I’ve been reading Narayan’s autobiography, My Days. He was born in 1906. At the age of three or four he was sent to live with his maternal grandmother in Madras because his mother was too delicate to look after the entire brood. Here in his grandmother’s house he had a pet monkey and peacock. With such great flair does he begin his autobiography, writing about the antics of his two pets, that whatever your age may be you’ll be enchanted.
As a child Narayan didn’t like going to school and hated drill and examinations. Poor Narayan, at one stage, after he had finished his studies, and with no luck on the job front, he was made to take up a teacher’s job….and teach drill and mathematics! and how he hated both. He walked away from the teaching assignment never to return. Thank God, for what a loss it would have been for readers all over the world had he not become a writer. He also went against the grain about the education system all his life. He said he learnt more from books outside than the ones he was forced to read in school and in college.
In his early days most people poked fun at him for wanting to be a writer and thought he was being irresponsible by not taking up a job and supporting his large family when his father had just retired.
But he did become a writer, and how stylish, magnificent and priceless is his writing. He won many accolades for his brilliance, among them The Sahitya Academy award for his book The Guide, and the A.C Benson Medal by the Royal Society Of Literature in 1980. He was made an Honorary Member of the American Academy And Institute Of Arts And Letters In 1982. He was honored with the Padma Bhushan in 1964 and the Padma Vibhushan In 2000. He died in May 2001 at the age of 94.
In her book Tiffin, which I loved reading, Rukmini Srinivas reveals that Narayan was vegetarian. He liked eating curd rice, ulundu vadai or deep fried, spicy, split black bean batter vadais which she often made for him. He also loved his filter coffee. And his packet of scented betel nut which he kept with him at all times.
Here is the recipe of ulundu vadai or deep fried, spicy, split black bean batter vadais, as I have adapted it from Rukmini Srinivas’s book.
These delicious deep fried vadais were among Narayan’s favorite food when he met Rukmini Srinivas and her husband in America.
- 2 cups urad dal or split black beans, soaked for two hours and drained
- 1 tspn salt, or to taste
- 2 finely chopped green chillies
- 6 coursely ground black peppercorns
- 8 curry leaves, torn in pieces
- 1/4 tspn asafoetida powder
- 1/4 cup grated fresh coconut
- 1 tspn grated fresh ginger
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 cups oil for frying
Grind the split black beans in the food processor to a thick, creamy batter, adding approximately 1/4 cup water while grinding. Remove in a vessel and keep aside.
Add the salt, green chillies, black peppercorns, curry leaves, asafoetida, coconut and ginger. Mix well.
Heat the oil in a frying pan to medium heat, not smoking hot. With wet hands make balls out of the batter, flatten each slightly, then make a hole in the centre and drop them one at a time into the hot oil. You can fry approximately 5 or 6 vadais in one batch depending on the size of your pan.
Initially the vadais will sink to the bottom and as they fry they will rise to the surface. Gently separate them if they stick to each other. Fry them on all sides to a golden brown color.
Once done, remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper. A well done vadai will be crisp on the outside and soft and spongy on the inside.
Serve hot with onion coconut chutney.
And finally this wonderful music from the title track of Malgudi Days which enthralled us when it appeared on television many years ago.