Food is love, food is magic. Everything lies in food. This is Rajini Chandy’s mantra and simple recipe for joy. And who may Rajini Chandy be? She’s the youthfully mature woman who played the ebullient grandma in the Malayalm flick “Oru Muthassi Gadha”. Not only was the movie a hit, but it also won for Rajini accolades for her portrayal of an offbeat grandma.
Not for her typecast concepts of womanhood or wifehood. She had defied and broken them all and lived her life to the fullest, still raring to go for more as she infects all those around with her joie de vivre.
Happily chirping away to Onmanorama, Rajini Chandy recalls her early days in Mumbai where food was the pivotal point of life. Friends and family would drop in and not one of them left without sharing a meal or grub of some sort. “If they still remember me today, it’s got to be through the food and flavours I served them with love”, says Rajini. Easter and Christmas used to be special days when food in plenty was passed around. Over and above all that was the air of hospitality, that home sweet home feeling with which she made her guests feel at ease. She’s sure of a place in her old Mumbai mates’ hearts for the warmth with which she welcomed them in.
Nothing like food and hospitality. They are magic, says Rajini.
The lockdown has not got her down. On the contrary, she has beaten the blues away by opening a chat and cook channel on YouTube.
RajiniChandy used to watch her mother’s moves in her kitchen as she took her baby steps in cooking. There were times when guests would drop in while her mother was cutting and cleaning fish. While her mum would set aside her work to welcome her guests in, little Rajini would try to cut the fish and invariably end up grazing her fingers. Her mum’s yelling was no deterrent as the young girl persisted in her attempts and won. “Give me any fish today and I’ll cut it up with ease. It’s that simple”, beams Rajini.
Happy, when the plates are eaten clean
A woman’s joy is full when the food is relished and polished off. One eats only when the grub is good and it’s fulfilling to watch folks eating heartily. Rajini says this love and commitment to food is something that was passed down to her by her mother for whom food was as reverential as life.
Appreciate what you eat and express it
If one has to dine well, someone has to do the cooking. That’s for sure. If that’s so, it ought to be so simple to thank the person who cooked for you. Say how much you enjoyed it. Does anyone ever thank the woman of the house for cooking a fine meal?
“In recent times, I’ve heard that housewives have been asking for some sort of salary or wages in recognition of their work. But a few kind words appreciating their efforts would be of more worth. A woman’s cup of joy brims over when her kids say their mum’s food was yummy”, says Rajini.
Shared dinner, a must
Dinner was always a family affair. The whole family would sit down to all the meals. Never an isolated affair, it was a compulsory routine. As a child, she recalls how the family would sit down for their kanji. The tradition continues to this day.
While in Mumbai, a lot of friends would drop in. Those were not mere chit-chat sessions, for they knew that good food would follow. Besides, they knew they were always welcome.
When people come to your place, they sum up the atmosphere. Each mood of yours will be reflected on your face and that’s where the importance of hospitality comes in. Folks can gauge whether they are welcome or not by what spreads out on your face, your expression. One small shade of displeasure will put them off for ever, says the mod muthassi.
Life is a journey of learning
Life is a teacher. No one is born an expert. People and experiences teach us much. There are so many around us with sterling qualities. Unfortunately, the perception of a role model has changed. Women have the misconception that trendy dressing, bright lip colour and a smartphone in hand are the ultimate style statements. This, to them, is sophistication.
One can yet look fab in a simple cotton sari, sans make-up and lip gloss. The smile you wear is what matters the most. That says who you are, says Rajini. The way we present or project ourselves is ultimately what we are.
No matter the circumstances, be it hard days or tough times, she has always had a smile on her face. The rule of happiness says if you meet a happy person, however unhappy you may be, their positive vibes will rub on you. Rajini Chandy has to this day, lived by this philosophy.
Cooking for joy
Rajini’s daughter Seena who was born and raised in Mumbai is now settled in the US. Like her mum, she too loves to cook. Most often the mother-daughter conversations veer round to cookery. During their Mumbai days, Rajini’s mother used to pack traditional eatables like “avulose unda” and “avulose podi” for her daughter. She recalls that she never once tried them out in Mumbai. But her daughter sees it differently. On all special occasions, she takes pains to bring a slice of Kerala to her US home. She treats her kids and relatives to Kerala’s own avulose undas.
It all boils down to the passion one has for anything at all. Today’s youngsters are very much into baking. They successfully bake and sell cakes in myriad varieties and flavours. There’s a commercial angle to it too.
Rajini loves to cook for large numbers, for parties, family get-togethers. She hates to order food from sources outside and does all the cooking.
Math is another passion
If not cooking, then it’s got to be math for Rajini whose hobby it is to keep repeating multiplication tables while driving. Keep repeating them aloud and they automatically creep into a kid’s learning system, she adds. Here’s one lady who has proved that age is just a number. It looks like the lockdown has been the best time of her life. She has taken to the drums on which she practices daily.
Oru Muthassi Gadha
Rajini is happy with her Oru Muthassi Gadha channel on YouTube.
“It dawned on me that a lot of people love me. I get so many comments”, she says with a twinkle. It thrills her no end to read comments like: I love you, ammachy, I ought to have been your daughter, et al. She says she wears no make-up. Nor does she put on airs. Yet, a lot of negative comments pour in, poking her for her “airs”. Most of the comments are from women which is quite surprising, says Rajani.
She feels happy and blessed in that she has lived a life which an ordinary Malayali woman could only dream of. “When I share my life’s experiences and tell folks how I’ve lived, how privileged I was, how can it be an exercise in boasting”? asks a naturally worried Rajani.
The muthassi keeps her videos simple in style. There’s a lot of chatting and a quite a bit of cooking too, says the Rajiniwho enjoys life in retirement with husband Varghese Chandy in their home in Aluva.
Rajininever forces food on others. Most often, she asks people for their preferences before they are invited in. Though the couple enjoys food, they are moderate eaters. No inclination towards sweet stuff and no nibbling either.
Cooking not a burden
The lady has her set of kitchen rules. No cooking when guests are in. The first half is prepared the previous day and given final touches well before people troop in.
Cooking involves planning. Have a clear idea of what to cook. All veggies and other ingredients are to be chopped and set well before the gas is lit. And the golden rule: Not more than two hours and a half a day in the kitchen! No ready-made powders for her. Everything is home-made. This includes powdered rice for appam and puttu.
It’s kanji and payar for supper. The couple never gorges on food and is happy with a dish of veggies or fish. The vegetables come from their yard.
When mangoes, Chinese potatoes and long beans are farmed in plenty, she deep freezes the bountiful yield for use later. Chinese potatoes are cleaned, cut and steamed along with coconut slices and green chillies. These are then packed into separate zip pouches as per requirement and frozen. Mangoes too are cooked with chilly powder, cooled and packed. They are thus well preserved and can be kept for up to a year. In the same way, one can steam and preserve snake gourd and long beans along with scraped coconut, shallots and green chillies.
Fish is the family favourite, followed by chicken roast, all made as per Rajini’s simple recipes.