From a tiny kitchen in Srirangam this elderly couple teach NRIs how to make through YouTube
The cashew sputters and the warm smells of melting ghee hover in the air. The maami in green madisar tosses the pan in her tiny kitchen fitted with traditional brass and copper pans, microwave, stereo and laptop. Her husband flits around her, sometimes helping, sometimes getting in way. As she stirs and stokes amidst peals of bicycle bells and squawking crows in a quiet neighbourhood in Srirangam, there are thousands replicating her moves in compact kitchens at Minnesotta, Canberra, Abu Dhabi and Amsterdam.
A YouTube search for Srirangam prompts up ‘Srirangam Radhu’ even before the iconic Srirangam Temple. Geetha and Radhakrishnan are relatively unknown in their own neighbourhood, but their combined internet avatar as ‘geetradhu’ on YouTube commands a huge fan base among NRI Tamils all over the world.
What originally started as a cooking demonstration of South Indian favourites for their son settled in Canada morphed into a life-saver with 400 videos and counting for students, newly married couples and long-time residents who crave for a taste of home in alien lands. In the process ‘geet radhu’ have created a digital archive of aviyal, karunai kizhangu masiyal, mor kolmabu, ellu chutney and many more in a format that allows for step-by-step learning.
“My son, a mechanical engineer, married a Canadian girl and settled down there,” Geeta recounts. “He was fond of my cooking and said he missed it. We decided to make a video with instructions on preparing aviyal in 2008.”
The video was uploaded on YouTube and Jyothika Sri, someone who stumbled across it, requested for vatha kuzhambu that set the flood of enquiries and subsequent posts. “We made the first few videos with only our son in mind. We never expected them to become so popular. It was like a director’s first film turning into a hit.”
There are umpteen cooking videos to be found on the internet but ‘Srirangam Radhu’ as they are popularly known have a distinctive appeal. Imagine you’re in foreign shores, longing for a taste of home food but know next to nothing about cooking. You chance upon a grandmother figure who can guide you through all your favourite recipes step-by-step and is savvy enough to wield a laptop and camera. And there’s a father figure standing by asking all the questions which you’re afraid are too foolish to ask. All this in a setting that is nostalgic of mom’s kitchen. Now would you prefer Nigella Lawson with gleaming glass bowls and designer kitchens or grandmom standing by your elbow telling you in Tamil what to do and most importantly what not to do?
Inside mom’s kitchen
“One compliment we often get is Amma Nyabagam Varudhu’ (I remember my mom),” says Radhakrishnan who records his wife’s cooking in a pocket recorder while simultaneously playing the part of an amateur cook troubled by culinary doubts. “All the trouble we take is worth the effort when people tell us ‘my child is a poor eater but loved what I cooked today’ and ‘my husband and I no longer fight over cooking,” says Geeta, who believes it is never too late to learn how to ladle up something edible. “I knew nothing about cooking till I got married. Whatever I learnt was from my mother-in-law, an expert cook.”
Though retired, it is perhaps her profession as a school teacher that makes her an ace at giving methodical instructions while speaking to the camera. The videos are real time and offer a close up of all the ingredients, how they look after they are crushed or ground and each stage of preparation. There are no rehearsals or multiple takes which only enhances the output. “Only once we messed up, it has worked out right every other time,” smiles Geeta.
While most people in their age bracket may show reluctance in taking towards technology, Radhakrishnan’s curiosity and love for experimentation has made it possible. “We learnt by trial and error. There are instructions to operate everything from uploading a video to editing,” he shares. “Without his assistance I could have done nothing,” Geeta smiles fondly at her husband. “I hang around asking all the questions. Some viewers say I’m helpful, others feel I talk too much,” he guffaws. The channel has crossed a million views, reached the top ten rankings in YouTube once and later approached by advertisers, brings in around 100 dollars a month. “I think it is the native touch,” Radhakrishnan tries why their YouTube channel has struck a chord. “Two people talking in a kitchen with the sound of a pooja bell, an autorickshaw hoot or a conversation next door quarrel, all bring home closer to them (NRIs).”
Geet Radhu have taken a sabbatical of more than six months to visit their children abroad. Thanks to their YouTube channel they have an extended family all over the globe and advice is solicited on various matters including nose piercing and real estate. On popular demand, the couple also uploaded videos of homam, varalaskshmi nombu and vishu kani rituals for NRIs who tuned in to catch them live. In the course of four years, Radhu maami has now improvised recipes with microwave equivalents, occasionally English translations and planned around ingredients available in European or American markets.
Though a self-confessed orthodox maami, the family’s cosmopolitan nature (her son married Canadian and daughter married a Christian) are reflected in her contemporary take on food like curd rice with cheese.
But the maami who has managed to play foster grandmom to thousands of young people, has her biggest culinary challenge closer home. “Cooking for my British Indian grandson on his holiday here,” she sighs.
Views: 1.73 million
Radhu’s top five:
1. Vatha Kuzhambu
2. Ven Pongal
3. Paruppu Urundai Kuzhlambu
4. Keerai Kootu
5. Mysore Rasam.