dal – 1 tbsp
- Urad dal – 1 tbsp
- Asafoetida – 1/4 tsp
- Sesame oil – 1 tbsp
- Boiling water – 3.5 cups
- Cashewnuts – a handful – halved
Heat the oil and ghee together. Add the cashewnuts and fry on a low flame till golden yellow. Remove and set aside. In the same oil, add the mustard and chana dal.
When the mustard begins to splutter and the chana dal turns golden, add the urad dal and fry for a few seconds more.
Add the asafoetida and curry leaves. Add the green chilies, onions and ginger. Fry till onions are translucent.
Add the rava and fry for 3-4 minutes. Add salt. On a very low flame, add the water, stirring constantly. The rava will become lumpy if you leave it unattended.
Keep stirring for 3-4 minutes. Then cover and let it cook for a further 3-4 minutes. Open, sprinkle sugar over and a tsp of ghee and cover again. Switch off and let it rest for a few minutes. the sugar will melt and keep the rava grains separate so you get a lovely poola maadiri (like flowers!) texture. Loads of variations – peas, tomatoes and so on..
Mix, sprinkle cashewnuts over and serve.
Give you energy to waltz!