This post was originally written in 2017. I've updated it today (11th Jan 2022), after my Ajji passed away. May she enjoy endless runs of cooking shows in her afterlife.
Lily is a lifelong cooking enthusiast. She collected, cooked, commented on, and critiqued thousands of recipes over the years - and she did it before the age of the telephone (let alone the TV, the computer or the internet).
The photo you see here is of my ajji (grandmother) Leela Manerikar - lovingly referred to as Lily by her numerous grandchildren. She's 96 in the photo.
I moved out of my parents' home in 2015, and learnt two things quickly:
- I was an ungrateful son who never truly appreciated the work that goes into setting a dinner table everyday.
- I liked cooking. I liked the ritual of it, I loved the flavours, and it helped me relax.
My grandmother - and my parents - were pleasantly surprised to hear about my newfound love of cooking. And then Lily said, "Are you interested in checking out my collection of recipes?". My grandmother watched every cooking show she could ("Vegetarian only, mind you.") but I did not know that she collected recipes. I was more than happy to go through her recipes.
These last years have been harsh on Lily. She lost her eyesight, and has trouble moving around the house. She cannot cook anymore, but she is delighted that I enjoy it, and suggests improvements to my recipes when I describe my successes and missteps to her.
Sadly, we've lost all but one box of Lily's recipes over the years. Some to poor storage and some to bookworms. As she handed over this final box of recipes to me, she said:
"I used to collect these recipes obsessively when I was young. You kids have it easy: look at your phone and it will tell you how to cook something, how it should look, what it should smell like. In my time, gathering this knowledge was harder. These scraps may or may not be useful to you, what with your fancy phone. If you find something useful, great. Otherwise, throw them away."
That last bit about "throwing them away" comes from a sense of drama cultivated by watching a healthy dose of daily soaps and cooking shows for decades. None-the-less, these clippings are precious to me. They are a glimpse into the life of a person I've never known - a young woman who raised four kids on a teacher's salary. Someone who was a long way off from being my grandmother. There are scribbles on the sides, marking improvements and experiments over time. There are postcards of recipes exchanged between my grandmom and her daughter - studying cooking in a Banglorean college. There is the awe of looking at something that is older than I am, and represents a bygone era.
I want Lily's legacy to live on in a small way, and to be accessible to all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And so I'm moving these recipes online, out of reach of bookworms and moisture (I'll be on the lookout for bitworms). I plan to cook the dishes, expand on the annotations in the corners and raise a toast to my grandmother's health as often as I can!