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Dhandu Mama’s Secret

Discussion in 'Snippets of Life (Non-Fiction)' started by Rrg, Oct 20, 2018.

  1. Rrg

    Rrg Gold IL'ite

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    Dhandu mama’s secret


    Year 1958:

    Our family was living in Triplicane, under the care of my mother and my elder siblings. The family shifted to Madras in 1956 for better education of we kids.

    My father was a Tahsildar in Tanjore District and would visit us once in a couple of months. His younger sister, my aunt, whose husband had deserted her at a very young age, had been staying with our family since then. When we all shifted to Madras, she remained with my father and took care of his household chores. My aunt was orthodox to the core and remaining in smaller towns around Tanjore suited her very well.

    My eldest sister was then around 20 years old or so and my parents started looking around for a suitable match for her. When a good alliance came our way, naturally my parents were keen on finalising the marriage soonest. So, my father preferred to have my mother and the sister with him for a couple of months. It was so decided to shift my aunt to Madras during the period of my mother’s absence for looking after Madras household.

    In Madras set -up we were 5 siblings, 4 of us in school and the eldest in college. The task of managing the household was very demanding, so to say. My aunt who never had to exert so much on household chores found the going tough. She was a very nice person but used to do the work at her own pace. It suited her well when they were only two, my father and her. But the shift to Madras started taking a toll on her. Even to get the food ready before we all leave for school was a task. Her routine got totally disturbed and she found herself not in a position to meet the schedule. She was exasperated, to say the least.

    At this stage, entered the hero of our story Dhandu mama. He had served as a soldier in the Indian Army. He was a bachelor. After retirement he had come to live with his distant relatives who were our neighbours. No doubt he was their unwanted guest. He preferred spending his days on our house piol (thinnai) which he found convenient, away from the prying eyes of his relatives. Also, most of the times he would sleep his time off, undisturbed. We also didn’t mind as there was some one, that too ex-military, providing us free security. Not that he was an imposing figure or something. Better to have someone in place of none. He would collect letters etc from postmen, drive away unwanted elements like ‘kudu kudu pandi’, ‘boom boom madu’, rapppichchai (night time beggars) etc. We used to give him a coffee or two during the day, when we all had it. He was fine with it. Over a period he started behaving more as a member of our family. He would volunteer for things like fetching some vegetables or getting some small time provisions from nearby ‘Chettiyar shop’.

    That he overheard from the piol whatever we discussed inside was well known. We were careful to discuss more private things deep inside the house in hushed tones so that nothing reached Dhandu’s ears.

    One fine morning, in total exasperation, our aunt expressed her inability to cope up with the household work and wanted to get back to my father’s place for good. She found it too much to cook food - sambar, rasam, vegetables, rice everything for six of us, before we leave for school. Those days there were no such caterers in Madras (as they are to day) to supply cooked food at the doorstep.

    My eldest brother cajoled her not to throw in the towel and assured her that he would find some alternative at least for part of the food items from outside. Even though he was bold enough to assure her, he had no idea asto where from he could source them. He was concerned. In my mother’s absence, if my aunt also scooted, the entire burden would be on him only. After all he was only a college student.

    Dhandu mama had been listening to these conversations, without our knowledge. When my brother was leaving for college that day he came to him and said that he was well aware of our aunt’s difficulties in getting the food ready in time. He volunteered to get sambar at least, against a nominal payment, from a nearby first class vegetarian hotel. He assured that the hotel owner was a friend of his and wouldn’t refuse his request. This came as a big relief to my brother. Immediately he paid some advance to him and asked him to arrange for supplying sambar on a daily basis. The supplies started the same day. Our aunt was thrilled. She proclaimed that it was the tastiest sambar that she ever consumed. Perhaps the relief of not preparing sambar in the morning itself made it more tastier for her. We children had no say in such matters of taste. What was provided was to be consumed, that was the discipline followed at home. No questions; no tantrums.

    Dhandu mama was very punctual in getting sambar on time daily.

    But, despite repeated requests of my brother, he did not divulge the details of the hotel. My aunt who was terribly pleased with the arrangement insisted on my brother not pushing Dhandu mama for more details.

    “Why do you bother where from he gets? The sambar is very tasty and comes on time. What more do we want?” she would say.

    One day my brother, being very curious about the source, followed Dhandu mama without his knowledge to unravel the mystery. He found the mama going inside a nearby military hotel “Hotel de Shadi” and emerge after a few minutes with our vessel full of sambar. My brother was shocked. “Why onion sambar from a military hotel?” he wondered.

    Then the mama sat outside the hotel and started taking out the ‘onion pieces’ from the sambar one by one. My brother went closer to observe the mama’s activities. It was then it struck him that the so called onion pieces were nothing but fish bits. All along the mama had been supplying us with fish sambar as onion sambar, after fishing out all fishes. He caught Dhandu mama red-handed - or was it fish-handed? The mama was profusely apologetic. It was then it came to light that the mama was very fond of non-veg, especially fish, while in army and missed it badly on retirement. His relatives were vegetarians and so there was no possibility of getting home made non-veg stuff. Also, he couldn’t afford to buy it on his own, given the meagre pension. So he thought up on the idea of hitting two mangoes with one stone - sambar for us and fish for him.

    It came as a rude shock to all of us, being pure vegetarians. For my orthodox aunt, the shock was multifold. Poor one went on cursing Dhandu mama with choicest abuses for having made her eat fish.

    “Kattela pohara kadankara kammanaty” was one of the chosen names she conferred on Dhandu mama. (I don’t want to translate this. If some one doesn’t understand Tamil, suffice to know that it is a colourful abuse but not in the realm of vulgar).

    Dhandu mama never turned up either at our place or at our neighbour’s thereafter. The neighbour were very happy at the disappearance of their unwanted relative, but never ever guessed our role in it. We on our part also did not want to publisize the incident for fear of being rediculed at our gullibility.

    The shock of being cheated spurred our aunt on and her performance improved over night. The in-house cooked food was ready on time from the very next day onwards, with no exasperation expressed.
    All is well that ends well.

    “You can’t trust any body in these wretched cities. They will remove your own undergarments without your knowledge and sell them back to you for a good price” she would say.

    Cheers,
    RRG
    20/10/2018
     
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  2. jayasala42

    jayasala42 IL Hall of Fame

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    Very interesting to know of Dandu mama's secret.Sometimes we have to do certain make-believe actions in life.My mother-in-law was a very nice lady, very adjustable and understanding.Exemplary mamiyar, I say it with pride. Wherever we went on LFC we took her with us.She was much interested in sight seeing.She would tell all connected historical events in an interesting story like fashion to my children.
    The only problem was she never used to take food outside home. I used to take a stove, a kilo of rice,dhal and tamarind.Without the knowledge of lodge owners I cooked her food in the morning before sight seeing.We used to take her food alone in a small tiffin carrier and we used to eat in hotel. Sometimes children were adamant in sharing her food.
    As long as we went on South Indian visit it was all ok. We planned a trip to Delhi, Agra,Mathura ,Brindavan and Kashmir for 15 days. It was a problem.We were strictly not allowed to take the stove.I have to play the the role of Dandu mama. We made arrangements with Nataraja Iyer mess in karol Bagh where many South Indian bachelors used to take food in the morning before 9A. M.We stayed in Delhi hotel neare to mess for about 10 days.
    The first day we explained to Nataraja Iyer our problems. When we were trying to segregate onion pieces from Sambar, as your Dandu mama did, actually Nataraja mama came to our rescue. "An intelligent woman will easily find out from the smell that it is onion sambar and she may refuse to take" he said.He went inside and prepared morkuzhambu within 5 mts and took back his sambar.
    For all the ten days he took special care that no onion or garlic was added to sambar/rasam.
    When we went to Kashmir for seven days he packed special chapathis and pooris that will last long the entire trip .I had ready made dry chutney powder on hand and it had to be just mixed with some water.
    My mother-in-law felt very happy, though I had some guilty conscience.My son aged 12 ,intermittently used to black mail us stating that he would convey the secret to patti.We used to beg and satisfy the kid's small needs.
    My mother-in-law paid lot of tributes to me and my husband for patience and interest in taking care of her needs without sacrificing acharam.
    More than our ingenuity ,I feel that my mother-in-law, very intelligent as she was, would have guessed that we got the food, not from any home, but some restaurant with specifications. In her desire to see places of historical importance she didn't open her mouth till her last days-she lived 10 more years.The lady who could differentiate between chola, pallava, chalukya and odissa architecture and could explain to her grand children, would have been able to differentiate between food prepared at home, that prepared at a mess.Even then she was not ready to go straight to a hotel and dine.
    A grand old lady whom I revere a lot and whom I consider as 'nidarsana mamiyar'.
    Sorry for long response. On many occasions we are forced by circumstances to speak untruth and make it look like unblemished truths.
    jayasala 42

    Jayasala 42
     
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  3. Rrg

    Rrg Gold IL'ite

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    Dear Madam,
    At the outset your reply comes under the remark ‘comments of ignored member’. I am surprised to say the least. On my part I don’t ignore anyone’s comments, even if it sounds a bit harsh. I try to look into the views expressed and introspect. Sure enough, would post my reactions after introspection, expressing what I feel right. While that being so, I don’t understand why your reply is categorised ‘ignored’. I don’t know how to correct it. Please do let me know if you are aware.
    Be that as it may, I am thankful for your visit, your views and your story as well. Even though long, it provided an interesting reading.
    In the case of Dhandu mama, I think it was more his selfishness to eat fish made him mislead us calling fish sambar a vegetarian one. Otherwise the mama was a very decent person. I did not bring the issues like absence of any onion in sambar etc and Dhandu mama’s excuses for the same, in order to bring the size of my post as short as possible. At that point in time we were under compulsions to believe Dhandu mama is truthful and that was what mattered. I was very young then but understand from my elder siblings that most of them did not like the taste and hence my elder brother went snooping after the mama. In case of my aunt, the poor lady perhaps felt so relieved that she didn’t make any issue. All the same we learnt a lesson and I ended up getting some material for my story.:laughing:
    As regards my future posts, kindly do visit and express your valuable comments.
    Thanks once again,

    Ps : I should have addressed you as Jayasalaji or ‘madam’ in my earlier reply to another post. By the time the realisation dawned on me, that you were elder to me at least by 9 years, you had withdrawn your feedback I think. I found it missing. Let me express my belated regrets and inform you that it was not intentional. I am sure you will understand.
    Cheers,
     
  4. jayasala42

    jayasala42 IL Hall of Fame

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    Dear Shri Rrg,
    I don't understand where that expression'ignored member 'is seen.I just read the message and if I have anything to say I just write and send.I am quite new to this word 'ignored member' and I do not know who categorised me as ignored member.So long I don't have any grievances against this forum and I just share my thoughts. That is all.
    Jayasala 42
     
  5. Viswamitra

    Viswamitra IL Hall of Fame

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    Dear Shri Rrg:

    Thank you for sharing your family's adventure of tasting the fish sambhar thanks to Dhandu Mama. Normally, any dish made out of fish will smell fishy and I didn't understand how the entire family used up the Sambar that too with a comment that it was tasting good.

    It is unfortunate that Dhandu Mama in his interest to have some fish, decided to buy Sambar from the military hotel and take out fish for himself and giving the rest to your family. Your older brother was smart to find that out and Dhandu Mama accepting his fault was good ending.

    Your post reminded me of an incident of my travel to Paris. We were visiting a company in Paris from Florida and the company hosted a dinner for all of us in the restaurant located in Eiffel Tower. Being a vegetarian, I wondered whether I would get anything to eat in that elevated restaurant located in the middle of the tower. After we were all seated, the menu card was given to all of us and I couldn't find a single vegetarian dish in the list. When I categorically declared I was vegetarian, there was a conference of all the bearers and one of them said, "I can do it". I thought he knows how to prepare a vegetarian dish for me. He came close to me and politely asked, "Is fish vegetarian?" After this question, I gave up and just managed with Pineapple Juice and bread for dinner.

    Being from TamBrahm family, I have strayed so much eating all kind of dishes in the college and after that until I was into Mid 30s. But my wife's disciplined life worshiping the God and Goddesses and our collectively involvement into a spiritual center changed my habit of eating all kinds of dishes. Before I gave up, my favorite dish used to be fish.

    Note: The colorful Thanjavur rant mentioned was noted.

    Viswa
     
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  6. Rrg

    Rrg Gold IL'ite

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    Thanks Vishwamitra for your visit and feed back.
    When the incident happened I was seven or so. Later on, I also used to think in those lines as to how no one in my house could smell some funny odor had it been fish sambar. I used to think that perhaps it was some other non-veg piece that my brother (who was 18 then and a full fledged vegetarian) mistook it for fish. Or was there anything special in that particular restaurant cooking that camouflaged the smell. It was any body’s guess. For sure, it was some thing Dhandu mama was interested in and which he was sure that we would not be. Even this morning, after my writing this post, first I mailed it to all my siblings for their reactions. We had an hearty laugh. The elder brother who unearthed the mystery then is around 79 now. He was keen that I don’t project Dhandu a villain of the piece.
    “He was a very decent man with some minor aberrations. Be careful when you describe his character”, was his suggestion. Hope I had done justice to his request. That even he doesn’t have any rancour against Dhandu mama pleases me.

    Your story on being served fish in Paris as a vegetarian dish is interesting. Thanks for sharing. This reminds me of my own similar experience.
    I was in international trade for decades and toured all over the world. Being a strict vegetarian, I used to face lot of problems for finding anything to eat in my earlier years. Later on, once I had become a fairly senior person, my contacts/ colleagues in respective countries would search for and keep a list of vegetarian eating places ready for my nod.
    During one of my very early visits to Geneva, Switzerland we had gone to see Jet d'Eau, the largest fountain. It was already quite late in the afternoon and I was very hungry. My self and a Gujju friend, both being vegetarians were directed to a star hotel nearby. As you said about Paris, here also making the bearer understand the meaning of vegetarian was a tough task. Finally, we made it clear that “it is no egg; no fish; no chicken; no mutton; no beef; ........ “
    After all these explanations the bearer said he had understood and went in. 15 minutes are so later he returned with an item with lots of leaves, few vegetable pieces with some white cut pieces like cheese. We were very hungry and raring to go. But, to be on the safer side asked him asto what the white pieces were.
    “ Oh! They are rabbit. You no say ‘no rabbit’. I bring rabbit”
    We were shocked. I controlled my emotions and told him “no rabbit also”.
    “Fine” he said, took out all white pieces and served us the rest.
    We ignored it and settled for lunch with some bread and ice cream or so.

    As regards Thanjavur rants, it is well known that once the ranter picks momentum the rants become much more colourful. I am reminded of a competition during our Management Trainee days between the rants of various parts of the country. Finally my batchmate from Tanjore won hands down even over my Sardar batchmate’s Punjabi gallies. So much for Tanjore rants. :grinning::grinning::grinning:
    Cheers,
    RRG
     
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  7. Rrg

    Rrg Gold IL'ite

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    Let me try to register a complaint. Perhaps you could also try at your end. Thanks for responding.
    Cheers,
     
  8. Viswamitra

    Viswamitra IL Hall of Fame

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    Dear Rrg,

    Before you report, you need to try something. I have a feeling that it might be something that accidentally happened at your end. If you go to your profile page, you will see a drop down menu when you click on "Rrg". In the drop down menu, you click on "People you ignore" and see whether you have accidentally included Smt. Jayasala's name in it. If it is not the case, then, you can report it.

    Viswa
     
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  9. Rrg

    Rrg Gold IL'ite

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    Thanks Viswa.
    I could set the issue right with your advice. While I had never even visited my profile in the recent past, I don’t know how it happened. Things are fine now.
    Thanks once again.
    Cheers
     
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