STRICKEN BY AGE YET FILLED WITH CREATIVITY
by sanjay kumar kundan
by sanjay kumar kundan
Age cannot wither the zeal for life full of creativity. A forlorn village on the riverside, an aged woman with basic education, with meagre means and unbacked by sophisticated technology yet a burning fire of creativity in her old bones. A strong urge to make experiments with gastronomy. She was Mastanamma a Newton, Marco Polo, a Picasso of her field. A small village Gudiwada in Andhra Pradesh witnessed the dexterity of this prodigy, a great chef and the winds coming from the river was mixed with the aroma of her delicious and experimental recipes spreading from her outdoor cooking. Watermelon Chicken, Pumpkin Chicken, Bamboo Chicken, Big Pig Head, Whole Lamb Heads and so many other recipes both vegetarian and non-vegetarian were her very own innovations- add ons in the cooking art.
When we award Michelin star to the chefs, the names of Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire, Martin Berasategui, Yannick Alleno, Anne-Sophie Pic, Gordon Ramsay and others come, in the Indian recipe scenario Sanjeev Kapoor, Vikas Khanna, Madhur Jaffrey, Harpal Singh Sokhi and others have the full command of kitchen. The name of an old wonder lady of 107 years is nowhere in the illustrious array of chefs. She was far away from this show business- engrossed in her innovations and novelties like an old sage immersed in penance indifferent to the worldly laurels.
She would have passed unknown leaving to the world the precious gift of her innovative recipes and her raw cooking techniques very humbly and dispassionately, if Laxman Karre, her great grandson would not have posted her video on YouTube channel back in 2016. The debut video was Mastanamma with the recipe of Eggplant or Brinjal Curry. The chef was a 105 year old rural woman clad in a cotton sari, glasses on her cataract infected sight, disturbing at times coming to the tip of her nose while giving command, cooking in open paddy field, dry leaves and firewood as fuel and a stove made of bricks and wood! Quite traditional and dowdy sight. No ultra-modern shining kitchen, no microwave oven, no non-sticking pans and above all not a young, smart and well-dressed chef. A chef eloquently describing the minute details and the nuances of recipe. It was all plain and simple like a half-clad fakir riding the stairs of the Buckingham Palace. But it clicked. It had thousands of views and subscribers! Surprises were yet to come, when the number was to spurt in millions with addition of more videos. Born in 1911 Mastanamma, the genius of gastronomy, had to wait for 105 years to come to limelight, to be exposed to her worldwide fans but she could see her acceptance with her own eyes for just two years as on 3rd December 2018, she finished the 107 years allotted to her. She was the oldest You Tuber in the world. She is very much there alive with her numerous innovative recipes in her YouTube channel “Country Foods” run by her great grandson, whose channel reached at the zenith of popularity just because of granny, which has 1.49 million views and 7,00000 subscribers.
Now, a little peck at her novel recipes. Mastanamma’s invention which drew wide attention, 10 million views, was Watermelon Chicken. We don’t know how and when she conceptualised its idea. Watermelon was just turned into a cooking pot by her. She cut the watermelon at the top, took out its fleshy mesocarp, prepared her herbs and spices, mixed them with the chicken pieces and wrapping all in a banana leaf stuffed in the watermelon, and using the watermelon as a cooking pot, cooked it on the traditional wood stove. The outcome was chicken with a captivating aroma yet free of the strange fruit flavour. This experiment was a grand success. Then her experiment of egg stuffed in tomato, stuffed in capsicum- the omelettes were unique and fantastic. There is a long list of her specialities. Pumpkin Chicken, Emu Egg Fry, Goat Leg Fry, Chicken Pizza, Bamboo Chiken Biryani, Prawn Biryani, Chocolate Cake, Samosa Fish Curry, Brinjal Biryani and many more. Her recipes are not only non-vegetarian but so many of vegetarian innovative recipes are very much there for the vegetarians. The aroma of her open paddy field kitchen is unforgettable to the epicurean nostrils.
Still the author of so many delicacies herself could not taste the delicacies of destiny all through her life. Though she was optimistic and mistress of immense will power, odds and shocks were indelibly written in her destiny. Karre Mastanamma was born in Kopalle village and was originally named Martamma. A Muslim family adopted her as they had no daughter. And here she became Mastanamma. But one way or the other she did not live there and returned to her village. At just 11 she was married to Bhushanam. Destiny gave her only 11 years of conjugal life and at 22, she was a widow with five children to feed. Almost illiterate Mastanamma had but one option to work in paddy fields as a daily labourer to feed her children. More misfortune and shock were waiting impatiently for her. Her four children died one by one in an endemic. She had but one son left and her toils in the field. And David, now her only son had also lost his eyesight. Her dying husband’s parting words still echoed in her ears, “You’re a very strong and intelligent woman. You’ll survive.” And she did survive amidst all odds with an acute sense of humour and a strong will. She had plenty of anecdotes and a witty and humorous style of relating them.
All through her life she remained self-dependent in her hut alone. She did not live even with her son. Innovation in cooking was an inspired art in her. She was unassuming and never boasted of her exceptional talent.
But she had to wait for one hundred and five years to let the world know that she was a living legend. BBC and Al Jazeera featured her, the fan of her art and the subscribers of her channel were from US, UK, Malaysia and Pakistan, she got immense love as her subscribers collected 30,000 rupees to celebrate her 106th birthday on April 10, 2017. A family in Switzerland invited her. Though she could not leave the affection of her hut in which she lived for 90 years.
Mastanamma’s story comes out of the pale of culinary skills and turns into a legend of fight of a lonely woman with destiny and achieving the last victory not less than that of Nelson in Trafalgar or Indian victory of independence over colonialism.