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Monday 23 September 2019

Yours Generously

"Mama, porum, porum, enough, please stop, I don't want so much!" I shriek in protest to the server ladling out large spoonfuls of ghee atop the rice on my elai1. Sitting next to me, dear Mami is chuckling away. She contentedly accepts a couple of spoonfuls of ghee and asks the server to bring her extra helping of payasam2. As the gleeful server moves ahead to press his hospitality on a mama seated further long, she whispers conspiratorially, "Urar veetu neiye, pondati kaiyu!"

Any major Tamilian function, say like an engagement, wedding, upanayanam, sashithiabdhapoorthi etc. is usually conducted in halls or mandapams with the food catered by professional caterers.
You might have observed in functions catered by reputed and successful caterers, the benign presence of the owner of the enterprise, the chamayal3 contractor. He is hard to miss - Typically clad in pristine white shirt and pant with immaculate vibhuti4and chandanam kumkumam5  on his forehead. He wouldn't be actively involved in the service or directing his staff, he has delegated all that work. Still, he will be there, overseeing the proceedings while making small talk with the host mama & mami, enquiring if everything is to their satisfaction. 

This wise gentleman, has a deep understanding of this oft-quoted Tamil proverb or pazhamuzhi,
 ஊரார் வீட்டு நெய்யே , என் பொண்சாதி கையே
Urar veetu neiye, en pondati kaiyu", (literally translates to: Someone else's ghee and my wife's generous ladling). 
The Hindi equivalent would be, "Muft ka chandan, ghis mere nandan (literally translates to: It's free sandalwood, use/rub away my son).  
The English interpretation would be, 
"Using liberally or generously of, what is free to you. Being generous with what is not yours."

So what is this proverb all about, how did it come into being?

Mami informs me that traditionally aatu neiye or homemade ghee was an essential and important constituent of all meals in households. Homemade ghee was the norm for every family and making it was akin a ritual. 
The top layer of thick cream from home set curd was collected for about 2-3 days. This was then hand churned to yield white butter. The butter was rinsed with water and stored along with fresh water and kept in a cool place. The freshly prepared butter was added to the previous collection. Once a week, the entire butter was heated in a heavy bottomed pan with constant stirring to yield fragrant, rich ghee that cooled down to a beautiful grainy texture. 

The ghee so painstakingly extracted was a prized possession of every homemaker. So the mami of the house dispensed it with a lot of love and care to her family during all meals. She offered a second helping of this practically divine ingredient while serving special guests. Young children always got at least 2-3 spoonfuls of it in their paruppa sadamwhile mama looked forward to a generous dollop of neiye with jaggery to accompany his evening tiffin of adai.

The homemade ghee was often not enough to meet the needs of large households and hence sparingly used. Additional store-bought ghee or kadai neiye would have to purchased to supplement the stocks. This kadai neiye wasn't held in very high esteem by most mamis but nevertheless they'd use it to make their sweet and savoury bakshanams and tiffins. 
Never would a mami be caught dead serving her beloved husband even a spoonful of the kadai neiye with his afternoon lunch. 

All the same when the same mami and family went to someone else's home for lunch, matters changed. Mami would go into the kitchen to help during food serving time. 
If she chanced on the coveted neiye jadi - ghee jar then she'd ensure she served it to her husband seated in the pandi7....more liberally than at their home, 2-3 spoons at least, no holds isn't her neiye after all! 
So now you know, how the proverb "Urar veetu neiye, en pondati kaiyu" came into being!

Coming back to our catering contractor, this gentleman knows all about waiters going overly generous with the serving. They have nothing to lose, while he has a lot to lose with the unwarranted generosity. And so, he keeps a hawk's eye on waywardly generous waiters and cooks pouring in reckless quantities of expensive ingredients like our favourite neiye and dryfruits, if he is to make his venture profitable while seeming to be magnanimous!

He calls out a waiter and instructs him to pack manga urgayu8, avial and sambar (basically perishables) for the hostess mami to carry back home. And when he eyes mami looking longingly at the luscious jangiri, he tells him to pack those too - they wouldn't last through the day in any case!


Trivia: The Brahmin custom of Parisheshanam before starting a meal by the the male members (those who've had their upanayanam) involves invoking certain Sanskrit mantras once rice and ghee is served on their plate by the lady of the house and only then partaking of the food, morsel by morsel chanting further mantras and then proceeding to totally dig in with gusto!


1 Elai - banana leaf
2 payasam - sweet dessert or pudding made in south India
3 chamayal - cooking
4 vibhuti - holy ash applied on forehead
5 chandanam kumkumam - sandalwood and red sindoor powder applied on forehead
6 paruppu sadam - dal rice (baby food)
7 pandi - seating of diners
8 manga urugayu - mango pickle

Some things are more precious because they don't last long

Enjoyed this post? Read more southern-spiced pieces,

The Mami Saga:

1) Common-place Curd Rice

2) Kaapi-ready

3) Of Dangling Drumsticks, Wily Vadus and more

4) Idli Seria Vanduda?

5) Mamievolution

6) Buzz Fuss

7) Yours Generously

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