Serving the Divine ~ Tamilian Grandmother Leela Krishnan, Chennai

by on April 5, 2017

Hailing from Palakkad, Leela Krishnan is a Tamil Iyer who has been living in Chennai for the past three decades. Having heard her grandson Thejas wax eloquent about her cooking, I was led to her cosy residence in Kalakshetra for a soulful lunch. Along with her daughters Geetha Sethuraman and Vasanthi Sivakumar, we chatted about traditional food, recipes and kitchen tips, interspersed with her spiritual insights. She belongs to the Brahmakumaris, where she has found an inner calling; a deep connection. Here are some snippets from our conversation.
Leela Krishnan
I grew up in Tatta Mangalam, a quaint town in Palakkad. We were six sisters and one brother. We lived in a large joint family, so my grandmother never allowed me into the kitchen. When I turned 16, I got married to K G Krishnan. After marriage, we lived in Singapore till 1990 before moving to Chennai.
I cannot attribute my love for cooking to any one person. Life is the real teacher. When I went to Singapore, I did not know any cooking. With the help of friends and through trial and error, I managed. From my Gujarati neighbours, I learnt to make many dishes and enjoyed that slight sweetish taste. Our own traditional recipes also include a dash of jaggery. I also enjoy experimenting with other cuisines such as Chinese and Italian.
When I was 42, my husband passed away. I was so lonely. At the time, there was a centre of Brahmakumaris right next door. So I joined them to dispel my loneliness. Since then, there has been no looking back. I love their system, their way of thinking and their attitude to life. I realise that we have an inner power with which we can accomplish whatever we want. Once a week, we conduct the meetings at my home as well. I feel truly connected to the divine.
It is important to eat food that is cooked with a pure heart. I have followed one rule since I joined the Brahmakumaris: I eat what I cook. Even when I visit my sister, I make my own dosas. When I travel, I either carry thepla or other items that do not perish easily.
I feel most rewarded when my children and grandchildren share a meal with me. My great-grandson Kashyap says that my white adai is the best in the world! You must try it sometime since it is so easy to make. Soak 2 cups of idli rice for 4 hours. Grind the soaked rice. Add ½ cup each of coconut and washed soft aval. Grind again. The batter will be slightly thicker than dosa batter. You don’t have to keep this dough overnight or ferment it. You can make soft and thick adai with it immediately. As an option, I enjoy adding drumstick leaves in the batter.
There is always food at home. It is a pleasure when people visit and eat with you. When I want to make something easy as well as special, bajji and bonda are always on the list. You can make bajji with so many veggies—a handy recipe indeed.
Whatever you undertake, do it with your complete mind and heart. The term for this is nidaanam in Tamil; it means when you cook, be unhurried. Feel love and joy in your heart. Feel affection for the person you are cooking for. Always remember that your first offering is to the divine; that’s the thought that must accompany you in whatever you do.
Carry your roots with you; do not forget them. It is good to be fashionable, but always be connected with your tradition as well. This is what I have taught my children.
I am truly content, but if you ask me to state a special wish, it is to travel to the US and stay with my granddaughter.

Photo Courtesy: Harmony Magazine

Part-2 of this post is the recipe of Arachhu Vitta Sambar, a sambar with freshly ground spices from Leelaji’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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