Zest for Life ~ Finding Joy with Geeta Nair

by on May 5, 2016

There are endless recipes and endless experiments. Open the refrigerator and allow your imagination a free hand—this is what Geeta Nair, a 60 year-old Keralite from Chennai, believes in. “I love all things and dislike nothing,” she says with a deep chuckle. Her zest for life reflects this statement.
 
She loves housekeeping, gardening, cooking, travelling, reading Disney books and spending her life with four-legged creatures. Her home is spotless, fragrant and beautiful and one cannot imagine that it is a busy dog-boarding house. As we speak, the wind-chime collection from each of her travels adds enchanting background music. And then, the delicious spread on the table… it is tough to believe she manages it all by herself.
 
But she does. All by herself!

 
Geeta Nair Keralite from Chennai
Geeta, your house is a visual treat.
Thanks. I like being surrounded by beautiful things.
 
And by your doggies?
Yes, of course. For no one can love you like them. I grew up being a dog lover. And so are my children. My son Rahul tells his doggies when I visit, ‘Paati [grandmother] has come.’ And truly speaking, I am happiest with my four-legged grandchildren.
 
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Delhi and studied in Delhi and Rajasthan. I am a graduate from Maharani College, Rajasthan University.
 
Your friends speak of your impeccable cleanliness. Were you always interested in housekeeping?
On the contrary, my mother never asked me to do anything at home. She believed if the need arose, I would surely manage. In fact, I remember burning the rice the day my BA results arrived and I had achieved distinction in home science. My father laughed and asked me, ‘Is this what you learnt in home science?’
 
Well, he would surely be proud if he saw your lunch spread today. Do you have a cook?
I like doing my work by myself. I have someone who comes in for dishwashing, but the rest of the work—cleaning, cooking, gardening and taking care of the doggies—I do all by myself. It keeps me agile and fit.
 
That is quite remarkable, considering you live in a country where domestic staff is easily available.
Yes, but my parents were like that too. I like to be active, so much so that I can hardly sit through an entire movie. In fact, cooking is a stress- buster for me. If I am upset over something, the best remedy is to get into the kitchen.
 
Is there any cuisine you enjoy cooking?
Anything and everything. Even though I am a Keralite, I grew up eating north Indian food. I experiment a lot. I love challenges. If I taste something new, I come home and try it out. Invariably, I manage to achieve the taste and feel delighted.
 
Does your husband enjoy being the guinea pig?
On the contrary, Asokan is a health freak. He likes to eat whatever he believes will keep him healthy. He is happy with his soups and salads.
 
So do you cook separately for him?
Not all the time, but I manage both ways. Lunch is on my own, so at that time the kitchen is about me and myself.
 
Did you learn cooking from your mother?
I guess I did. She was an excellent cook. She herself was a strict vegetarian, but she could cook non-vegetarian food with a flourish without ever tasting it.
 
Do you enjoy preparing traditional recipes as well?
Yes, I do. Today’s menu is a typical Kerala meal: sambhar with baby onions and melam masala, tomato pachchadi [a gravy with tomatoes], pacha manga pachchadi [raw mango chutney], cabbage toran [side-dish] and idichakka toran [jackfruit side-dish].
 
What is special about the menu?
The flavour of crushed mustard! In the pachchadi as well as the thayir pachchadi, the recipe calls for soaking mustard seeds and grinding them along with the coconut. That mustard flavour is a Keralite specialty. But let me share a tip. It is always difficult to grind mustard in small quantities, so what I do is simply crush the mustard seeds (in a mixer) into a slightly coarse powder and stock it. When- ever required, I add a dash of it to the dish and, thus, there is no compro- mise on taste. You can add it to any curd dish and enjoy the flavour.
 
I am looking forward to trying your recipes.
I am not fussy about the ingredients. When I was in Atlanta visiting my son, I opened his refrigerator and prepared four dishes with the same ingredients. That’s the magic of food. You can experiment endlessly.
 
How were you as a youngster?
I was a tomboy. My brother was the quiet one. My mother always said about the two of us, ‘Wrong soul in wrong body.’ I played like boys and with the boys. I was not interested in girlish things. But I also helped my father in the garden.
 
I have been admiring your well-maintained patch.
This is a small bit. I remember our kitchen garden and the lush mango trees and how we used to barter the mangoes with our neighbours for their jackfruits. I used to climb the trees all the times.
 
And now?
I still do impulsive things. When I recently travelled to Singapore, I suddenly just gathered the courage to wrap a python around my neck. I have always been very scared of them. But that day, I overcame my fear and could see them as beautiful creatures. It was a moment’s decision. Also six years ago, I decided to go in for a new look. So I chose 8 March— as it is Women’s Day—to experiment with my hair and get a cut. I enjoyed it and have stuck to doing so every year on the same day.
 
You must have received a lot of compliments. Like many Keralite women, you too are blessed with beautiful tresses.
[Laughs] And to add to the fun, the texture has drastically changed from being extremely curly in my younger days to almost straight now.
Whenever I meet old friends, the first thing they ask is if I have done hair straightening and find it hard to believe that it has happened naturally.
 
What is on your bucket list?
Parasailing and bungee jumping. I will get around to them one of these days. I believe that at my age, one must take up any opportunity that presents itself. Later, you may regret why you didn’t. For the first time, I am rehearsing for a play where I am playing the lead role of an 80 year old woman. When I was invited for it, I wondered whether I would be able to memorise all the lines. I took it up as a challenge and pleasantly surprised myself. I used to perform as a dancer when I was young, but it took a backseat after marriage. A while back, one of the ladies’ clubs where I am a member set up a dance evening and I found myself dancing with the same zeal as when I was young.
 
According to you, what is the most important quality one must inculcate in life?
Having zest for life. Next is discipline. With these two, you can’t go wrong.
 
I can see that. It’s amazing how calm all your four doggies are.
Two of them are mine. The other two are guest doggies. But the guests will always copy the hosts. And mine are extremely well-behaved and disciplined. I don’t ever leash any of them. I take them all for walks without a leash and there has never been any trouble whatsoever.
 
How many can you board at a time?
Around 10. It gets hectic but I don’t mind it. I like returning them well- groomed and well-behaved!

 

Part-2 of this post is the recipe of Tomato Pachchadi and Raw Mango Pachchadi, a pachchadi from Geeta Nair’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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