From childhood to teenage to middle age, my likes and tastes have changed a lot over the years. I was a diehard Vishnuvardhan and Amitabh Bachchan fan during childhood. I believed nobody could ever be better than these two. Stepping into teenage, Kamal Haasan was my favorite. As for Cricket, Kapil Dev had replaced Gavaskar and Boris Becker became the greatest sportsperson in the world in 1985.
A few years later in the medical college, I came to realize Stephen Edberg and Andre Agassi were better all court players than Becker and Chiranjeevi danced better than Kamal. Nagarjuna was better looking than any hero in India by then. My favorite heroines too changed from Sridevi to Madhuri to Manisha Koirala to Aishwariya to Deepika.
Moving to present, my all-time favorite actor is Mohanlal, who I believe is the finest actor this country has seen to date. My favorite Cricketers changed from Azar to Dravid and Kumble to Rahane. I am today, a Roger Federer fan on the verge of changing loyalties to Rafa.
With such paradigm shifts in tastes, I might be considered a fickle and untrustworthy person with no sense of loyalty. But no, I can prove that I am a stable and sensible guy. In all these 45 years, at least one of my tastes and loves has never changed. That is my god and my love, The Idlee !
Being the atheist that I am, I have but one god to believe in. That is Idlee. The delicious, melting in mouth, omnipresent, omnipotent and wholesome Idlee. I am not a bigot or fundamentalist. But I don’t respect people who don’t respect Idlee. I consider them racist and misogynist and anti-human. I don’t even find it necessary to explain why I think so.
From the small home-run mess on the borders of Agumbe forest to Fun mall in Chennai, from my maternal uncle’s small hotel in Karkala to Annapoorna in Coimbatore, from the Damodar temple canteen in Jambawali in Goa to the Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences canteen in Hyderabad; wherever I have gone, it is Idlee that has nourished me, sustained me and enriched me.
Idlee is one of the more balanced foods in the world. This is not me talking, but a scientific fact. It has rice for carbohydrates, ured for proteins and very little fat. Add the Sambar and Chutney and we have the necessary fats and vegetables. What more do we want ? Weekday or weekend, summer or winter or monsoon, for me, any day is Idlee-day.
Idlee also is the most enriching food that makes intelligent people. Look at Mokshagundam Vishveshwarayya, Sir C. V. Raman, Sreenivas Ramanujam and a host of intellectual giants are Idlee eaters from childhood. Karnataka alone has the largest number of Jnaanapeeth award winners. What is the secret behind so much of Jnaan or wisdom ? Idlee, what else ?
We just have to look at Rahul Gandhi to understand what all Pizzas and burgers and no Idlee does to a man. The only time he talked sense was when he visited Chennai and had Idlee for breakfast.
Those who don’t believe me should try this and then talk. The famed filter coffee that the South Indians love, tastes a hundred times better when we sip it to wash down the melting hot Idlee-sambar down our esophagus.
I can never get tired of Idlees. Though I voraciously loved Idlee, I never took part in any Idlee eating competitions. These Idlee eating competitions are utter nonsense and a huge insult to Idlee. Idlee can’t be swallowed merely to win a silly trophy and a measly cash award. Idlee is savored, chewed down with utmost care and affection and is generally revered.
On a particularly lovely evening during my teenage, I had polished off about 28 to 30 Idlees at one go, while enjoying my favorite book of Late Kota Shivarama Karanth, one of the three quarter dozen Jnaanpeetha award winners from Karnataka. Well, Karanth and Idlee was a deadly combination. Add the torrential rains of South Karnataka, it was heaven and that is why Idlee is divine.
But Idlee is also an extremely delicate entity. One needs to indulge in preparing it if we have to indulge in savoring it. Those with lesser culinary skills or no love for Idlee can butcher the entity called Idlee. Almost all of Kerala has no love for Idlee. I can understand lack of love, but hate ? Yes, many people hate Idlee and that is why Vivekananda rightly called Kerala a lunatic asylum. He knew that those that don’t love Idlee can’t be any good.
Idlee becomes thicker, harder and sour in Kerala and they call it Iddali. The additional D makes it hard to cut, bite or digest. I don’t know the reason but even the Udupi hotels in Kerala serve Iddali and not Idlee. The Malayalee’s love for extra-spicy food has made them turn the wonderful, non-spicy, mild and non-violent Idlee into Chilly Iddali, a monstrosity that can only be pitied but not emptied from the plate.
During 2 weeks long tour of North India in 1999, I really starved for Idlee. Finally found a South Indian hotel in Manali and ordered for my beloved breakfast. When the waiter served the Idlee, one of them fell down on the floor unfortunately. But fortunately it jumped up with the same speed and sat back in the plate. It looked and jumped around like a small white Rugby ball and perhaps tasted like one too. Never dared to bite a Rugby ball because I have not much ball-biting qualities a la Shahid Afridi.
Coming back to Kerala Iddalis, there are some immensely believable stories about why Tippu Sultan could not conquer Kerala below Malappuram. It is believed Tippu was moving southwards towards Trichur. The locals realized they could not fight against the vastly superior force of Tippu. But not wishing to surrender with ease, they devised a plan. Thousands of Idlees were prepared in the households and the palace and as the army of Tippu arrived, the people attacked them with the Kerala Iddalis. Like the proverbial Boomerang, the Iddalis managed to wreak havoc in Tippu’s troupes. The people were able to re-use the Iddlis because after hitting the targets, they returned to their owners.
Thus the Trichur people defeated the mighty army of Tippu with a few thousand Iddalis. This story has not been included in the history books by our secular historians who wanted to portray Tippu as a brave warrior. The fact is his army was defeated by the famous Iddali-astra of Trichur. Those who suffered serious head injuries from the Iddali-astra went back to Karnataka and their generations down the line became politicians there.
Idlee prepared without devotion and love can be blasphemy. I have respected the Kerala Iddali all these years because it was once used as a weapon to defeat an invader. But this afternoon, the blasphemy called Iddali died a death when I ordered for it in our canteen.
What landed before me in a plate were two shining white globules with a bowl of sambar and a smaller bowl of chutney. As is my habit, I asked for two spoons. My first poke in to the Iddali and the spoon came back, bent at the neck. I thought the spoon was at fault and asked for a replacement. The second spoon, then a knife and then a hack-saw and finally a showel; all of them came unstuck and both the Iddalis remained unconquered like Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman in the famous Chennai test in 2001. The canteen people had not foreseen such an eventuality. Their sincere efforts to help me ended up becoming all of us helpless.
Finally I asked them, “How on earth did you people manage to prepare such crash-proof Iddali ?”. They confessed the Iddali was prepared using the Vellai-Appam batter from the previous day. Wow, now I understood why those globules were shining ! Anyway, calling them Iddali too was a shame. I suggested they rename it Iddali-Appam. They agreed because they didn’t have much of a choice. A Malayalam movie in the past had coined a name Doddali because the Dosa looked like a huge Iddali. But this was altogether a new entity and thus I now have the distinction of naming a new dish, the Iddali-Appam.
But after being party to such a crushing insult to my god, I definitely need to go on a pilgrimage. Hence I have decided to visit different parts of Karnataka and Tamilnadu to do penance and reclaim the sanctity of my religion, the Idleeism !Dr. Punned-it