Our house Raju Bhavan was located on 411 Vysial Street, Coimbatore – 641001. We lived as a huge joint family. Our family consisted of my brother, parents, grandparents, grandaunts, granduncles, and my great grandfather. The house used to resemble a jigsaw puzzle and it had multiple entrances. This ancient house extended well into the Big Bazaar Street. It was perhaps the best place to play hide and seek.
Several staircases, swings, and storerooms were part of this household. My great grandfather, P. A. Raju Chettiar, and his brother, Ramaswamy, believed in staying together. Therefore, the family just kept acquiring all the properties in the neighbourhoods and connected all of them to fulfil the needs of a growing family.
This huge family consisted of four generations and our house was blessed with several wells, tiny gardens, coconut trees and cows. A separate building on the opposite side was our car shed. There were rooms for learning music, arts, and crafts. Our house was supported by a huge volley of retainers, and it was non-stop entertainment 24x7. This network of properties was endowed with a vast terrace area, and we used to go and play there.
Come summer, the women of the house will begin to prepare Vadagam-s (Deep fried rice crisps). Grandmother Lalitha will hire a special cook to help us in the process. Dhoti-s will be spread on the terrace, and they used to take the vessels containing the vadagam gruel. It will be hop-skip-jump and vajra aasanam for the women. They will take the gruel in their hand or in a tiny ladle, adjust, drop, tiny dumplings of the same. Big nets designed like baskets would be placed above the dhoti-s containing the vadagam-s. This would save them from birds, insects, and rodents.
Grandmother and the rest would come back into the household huffing and puffing. They will freshen themselves up, have lunch, and go back to the terrace to check out on the vadagam-s. We would all return from school by about 3.45 pm or so and would jump with joy on learning about the vadagam preparations. I remember my brother Suresh and myself kept nudging our mother to give us some semi-dried vadagam-s. The vadagam-s would have got sun-dried, and a crust would be covering the soft portion within.
Mummy used to take us to the terrace and remove a few vadagam-s from the dhoti and give it to us. We would savour it and keep asking for more. I would tell her that I wished to consume my share of the vadagam-s in the semi-dried form itself. However, she would tell us that it would be better to stop eating in the interest of our own stomach. Our tuition teacher, Sinclair, would also be served the semi-dried vadagam with the evening coffee.
The vadagam exercise will go on for a couple of days and the sun-dried vadagam-s would be taken to the storeroom. Our family had reserved a few containers for the same and these containers would be place under lock and key, for they were precious.
There were a few women who lived in the nearby streets, and they knew about our cravings connected with the semi-dried vadagam-s. They would therefore market these semi-dried vadagam-s at our household. Prakash, Vijayalakshmi, Yamuna, Suresh, Vinod and I used to love these vadagam-s. Of course, the other cousins who visited us during summer would also enjoy these vadagam-s. They included Radhika, Anitha, Kalpana, Jana, Geetha, Sumathi, and Niranjan. It used to be real fun.
I particularly remember this humorous vadagam related incident which occurred when I was around 8 years old. My grandmother had gone upstairs to inspect the vadagam-s and ensure that they were all safe. She was shocked to see our household help Kala eating the vadagam-s directly from the dhoti. Kala was a teenager, and she not only ate the vadagam-s but also licked her fingers and dirtied the entire setup.
Grandmother was quite shocked. She yelled at Kala and began running towards her. My grandmother was an extremely fair-complexioned, fat person. She would be dressed in Conjeevarama-s and would sport a bun on her head. Kala was a fat teenager and I still remember this dimple-cheeked, dark-complexioned girl who helped our family in our household chores. My grandmother had caught Kala red-handed with a few vadagam-s in one of her hands and this incident infuriated this otherwise calm head of the family.
My grandmother charged at Kala by shouting out, “Nakki, Nakki thinnuvaya d...” (You dame! How dare you lick and eat?). This mortified Kala and she started to run towards the other side of the vadagam dhoti. My huffing and puffing grandmother ran towards her and the two of them started to run around the dhoti in circles. After a minute or two, grandmother gave up and thereafter decided to dispose the sullied vadagam-s. Here ire towards Kala was because her hard work had gone waste. All the other women pacified her, and she came back to her old self.
All of us, particularly, Yamuna and I, continue to recall this incident once in a way for it would lighten our spirits. Well, these vadagam-s would be deep fried in good oil and would be left in container which would resemble a sieve at the bottom. A lid would be placed on top, and a tiny container would be attached to the portion which resembled a sieve. The excess oil would eventually into the tiny container through the sieve-like setup.
We would have these vadagam-s along with chaaru annam and Pulusu annam (Sambar rice). However, we would always love the semi-dried vadagam-s the most. They were slurpy and delicious.
My grandmother was inadvertently known to invite the rain gods on the days when she placed the vadagam-s on the terrace. It was possibly because we belonged to the Rishyashringa gotra. Sage Rishyashringa was brought to Anga Kingdom for the purpose of ensuring good rainfall. Anyway, it would rain nicely, and the hot summer would get cooler because of grandmother’s vadagam-s!
One of our family elders, Damodaran, would request my grandmother to make vadagam-s to drive away the sweltering heat! And she would instantly obey.
Even as I was ruminating and catching up over this subject over T. R. Surya and Vigneshwaran, my mouth began to salivate. The very thought of these crusty-topped but soft from within vadagam-s would want to transport me back to my childhood days at our house Raju Bhavan.
Mr. Rajesh Govindarajulu is one of the founding members of the Verandah Club Pvt. Ltd. He is a leading columnist, historian, jeweler, entrepreneur, and a heritage enthusiast who is earnestly working to revive the past in the light of the present. Experiential learning about the history of Coimbatore is his main course of interest and he is also a panel member of many colleges in the city.
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