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Life without Thayir Chadam

"Pazhai Chadam and Thayir" advised my Pati always. It never mattered whether it was early in the morning or any part of the day. She always had a knack of slipping a version of this recipe in to my diet. With all the mutterings that came out, the mix always reached the destination. Pati had everyone under the radar. No one could escape the preparation. My dad had it three times a day and mom had it several times. My friends dreaded it!!! She always believed in it.

My Pati, was a short lady, peppered white hair and a face that was heavily lined. Having borne 11 children there was nothing weak or feeble about her. Her face displayed conviction and her words were strong and stern. My Pati smiled rarely but when she did, it conveyed the depth of her feeling. Her hands shivered by age but were strong. You could see that years of labor had worn the thumb and the fore finger. They had darkened by tiny cuts and were held by roughened palms. The fine and silky skin hands had worked hard and wiped away many tears. She was very orthodox; and believed in customs and traditions. That was about my Pati, in short.

Back to Thayir Chadam; my Pati was very swift and quick when she prepared it. Thayir chadam could be in all the forms you could imagine. It could be coming to you as solid, semi solid or liquid, depending on the urgency and the time of the day. Sometimes, it would come to you with Vadugu mangai or the red bullet, as I liked to call it. If you are in a hurry she would mix it in equal proportion of water and call it 'Thayir chadam karaich' more popular than Coke in my home when Pati was around. The feeling of this salty mixture on a hot day would give Beer a run for its money.

The preparation was more of an art than science to her. Perfection in this preparation would come to her quite naturally. She would dip her hand in the left over rice which was always over cooked for easy digestion and pick a handful. In another vessel the rice would undergo mashing which was the mixed with flowing curd and water. Sometimes the rice would be soaked in water from overnight. She believed in the nutrition of her product and found no reason to explain what it did to the consumer.

The West has just found out that curd is the best thing for good health, and is holding conferences on the subject. I read some where; the U.S Government has set aside $ 90 million for IIARYAP (The International Institute of Analysis and Research into Yoghurt and Allied Products). Live yogurt is widely known as an outstanding source of protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin B6, B12, niacin, folic acid and potassium.

Now scientists believe the live cultures in yogurt are exceptionally beneficial to health with research showing that live yogurt can stimulate the human immune system as well as killing harmful bacteria.

Yogurt cultures flourish in the digestive tract, their natural antibiotic effect helps combat infections and protect the stomach lining from toxins. Containing high levels of natural prostaglandins yogurt can also prevent diarrhea and dysentery - especially in infants. It also helps prevent cancer in the colon by suppressing activity that converts harmless chemicals into carcinogenic agents.

Americans eat over 300,000 tons of yogurts each year. Our ancestors knew this 5,000 years ago when they settled down with their kamadhenus on the banks of the Vaigai and Cauvery.

As I grew up, my affection to Thayir Chadam only increased. Every time I went out with my friends I searched for 'raitha' or a closest substitute to curd and that would sum my dinner. Thayir Chadam believe it or not has become a finishing touch to any meal. To me a meal is not a meal if there is no form of Thayir to end it. I have reached a compromise, 'Thair in any form' being the substitute instead of the conventional Thayir Chadam.

No matter where in the world we Iyers wind up living, it is important for us to maintain that sense of South Indian "Iyer" identity-to recognize it in each other and to share it with others. One way we do that, of course, is through sharing our love of South Indian food. For many of us South Indian -Americans, our traditional foods have become the strongest metaphor we have for what it means to be an Indian. I often say to my friends and relatives back home 'we live like Indians in America', unlike the age old adage when in Rome live like the Romans. For me beyond Thayir Chadam the idli - sambahar, dosai and adai -those wonderful nai appams I was raised on-is a metaphor for so many things: family, togetherness, warmth, a welcome to friends and neighbors and, yes, a welcome to strangers too. To me at the end of a hearty meal Thayir Chadam symbolizes not only the "oneness" of the South Indian experience, but also our individual and regional preferences: Thayir or Yogurt is never eaten exactly like a Iyer does any other part of India. In the isolated and still mystical villages of India's northern border regions, there are women, like my own grand mother, who define themselves through the specific foods they cook. I have heard of North Indians penchant for Paratha and Dahi as much as we care for Thayir Chadam. After these years of living in the U.S., my parents still remind us to have Thayir everyday and make it a habit for Vignesh my son.

After my grandmother, my mother still makes a Thayir Chadam the way she does when I was in my teens, and her flavour is still different from those made by others and nearby relatives.

Published in Feb 2004 by:

Chittur Vaidyanathan Ramachandran (Ram Chandran in the USA) works as a business analyst with Cisco Systems. He lives with his Pushpa and son Vignesh in USA. His aim in life is to find 'Order in Chaos'. He firmly believe there is a pattern in the occurrence of every event in our life or in this world. Extending this belief further, he is of the opinion that there is distinct and definite relation between events, however random they may seem. Then it is just a matter of compiling these and establishing a relationship with time. Once we establish the relationship, prediction comes automatically.

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