Bottled with Love ~ Ideal Homemaker Kameswari Kunapuli

by on October 5, 2017

Beautiful and gracious. And rivetingly multifaceted, as her friend Sitaji Kolluru, who introduced us, had so aptly described. That’s Kameswari Kunapuli, a classical Carnatic singer and teacher from East Godavari, now residing in Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad. Sitting in her outer living room, we spoke about her family, love for music, and the need to document traditional recipes. I also managed to learn a few Andhra-style recipes. However, as I was getting ready to leave, I spied the interior of her home—and knew instantly that the portrait I had painted of this woman was incomplete, that there was so much more to this enigmatic personality. Intrigued, I asked for a tour around her home, enchanted by the vintage feel and brown hues, the numerous paintings and handcrafted items, many her own creations! In fact, she remains unfazed by her 80 years and continues to try her hand at new skills, new ways of expressing her creativity. The highlight of the impromptu tour, though, was the kitchen with a row of huge pickle jars enough to feed an army; each delicacy handmade, of course. Here are some titbits of our conversation, and some of these cherished recipes…
Kameswari Kunapuli
I was born in Vizag [Visakhapatnam], Andhra Pradesh. Later, we shifted to Rajamundhiri. My father was an advocate and belonged to a cultured background. His family was held in high esteem in his village. I remember my family was always considered well-dressed and up to date. That is my heritage.

My elder sister began to learn music when she was in high school. I was an avid listener. Seeing my interest, the teacher Sarasanarsimha Garu started teaching me music as well. I learnt until my 11th standard, after which I became busy with studies, marriage, and then parenthood. When we moved to Karnool, I attended a ladies gathering where someone asked me to sing. There, I sang a favourite of mine, Sri Muthuswami’s kriti, Meenakshi mudamdehi. Showered with praise and compliments, this trigger led to me learning music seriously. So here I am, at 80, a teacher, and happy to sing whenever I can!

My voice is not young anymore and not good for performances, but I can teach. In the afternoon, middle-aged women come to me to learn music. It is a blessing to teach them because their reason for learning is to perform for the Lord.

My husband Shri K V S Suryanarayana was an IAS officer and we often got transferred to other cities. It was a blessing in disguise because it gave me the opportunity to see different places, interact with people from various backgrounds, and broaden my horizons. He passed away in 2008. I see strife in many marriages today because of ego clashes and different priorities but I was truly blessed in this regard. There was never any reason for strife between us. He had deep respect for me and my way of thinking. We shared similar views and enjoyed each other’s company.”

I now live alone and have many interests to keep me busy, such as cooking, stitching, painting, craft making, gardening, and being surrounded by beauty. In fact, I never pursued any one thing seriously because of my diverse interests. I also enjoy attending concerts and visiting friends and relatives. My daughter Atchuta Saraswathi lives in Delhi and my son Satya Kunapuli is in the US. They would like me to live with them but I want to live here as long as I can manage by myself. I have promised them that I will shift into one of their homes the moment I feel I can’t manage. That is our understanding. Along with their spouses and children—I have three grandchildren and one granddaughter-in-law—they all take care of me very well. When I look back, I feel blessed; from my own parents, my in-laws, my children and now my sambandhi, I have been surrounded by remarkable people.

My mother was a great cook who could create a meal out of anything. In fact, I had nine paternal aunts who were all good cooks. As the youngest child at home, I never ventured into the kitchen until after my marriage. During my husband’s first posting, I remember hosting a sudden dinner in Bhadrachalam. I managed surprisingly well. My cooking was appreciated, which encouraged me to hone my skills. Whenever I ate something interesting outside, I would ask for the recipe and try recreating it at home. Soon, I was hosting large official dinners.

Even though I have staff at home to help, I still cook. After my morning routine of exercise and listening to devotional songs, I decide my meals for the day. Breakfast is oats and fruits. Lunch is usually an Andhra meal—the staff help to chop, while I do the main cooking. And dinner consists of a handful of nuts or fruits and milk. A complete Andhra meal—sampoorna aahara—has steamed rice with pappu (dal), pulusu (gravy), koora (side-dish), pachchadi and curd. I love adding melted ghee in everything. My children and grandson love my Andhra dishes.

As you can see in my kitchen, I keep all the provision containers slightly open. I believe closing dabba and bottles tightly will cause overheating, making the contents inside a breeding ground for worms.

I have always been passionate about pickle-making. Apart from preparing famous Andhra pickles like aavakai and maagai , I prepare pickle with yellow mirchi from Gollaprolu (Andhra), menthikaai and pulihara aavakai with small pieces of mango along with the peel. I still make large quantities of pickles to send to my relatives. Most last for months, some even for years. I make pickles with the help of my staff; I am really lucky to have such good help that has stayed with us wherever we have been transferred. While preparing pickles, one has to take utmost care. The ingredients should be of very good quality and the vessels and storage jars must be clean and dry. In my younger days, I remember that the women of the house would not even touch the pickles before taking a bath. If preserved well, pickles last for years and the taste remains the same, even though some discolouration may happen. By the time the colour changes, the next season comes and the fresh crop is in the market.
Photo Courtesy: Harmony Magazine

Part-2 of this post is the recipe of Tomato Paste and Gooseberry Paste, from Kameswari Kunapuli’s kitchen.
First published in ‘Heart to Hearth’ – a column in Harmony Celebrate Age magazine. A series about elders who believe in nurturing the body and mind as the key to joy.


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