A Student for Life ~ Sita Kolluru’s Avid Interests

by on June 5, 2016

“I don’t have any tall claims. I know a little bit of cooking, a little bit of computerization and a little bit of documentation,” says Sita Kolluru. It is her age which makes these words extraordinary. At 78, Mrs. Sita Kolluru of Hyderabad keeps herself busy and divides her time between classical singing, funky jewellery making, knitting, crocheting and creating things out of waste. Her latest passion is her food blog where one can see her creative and innovative spirit.
An avid conversationalist, she expresses her thoughts in a logical and interesting manner. What makes her remarkable is how she is in charge of her life and happiness. There is neither undue expectation nor blame game! There is a serene acceptance of what cannot be changed and proactive attitude towards what can be transformed!

Sita Kolluru
Namaste Sitaji. First of all, how did you break away from the usual cooking and get into experimentation?
When I went to visit my elder son in Seattle in 2010, my daughter-in-law Doreen who is an American, had cultivated a lovely kitchen garden. It is her favourite hobby. She encouraged me to experiment with vegetables such as broccoli, peppers, tomatillos and Mexican sour gherkins, now known as sandita.
How many children do you have?
I have two sons and one daughter. My younger son has two daughters aged 18 and 22. My younger daughter-in-law, Sharada Kolluru, is a writer.
Do you keep in touch with all of them via social media? I noticed that you are active on FaceBook.
I have to be. It is the best way to keep in touch. Correspondence is so easy nowadays. I also insist upon my friends to become active on FaceBook. But many of their children tell them that such activities are for the younger generation.
Tell us about your education.
I grew up in Rajahmundry. I completed my first year of M.Sc in Andhra University. At that time my mother insisted that I get married. I remember being quite upset with her. But I could not convince her. At 21, I got married and moved to Kharagpur.
But you managed to study after your marriage?
Yes, we moved to Kanpur in 1966 when my husband, late Prof. K.V.Gokhale got a teaching assignment in IIT Kanpur. Once my youngest child was born, I went on to do MA Sociology in IIT Kanpur. In 1974, I took up a part time job in the university library. By then, all the children were going to school. Moreover, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law were at home, so we shared the household chores which left me time to do other things. After a few years, I registered for the Library Sciences course. It was a challenge since I had to travel from Kanpur to Delhi over weekends to attend contact classes of the Open University. I stayed with my son for those weekends in Delhi and somehow managed it all. I topped the University.
You are really an inspiration Sitaji. From whom did you inherit this zest for learning?
From my father. He was an avid reader and inculcated the habit of reading in all of us. I remember how he encouraged us to refer to an encyclopaedia. According to him, one must be strong in General Knowledge. He never put any restriction on what to read and what not to read. He believed that we would figure out right and wrong for ourselves.
How did the food journey happen?
That a food journey happened is in itself a miracle. My siblings and friends still laugh because they remember my earlier days when I hardly cooked. Initially, the elders took charge of the kitchen because of some orthodox practices. When we moved to Kanpur, things changed and I started experimenting with other foods, such as paneer varieties. Soon, I was preparing unconventional dishes such as pizzas, eggplant parmesan and stuffed tomatoes to avoid comparison with other experts cooks like my elder sister and friends! I would make the pizzas at home using the stove top oven in the 1970s when I would make dough as well as fresh tomato sauce. It is not just the traditional Indian cooking, but these “fancy” dishes when the kids were growing up.
And the blog?
I think it happened because of Doreen’s persistence. When she first visited us, she learnt a couple of recipes, went back, tried them and wrote to me, “I loved them. Send me more recipes.” She often asked me to jot them on paper but I did not take that seriously. My husband often reminded me to email her one recipe every day. Soon after, he passed away. The next time I visited Seattle, Doreen showed me a word document of my recipes. I was really moved. Slowly I began to blog at sitaruchulu.blogspot.in. It was a whole new world and there was so much to learn.
And given your past record, you again came out in flying colours.
It is a simple blog, but it is good to post. I remember asking my friends how to make a reference and cross-reference. After some time, someone figured out that I was asking about ‘hyperlinks’ (laughs). I enjoy interacting with other bloggers. There are many American bloggers who follow me. I have almost 26000 hits on my blog.
I can see your excitement. I am sure it was no mean task to manage the blog.
I am still learning. One is always a student. I remember the time I discontinued my Masters and was at home for a while. I would get really bored and once I told my mother, “What do you want me to do at home? I have learnt everything and there is nothing new to do.” My chachaji (uncle) heard me and asked me if I knew sewing. When I shook my head, he said, “There is always something new to learn. Your learning is never complete.” To date, I remember the impact of his words upon me.
How true. Tell me, have the children inherited your love for cooking?
My sons Nagendra and Ramachandra are quite good at cooking. My daughter Lakshmi, an academician, prepares tasty food whenever she gets down to cooking. She thinks there are better things to do than cooking and cleaning! (laughs) My younger daughter-in-law, who claims that she is not a foodie, is happy that the recipes are available for the grandchildren, whenever they want to cook. That gives me satisfaction, as the purpose of my blog is to keep the recipes available for the future generations!
I am glad you are documenting your recipes. Which ones do your readers appreciate the most?
It varies. But I like experimenting and I like health foods. I do very little deep frying. I try to cut down on rice and use oats instead. I know many of my friends in USA who did not really experiment with the local vegetables and ingredients. Now many of them ask me for recipes.
What is the much-demanded recipe by loved ones?
It depends on the season. Yesterday on demand, I made a jackfruit subzi known as “Panasa Potti Koora.” A friend sent me a green jackfruit from her garden and asked me to make it like the koora which is popular in Godavari district.
What is the secret of good cooking?
Being interested in what one does. There is no need to spend much time in the kitchen. To cook for more than an hour or so is really not required. One should always be active and try many things. It always has its rewards. For instance, I like making craft jewellery and when my grandchildren started liking what I was making, it brought me closer to them.
Do you have an active social life?
In Hyderabad, I live in an apartment block in an active retirement community known as SPAARC (Saket Pranaam Active Adult Retirement Community) where we are developing an active society of senior citizens. Almost every month, we organize some programme. Many seniors participate in group singing, skits etc. Six days of the week, some people attend yoga classes, others have fun in the laughter club and so on. I feel that many of us are keeping active and healthy because of our life style. We have adopted an orphanage and an old age home nearby and keep helping the inmates.
I can see that SPAARC means a lot to you. With such a fulfilling life, what is on the bucket list?
To make a cookbook! Hope it happens sometimes soon. I am not very keen for a professional book, just something to share with friends and families. In fact, I was so delighted that we were going to meet because I really like your cookbook Cooking at Home with Pedatha. I am from Godavari region, hence those recipes are like comfort food.
I hope your dream comes true soon. What would you like to say before we end this interview?
As long as you are learning something new and your brain keeps you active, you are not old. I don’t know whether I Iook 78, but I know that I don’t feel 78.
Photo Courtesy: Harmony Magazine

Part-2 of this post is the recipe of Poha Dosa and Fenugreek Stew from Sita Kolluru’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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