I’ve heard that medical experts document in detail, in accordance with their working philosophy - the onset of an ailment in a patient, its progression, the effect the ingested medicine has in curing the patient, and so forth (as evidence) in their articles and books. I too have suffered some ailments in the past. I’m interested in developments in medical sciences. I intend to record a few case histories that could possibly help future editors of pharmacopeia. I will present two cases now - Hunger and Indigestion. We will see how a few famous men and a few not-so-famous men adopted remedies for these two ailments.
I will narrate below some stories I’ve heard about the eating habits of some of the Diwans of Mysore.
Sir K. Seshadri Iyer was a gourmand. He enjoyed a variety of vegetables and dishes as part of his daily meals. Once or twice in six months, he would suffer indigestion and would treat his ailment in this manner: make a good chiroti and place it in a large silver container about a foot in diameter, sprinkle powdered sugar on top of it and place another chiroti on top of it. Sprinkle another layer of powdered sugar and place another chiroti - repeat to complete three layers. Then, sprinkle a handful of Magnesium Sulphate on top. Repeat until the container is full.
Then he would pour hot, steamy milk gently and slowly over the stack while two others engaged themselves in pressing and packing it with a fork. As the stack softened to about half its size, he would consume the whole in one sitting and then fast for the rest of the day.
The next day, he would revert to his usual meal plan!
T Madhava Rao
Raja Sir Tanjore Madhav Rao was a bigger gourmand. He would fire up four to five stoves in a small room at the back of his office to cook his own food. He kept small containers in shelves around this room and stocked them with all kinds of ready mixes, flours - for chakli, laddu and many other snacks - and spice masalas for sambār (soup) etc.
Sir Madhav Rao, seated in his office, would write articles by himself or dictate to his assistant. Snacks would come in regularly from his improvised kitchen. Suppose the cook brought a masala dosa. Madhava Rao would take a morsel and either before or after savoring it, he would exclaim, “What! No pakoda today?"
As soon as the hot pakodas arrived, he would say: "I miss the taste of ghevar!”
And soon enough, ghevar would be prepared. If his favorite snacks did not appear when requested, his cook could expect a transfer soon. He snacked regularly like in this manner, even while at home. Some attributed his remarkable intelligence to his habit of frequent snacking.
Sir Amaravati Seshayya Shastri was also a foodie. He was well known as the Diwan of Pudukottai province. He was a Sanskrit scholar and a man with a brilliant mind. Well-endowed in physical girth as well - finding it difficult to get up, sit down or move around. His food arrangements were quite fascinating.
He would sit in the inner center of a semi-circular bench, like the ones found in courts of law. He usually sat in padmasana with the bench coming to the height of his chest. Banana leaves would be placed all along on the bench as it curved around his generous proportions. A variety of dishes were served on these leaves. Wherever he placed his hands, he would find a dish, so he wouldn’t have to struggle to twist or bend his body (neither was this possible!). All delicious dishes were placed within reach. Thus did Seshayya Shastri enjoy his leisurely repast.
Tanjore Anand Rao’s food habits were more mundane than that of his father Sir Madhav Rao. But he earned his fame by feeding his family and friends lavishly. Another person, who was well-known for his grand hospitality and wealth, was Śri Narasinga Rao Poornaiah of Eluru. Both employed Palakkad Iyers to supervise serving of food to their guests. These supervisors would come resplendent in clean white dhoti (lower body wrap), dazzling ear-rings, rings on their fingers, vibhūti lines on their foreheads and angavastram (upper cloth) draped on their shoulders. They would fold their dhotis a little above the knees and stand, one each, at the two ends of the row of seated guests and gently wave a hand-fan as a gesture of hospitality. Their main role was to watch which guests were likely to run out of a dish or which guests were relishing a dish and then discreetly gesture to their servers to replenish the same and ensure that the same happens. They were not supposed to speak and had to anticipate the wishes of their guests through their eyes. They never slacked and made the guest ask, “I need more of this dish”. Before the meal is served, they requested each guest, “Please don’t interrupt your eating to request for more. It is sufficient to just cast a glance in our direction. If my master comes to know that you had to explicitly ask for, say, palya (vegetable side dish) or majjige paḻadya (curd soup), he will penalize us eight ānās (50 paise) for inadequate attention. We are ever ready to serve you.”
Anand Rao’s lavish feasts were quite memorable. So were those of Narasinga Rao. Four types of sārus two types of huḻi , two types of thovve, deep and shallow fried dishes, sweet, sour, spicy or even bland dishes - they would satisfy even the most discriminating connoisseurs, whether well-toothed or toothless!
Trip to Gadag
A few years back, a group of about seven to eight of us, went on a tour. We had to pass by Gadag and happened to spend our night there. We stayed at a stranger’s house; I forget his name now. We didn’t have to have our meals there. Our team leader, Śri Bellave Venkatanaranappa, cooked his own food being an adherent of orthodox practices. Sri Huyilegola Narayana, a friend, was our host, feeding the rest of us. Let’s say, we reached the town on a Monday sometime around evening and departed on Thursday morning, the same week. The host ensured that we never ran short of vessels or water for our cooking needs. Śri Venkatanaranappa was adamant that such selfless hospitality should be compensated. However, the hosts flatly refused to accept any money. After a lot of thought, we decided to leave a five rupee note behind and “forget” to pick it up. We were at peace. But within four or five days of our return to Bangalore, we received five rupees via Money Order with the note, “One of you has left behind this money. It does not belong to us. Please return to its rightful owner.” Sri Venkatanaranappa guffawed and said, “Incredible! People like him exist even today?” We discussed it for a couple of days and then replied back, “We will not take this money back. Please use it as per your wish. You may offer it to a temple”. I don’t know what happened after that.
To be continued...
This is the first part of a two-part English translation of the thirty-second essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 8) – Sankeerna-Samputa. Edited by Arjun Bharadwaj and Hari Ravikumar.