Monday, January 12, 2009

Stainless steel empire

Many years ago when we were searching for a house, the size of the kitchen was a very important thing. Indeed it was the only reason we bought the house we currently live in.

The fact that it was away from civilization (then) did not matter. The fact that it was in a place that was a swamp once upon a time, did not matter. The fact that the houses architect (or was it the builder who swapped room plans) probably built the house with a kitchen centric view, won the day. Many other, promising, houses in promising localities with a lot of potential were given up on excuses like, "The kitchen is too small" or "The kitchen is barely big enough for a balcony".

Now this being Bombay, space has an altogether different meaning. Space is meant to conserved in homes, not meant to be used for glass topped dining tables like Bangalore. So, you can have folding kitchens, folding sofa sets, folding wall mounted TVs, folding doors, windows, concealed bathrooms - anything that conserved precious real estate was a hot seller. This house made no pretense of revolving around its big, ginormous kitchen. And my mom fell in instant love with it when she saw it. Most of the others who bought flats in the same building, like other Bombayites promptly used the space to create another room, but not us.

Now why this was so, requires a bit of a background. Our kitchen is built on a premise business continuity planners and network engineers would be proud of. There are failover and back plans for every failover and back up plan. Multiple redundancies are built in. Questions, unheard of, have been asked while stocking up on steel vessels which would have bailed out many a steel mill while contributing directly to nation development. Indeed, J Tata and SAIL owe a few thousand shares to each of the South Indian maamis who built their little stainless steel empires - in their kitchen. (Not to mention Prestige and Hawkins.) (The effect of stainless steel in kitchens in Tamil culinary tradition is often compared to the discovery of fire in the advancement of humans.)

""What if" suddenly, we have 30 visitors? How can we make coffee for them?" Thus we have a coffee filter for a regular family of 4, 24 and 456. "How can they have only coffee? They surely need idli too?" Thus we have idli stands that can churn 16, 64 and 128 idlis at one go. We have all of Prestiges cookers and some of Hawkins too to accomodate these demands. "Idli has to have sambar right? That means, big and bigger vessels." Thus, like empires, was our kitchen built over time. Thankfully, the government allows only 2 gas cylinders per house, otherwise, you know what the consequenes would have been...

Steel companies, I suspect had entire marketing teams designed to feed the South Indian kitchens idiosyncracies. I also suspect, like todays Tupperware women, many maamis had stealth jobs in marketing steel vessels. One of the houses we used to visit had a maami who was known to be the authority on the latest trends in the steel vessel market. Which is why some families had mamis with names like "Eversilver" maami. Perhaps she was, unknown to us, Steelwoman. Entire Gujju communities set up stainless steel vessel shops to create a feeder system (many of them also learnt Tamil in the bargain). Stainless steel kitchen empires were created out of a combination of Indias socialism - the fact that it was the only thing that did not need a booking and waiting period - and chit funds and keeping up with the Jayaramans. Ecosystems that helped you exchange anything for steel vessels sprung up all over (remember the bartering of old clothes for steel vessels). Steel ruled kitchens! It is still a tough bastion to conquer for the others...

Non stick? Ptuui...anything that cannot withstand the banging of metal on metal is a wuss. If there is one barrier on the prevalence of microwaves in these traditional bastions, it is the fact that metal vessels cannot be nuked.

Plastic? Thats for toys.


Kavi said...

Ah neat steel pick !! :)

Quite enjoyed it. Eversilver was Gold standard for a long time. i remember you could trade eversilver utensils for old sarees and dress material !!

And eversilver occupying more space than the folks who forked out money to own so much part of mainstream south India !!

"Stainless steel kitchen empires were created out of a combination of Indias socialism - the fact that it was the only thing that did not need a booking and waiting period - and chit funds and keeping up with the Jayaramans" : I dont know how many zillion memories came rushing back !!

Super post !! :)

Prasanth said...

Great post!!. Probably something else that Tata and SAIL has to thank for was the penchant for gifting Stainless Steel vessels as wedding gifts. My parents house has loft full of these "gifts" - some of them gifted during their wedding 50 years back !!

niti bhan said...

All I saw during my year or so's tenure in Teynampet was Salem, everything else was considered a wannabe ;p

poetry on steel, neelakanta, excellent post

Neelakantan said...

Yes Kavi, if only steel was as appreciative as gold, all of us wd be really rich.

Prasanth, steel was a choice of gifts, esp during festivals. Right!

Niti, poetry in steel indeed - I might unleash a second part :)

purple pitara said...

how true! even now when i take my mom to one of those Steel shops,she behaves like how your kid probably might in a lego store :)

great post! welcome break from your pet topic these days!

Amit said...

Verryyy Funny!
Sometimes I wonder if Indian mothers love the ensemble cast of 5000 katoris and 15000 dabbas..