Thursday, December 24, 2015

Vegetable Pongal

  The following article giving a  new recipe from me appeared in the  `Chef`s corner`  section  of ` GNC Connect`, a magazine of the Gandhi Nagar Club, Chennai.                                                   

                                           My friends know my abiding interest in cooking. From being a Sunday cook when my wife was alive, I have now graduated to be a regular cook, dabbling in the kitchen almost every day.
 I occasionally  experiment with new dishes. Here is one such dish:

Venn  Pongal is a popular breakfast item among Tamilians. Hot Idliies, Medu Vadas and Pongal are guaranteed to be available in any restaurants in the mornings. But I discovered a recipe which can upgrade the Pongal  to a main course item during lunch or dinner. I will call it the `Vegetable Pongal`. Until I experimented with it I had never heard of Vegetable Pongal. The inspiration to try the experiment  came when I was savouring the tasty and sumptuous `Swaminarayan Kichdi` served in the Swaminarayan temple in Ahmedabad.

 Here is my recipe for this delicious item which my guests enjoyed  at a lunch I hosted recently. Readers are welcome to try this simple recipe & enjoy! 


Rice-  1 cup; 
Moong Dal (Pasi paruppu)- half cup;
Vegetables:  150grms  each of the following vegetables: Beans, Carrots, Brinjal, Tomato, Potato (3 or4 medium size), White Pumpkin. ( Avoid onion or capsicum which are likely to distort the Pongal flavour)
Black pepper powder- 2 or 3 tps
Turmeric powder- 1tps
Black pepper ( whole) 1 tps
Cashnew nut -  cut into pieces-  100 grms
Currey leaves
Ghee – a cup full
Cooking oil- 2tps
Salt to taste

Steps involved:

1.      Mildly rost the Moong Dhal in a pan and mix it with Rice- keep aside

2.      Cut all vegetables into small pieces- Take a cooking pan, add 2 tps of oil and when it is hot add the vegetables one by one , keeping the tomato as the last item. Add the turmeric powder.  Cook the vegetables for about 10 minutes in medium flame

3.        Once the vegetables are reasonably cooked add six cups of water (for one and a half    cups of rice/dhal mixture use six cups of water ie; 1 to 4 proportion)

4.    Once the water comes to a boiling point , add the Rice & Dhal mix.  Before closing the pan add the pepper powder and salt.  Stir the vegetables before closing the pan with the lid.

5.      After 15 to 20  minutes, when rice is well cooked garnish it with whole pepper pieces and cashewnuts roasted in Ghee.

6.      Before removing the pan add the currey leaves and a generous helping of ghee and stir the rice well.

7.      Tastes very good when served hot. Can be taken without any accompaniment or with Raita

             Post script:  I tried another variation of this dish. Preparing  Avial (using black pepper powder instead of green chillies) with plenty of gravy  and Pongal separately and mixed them to create `Avial Pongal` or `PONGAVIAL` as I would like to call it. A meal by itself it tastes very good. Try it.

A foretaste of Pralaya

                                                             I hear a cock crowing. I wake up to realize that it is the alarm that I have set up on my mobile with a cock crowing ringtone. It is 4 a.m. I switch on the bedside lamp. It is not working. It dawns on me that there has been no power for the last four days because of the unprecedented rains in Chennai. I grab the torch light next to my bed and get up to do a survey. It is pitch dark outside. And there is an eerie stillness, broken intermittently by the `chorus` of thousands of tadpoles in the knee deep water surrounding my house and my colony. They are celebrating the rains not knowing that in a couple of days , when the sun comes up and the water level recedes , they will be extinguished! They are making merry before the sun shines!

I am on the first floor, using the bedroom in my son`s portion of the house , as my space on the ground floor is flooded. I am one of those millions in the city who had to go through the ordeal of living without power, phones, TV, `Net, and other daily necessities for three days completely cut off from the world and under house arrest. Nature has not spared any body this time- rich or poor, people living in huts in low lying areas or the well heeled living in fancy apartment complexes or bungalows built on river bodies. Nature is a great leveler. At least I have a roof over my head and a support system to keep me safe. I have survived the ordeal with minimum collateral damages. I thank my Lord for that.

After the inspection of the house, I go to my workstation and realize that I cannot use my PC as there is no power. But I didn`t want to waste the ` Brahma muhurtham` time between 4.30 and 6.00a.m. when my creative juices are flowing, looking for an outlet. So I decide to light up a candle and write this piece using the candle light. If there is a will there is a way!

Though the rains have eased , the administration has not switched on the Power in many parts of the city , as they are still waterlogged. All the lakes and all the rivers are overflowing resulting in the entire city being flooded including many so called safe areas. Is it a sample of `Pralaya` in `Kaliyug` that our epics predict? I wonder! 

There is water, water every where but not a drop to drink. People living in ground or even first floors in many areas have lost everything in the floods. Even in the fancy apartment complexes on OMR and many other areas, there is water up to 12ft or more surrounding the complexes, submerging the entire car park area and the gensets. While the automobile garages are going to make a killing post the rains, the Insurance Companies are going to cry fowl. One man`s meat is another man`s poison!

While the administration with the help of the Army, Navy and NDRF teams is trying its best to face the crisis, it is heartening to see the way the common man, especially the youth brigade of the city, both well heeled or otherwise, have risen to provide succour to the needy. Many of them working round the clock, risking their own lives are trying to help affected people reach safer places or distributing the necessities personally. Hats off to them.! Thanks to Social Media, which is accessible to people after the restoration of power, help is pouring in from all directions.

Adversity, very often, brings out the best in people. Thanks to the crisis , people are discovering their own neighbours , in new lights. The Youth , which was glued to technology living in a virtual world is discovering the joy of facing real life challenges and the world outside the `Smart Phone`. But ,the affected people are losing patience. Many of them are venting their wrath on ministers, politicians , councilors and civic officials---justifiably so. .Even the volunteers venturing into the slums for providing relief materials are mobbed and man handled , as it happened to a young team two days ago. This is not justified.

We still have three more weeks of rainy season left for this year. And the weatherman is predicting more ` heavy to very heavy` rains in the next one week. Chennaivasis are worried. Even a harmless drizzle sends a shiver down their spines. The challenge of rehabilitating people who have lost everything in the rains is even more daunting. But I am sure that the resilience they have shown so far and the `never say die` spirit that they are displaying should see them through this worst ever crisis faced by the city, in a century!

Personally, during the four miserable days , when I was stuck at home, I read two books and wrote two articles. I wished I could lend a helping hand to the youngsters in their stupendous relief efforts. But alas, as the saying goes “ Though the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak” . All that I can do is to pray God to help Chennaiwasis recover from their miseries fast and start leading a normal life soon.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Vallal Chettiar – The socialist Capitalist*

The following article written by me has appeared in the 1-15th December,2015 issue of Madras Musings

                                   In January 1948, Dr. Alagappa Chettiar  of Kottaiyur went to see Jawaharlal Nehru in Delhi, to sell  Karaikudi  as a town to house one of the science research institutes , promising  to offer 300 acres of land and 1.5 million rupees to set up the institute in his native place. Impressed by his commitment to people and the country, he introduced Chettiar to his sister Vijayalakshmi Pandid, as a socialist capitalist.

Out of the offer came the  Central Electro Chemical Research Institute (CECRI) as a wing of  of  Council of  Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Karaikkudi.  On 25th July 1968, Jawaharlal Nehru laid  the foundation stone for CECRI in a sprawling campus between Karaikkudi and  Kottaiyur, an area that was later to be named as Alagappa Nagar.  It was the seventh in the chain of national institutions and the second to be opened in the Madras province that year.

The main  building of the institute was declared open by Dr. S Radhakrishnan the then Vice President of India on the 14th January 1953.  At the opening ceremony there were  nine Nobel  laureates on the dais including  Sir Visveswarayya  and Sir C V Raman.

Ramanujan  Institute, as a remembrance to a great man was another of  Chettiar’s initiative. A standing monument to  Chettiar`s love for research.  It was established in a portion of his own house ‘Krishnavilas` in Vepery  in December 1951.

That is what  Alagappa  Chettiar was – a successful businessman who believed in ploughing  back the money he earned from his varied business  to  social causes.  His business interests  consisted of rubber  plantations in Malaya,  tin  mines  in Burma, Textile mills in Kerala, insurance companies in Calcutta, Hotels in Bombay, Theatres in Madras, a flourishing stock broking company and a private  airline. Referred to as  the `Unsung Business Maharajah  of South India ` in the 1930s and 40s,  Chettiar believed in having a diversified business portfolio. The philonthrophist in him came to the fore only in late 40s.

Dr. A Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar  the then Vice Chancellor of University of Madras, who was presiding over the Dr. Annie Besant  Centenary celebrations on 3rd July 1947 made an appeal to philanthrophists and industrialists in the audience to come forward to start colleges in the state to meet the  dire  need for  educational institutions, as many were denied education due to lack of colleges.

The  then 38 year old  Alagappa  Chettiar who was moved by the appeal.  He rose to spontaneously announce that he would be happy to start an Arts College in his home town in Ramanathapuram  district and announced a donation of Rs.5 lakh on the spot.

 `It was a great but sudden impulse, a great turning point, a transition in his life.  With this one act he seemed to have found his calling  in life – the care for education.` writes the author, his grandson, on whose book this article is based.

 Within 5 weeks from the date of announcement Dr. Alagappa Chettiar College of Arts & Science was inaugurated on 11th August 1967, at Gandhi Maaligai, the Karaikudi  Municipality  Building which had been  rented for Rs.2400/-`

Other generous donations  were to follow. He started  a string of educational institutions in Karaikudi, making it an important educational centre. These included  Alagappa Chettiar College of Engineering & Technology,  Alagappa Arts college,  Alagappa Teacher Training College,  Allagappa College for women, Alagappa Physical Education College and  Alagappa Polytechnic  among many others.

He sold many of his business interests abroad to fund many of his dream projects devoted to education.

Alagappa Chettiar`s  dream of elevating the status of educational institutions in Karaikudi to a full fledged  University was  however  not to be realized during his life time.  It was only in 1985 that it became Alagappa University but run by the State Government  with the numerous colleges he had founded over the years.


He  loved children, as much as he loved education.  His daughter recalls, ‘he had a dream – a dream that every child who enters Alagappa School be able to complete his / her studies.  We should provide for  them,  such that they never need to seek  other institutions throughout their educational career, he  used  to say`

The first school started by  Alagappa  Chettiar was AL V Valliammai Achi School referred to as the Board School  at Kottaiyur. Other schools that he established include the Alagappa Model  School, Alagappa Montessori  School & Hostel, Alagappa Elementary School, Alagappa  Business  School, Alagappa  Preparatory School

`Despite his religiousness, which included carrying a box of small religious icons and Pooja articles as a part of his luggage wherever he travelled, he was  not  a temple goer  nor did he donate to temples of worship.  His temples were the towers of education  and his donations  were mainly aimed   at helping  the less fortunate.` writes the author.


Carnatic music was  another  of his passions.  He played a significant role in the proceedings of the first Tamil Isai  Conference held in August 1940 in Chidambaram.   Chettiar introduced the universal  language of  mankind - music  into Alagappa Group of Institutions by starting Alagappa School of Music in 1956.

 Chettiar, was also a lover of sports.  He believed in healthy minds in healthy bodies.The Bhavnagar stadium on the Alagappa Arts College campus in Karaikal was inaugurated on 2nd February 1952.

The stadium held a special place in his heart.  Whenever he was in Karaikudi, he always stayed in one of the rooms  in the pavilion.  In fact, his dying  wish was that his mortal remains be laid to  rest in the stadium, which to him was a haven of peace.  Now his memorial   temple, just opposite to Bhavnagar stadium , stands as a testimony   to a life of service and sacrifice


Chettiar`s  generosity extended beyond education.  He made innumerable  donations  to various institutions devoted to causes, not necessarily related to education.  Nobody who came to see him for any kind of help went back  disappointed.

Alagappa Chettiar was a  driven  man. Ambitious ideas, Quick planning , Immediate execution became his mantra, especially after he had ventured into educational projects  during his last decade`
Said Dr. S Y Krishnaswami , ICS ( Retd.)and a friend from college days paying his tribute to Chettiar recalled his capacity for work  and  his energy which were  truly immense!  The words ‘cannot’ and ‘impossible’ were not in his dictionary.  Every challenge must be  overcome,  Chettiar would tell his staff repeatedly.

His meticulousness, his sense of perfection  extended to even small mundane activities. He could be seen explaining to his staff how a postage stamp should be affixed on an envelope – ensuring 90 degree angle and equal spaces.

Apart from his abiding interest in Tamil language and Tamil literature, he was interested in journalism and was the honorary editor  of Kumudam, the most popular Tamil weekly from its inception.

Books were his constant companions on his travels.  He would finish a book overnight on a train and do the same on many  a flight.  A voracious reader he had a vast collection of books pertaining to various fields.  His reading habit not only made many consider him a scholar but he was also much in demand as a speaker. 

Right from his teenage years  Dr. Chettiar spoke ex-tempore.  His speech was clear and interspersed with sparkling wit and wisdom.  He was a gifted conversationalist  with a brilliant sense of humour.


The first blow of fate  was the death of his wife Smt. Valliammal Achi in 1928. Then came a series of debilitating illnesses.  In his early twenties  Alagappa Chettiar travelled to London to take the Indian Council Service examination, During the medical examiniation he discovered that he had fallen victim to the dreaded leprosy.  He probably  got the disease from someone who looked after him when he was a child.  Though the disease left him after 20 years, the scar left  behind  by the disease on his face, fingers etc. made him very self conscious about his looks .  In the later years he contracted  bone cancer, with  few more cancer lesions on other parts of his body.  He was constantly in pain.

`Fighting a life long battle against his health, and yet venturing in ever -new ways to make the world a better place, Alagappa Chettiar was a great soul whose stint on this  eternal state was one of the best ever played.  With ambition pushing him up and health pulling him down the two words `perseverance`  and  `sacrifice` sums the life of this compassionate man, ` it was said of him.
On  Republic day of the country in 1957, the President of India had conferred the Padma Bhushan on. Chettiar.   Less than three months after that , on April,5,1957,  Alagappa Chettiar breathed his last at Krishna Vilas, his house in Madras on 5th April 1957, He was only 48. He  considered his life mission to be charity and charity he  did until his last breath.  No wonder people called him `Vallal Chettiar`.
        ( This article is based on the Book- `Alagappa- A beautiful Mind  -  a  saga of Perseverance, Compassion and Sacrifice`  by  Ramanathan Vairavan, grandson of Dr.Alagappa Chettiar)

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