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Not cool enough yet? The ‘upma’ conundrum

“Folks are coming home for dinner tonight, what do you say we finish up all the leftovers in the fridge, so we can start afresh tonight?” I said, peering into the refrigerator.

One box of Chinese take-out ( kung pao vegetables) was stacked atop a glass container with homemade vegetable biryani. Beside it lay some South Indian koottu and some chapathis. Conquer Genghis Khan, Akbar and Raja Raja Cholan in one sweep.

“Sure!” said the husband. I must tell you that of the many virtues I love about the husband, one is the fact that he is not a snooty gourmet. He is one of those lovable fellows who will have an omelette with dosa and soup, and gush on to say it was a good meal. So much so that, I have got used to being quite the Empress of Palates around the house. If I think we could have masala vada and I am in the mood to make them, I set to it with gusto.

“I told the guys we shall make it a South Indian dinner potluck.” said the husband as I peeked into the phone telling me about one friend’s contribution. I nodded. One friend said she would make a side dish that would go well with upma. So, I said I will make ‘ Upma’. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upma) It is that beautiful dish that is garnished with beans, carrot, peas all cut up into tiny pieces like stars, planets and comets speckling a clear night sky, and to complete the panorama of the flitting clouds added. “I’ll also make a mean groundnut chutney.” Van Gogh’s painting would beg if I made this beautiful one swirl.

I had that smile that tints my face when I look up at the night sky, while the husband looked mortified. “How could you? Why would you make upma when you can make so many other things? Upma is not the right dish for... it just isn’t the right dish pairing for dinner alright,” said the man hovering his chapathi between the kung pao vegetable and the koottu, on his plate, as though deciding which was the worse choice to make.

“But you don’t mind eating upma. Even though you say you don’t particularly like it, you do justice to the dish, don’t you?”

“Well, yes. But upma is not a dinner-worthy dish.”

“We had it for dinner last week with tomato chutney, remember?”

“Yes! For us it is okay, but it isn’t exactly a dinner dish for guests,” he said with a flourish. Like one who has just scored a particularly tricky point at the Local Debating Competition. The way he said ‘Guests’, one would think President Obama was stopping by with Elon Musk for a discussion.

“I thought you said the only folks who visit our home are those you can open the kitchen to.”

I now checked with the daughter.

“Yes, but upma is easy to make.”

“Really? Last month do you remember me peeling some pasty stuff off the pan when you attempted to make it? You said I made it look easy to make upma, but it actually is an art by itself.”

“Yes… I did. But that was to appease you.” I drew myself up. The husband raced on before I tacked on to the subject of appeasing and said, “No. Not upma. Anything else will do.”

“I don’t understand this – what is wrong with upma?”

“I don’t know. It is considered a poor man’s dish.” said the husband, his arguments thinning. The cashew nuts and ghee swam before my eyes.

I gazed at the poor fish, and let it go. A few minutes later, the phone piped up with friends telling one another what they proposed to bring. One of them said she would bring upma and then went on to add: My husband thinks I should not say upma though, so I shall bring vermicelli-sooji khichdi. Then the phone buzzed again with her husband chiming into the conversation saying they would switch their entry to pongal instead of upma.

What is the mystery that plagues upma’s status in South Indian society? The Empress of Palates demands a review. An Upma Festival, maybe?

saumya_bala@yahoo.com

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Printable version | Mar 27, 2020 5:03:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/Not-cool-enough-yet-The-%E2%80%98upma%E2%80%99-conundrum/article14495999.ece

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