Documenting Daily Schedule and Menus ~ Telugu Great Granny Shanta Kumari

by on June 5, 2013


Shanta Kumari - Telugu Grandmother

As the strains of the Carnatic song “Vara veena mridu paani” played on the keys of the grand piano filled the air, I stood mesmerized looking at this beautiful and radiant great-grandmother whose fingers glided over the keys. Her joyous energy defied the 93 years of age. Chithirala Shanta Kumari completed the song and smiled at me, happy that I had identified the song; her eyes had not missed my lip sync while she was at the piano. Her roots are in Andhra Pradesh, though she is a Chennaite at heart. Blessed with 5 children, 8 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, she enjoyed answering my questions in English and proved to be a great conversationalist.


 Shanta Kumari

First of all, tell me about this piano since it occupies a large area of your living room. Is it a family heirloom?
Yes, it is a gift from the Mutha Venkata Subbarao family who were related to us. Seeing my daughter’s love for playing the piano, they gifted their piano to my family.


Have you always lived in Chennai?
Yes, I was born and brought up in Chennai. This is the city where I have spent my entire life. My maiden name was Meenakshi. I was married into the Chithirala family. My husband, Dr. C. Ranganathan, worked as an Honorary Assistant Physician in General Hospital and later as an Honorary Physician in Royapettah Hospital.


Your family members told me much about your love for documentation.
She: (Laughs heartily) I have always enjoyed maintaining family histories, dates of birth and death, travel dates and important events.


Nalini (granddaughter): She documents just about everything, like the British. Recipes, daily menus and daily schedules of the family are recorded meticulously in her diary. She preserves cuttings relevant to the interests of each family member from the daily newspaper and shares them with us.


All of them proceeded to show me her diary and pages, filled meticulously in English. I was truly inspired by Shantaji’s language skills and passion for history.


This is a novel experience for me. So far, the grandmothers and great- grandmothers I have met have inspired me to document their recipes, thoughts and views, but you yourself are a documenter.


Hasika (great-granddaughter ): She even records my exam schedule! All of us like seeing her notes; and I have now made a family tree from all the information in her diaries.
Shantaji: Yes, they all laugh at me, but keep looking into my papers. I enjoy making notes about all things, big and small.


Any other hobbies apart from playing the piano and documentation?
Yes, I also play the veena. I have also done a lot of cross stitch and crochet. This cloth with the peacock motif which covers the piano is one of my favourite crochet works. I have received a lot of appreciation from visitors. I completed my certification in shorthand from London Chamber of Commerce at age 14.


What about cooking? Do you experiment in the kitchen?
I learnt basic cooking from my mother. But after my marriage, I have not cooked much because we always had cooks at home. I was treated and pampered like a daughter, and hardly did any work. But I enjoy good food and have written down many recipes.


Your favourite recipes!
Too many to name! But I would like to mention the rice dishes prepared during the month of Marghazhi. Do you know that no dish is repeated during this month? We make a different rice dish every single day of this month. I have compiled that list also and will share a couple of them with you.


Thank you. This is an amazing practice. Is it still followed at home?
Yes, many families still follow this tradition. The women wake up early, have a bath and then go into the kitchen. My daughters-in-law still follow this practice.


Since you did not have to do the domestic chores, how did you occupy your time after marriage?
My mother-in-law used to take me to the Ladies Recreation Club where we played badminton, carom board and cards. We were also fond of going to the movies and invariably were present at the first show on the first day of screening. I also did secretarial jobs like typing letters for my husband on the old Remington typewriter, and used shorthand to take down the dictated letters.


A memory you cherish!
As a bride, I was carried in a palanquin which had been gifted to my forefathers in 1816 by The East India Company.


A tradition you truly enjoy!
The Navarathri festival. Our house was known as the ‘Kollu Veedu”, or house of dolls. We were famous for our Navarathri celebrations when the entire house was filled with decorations. We had five large cupboards of dolls which would be taken out during this festival. One room would represent the Vishwamitra Yaagam, another would be filled with a huge toy train, yet another would show the story of Shiva Bhakta Nandanar complete with mechanized Chidambaram Temple, where the Nandi would move, shrine doors would fling open, offering a vision of the lord to the untouchable, who was not allowed into the temple. Neighbours, relatives and friends came from near and far to see the Kollu house during that week.

Photo Courtesy: Harmony Magazine


First published in June 2013 in Harmony – the Indian magazine for silvers for the column – The Great Granny Diaries. Part-2 of this post is the Melon Seed Rice from the kitchen of Shanta Kumari. She is the 10th grandma featured in this column.


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