Monday, December 19, 2011

PAAYASAM, Coconut and Coffee

Paayasa is a popular sweet dish of South India.  Actually, Paayasam is a family of sweet dishes with dozens of variants.  Usually made of Jaggery or Gud as a main ingredient and other components thrown in, it is a must dish in festivals and functions.  Another popular dish, Kheer, is also a member of this family.  The basic taste also varies in preparations in different states and regions.  Coastal Karnataka has its own popular varieties with Green gram or its Dal as one of the components.   They also have payasam dishes with jack fruit, mango and sweet potatoes.  Kerala has its own varieties of payasam and palpayasam of Guruvayooru is quite famous and very tasty.  So also with Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh.  With a literally rich addition of coconut, cashew nuts, badam and dry grapes,  Payasam is a big hit with children and elders alike.

When we were kids we were taught two customs or practice with payasams.   First one is that one should never say "No" to payasam when it is being served.  At least a small quantity should be accepted.  Second is one's plate should never be lifted or cleaned with  the hand after eating payasam in a plate.  The hand should at least be washed before cleaning the plates.  I suspect this was a ploy to prevent guests from cleaning their own plates.   By the time the guest washes his or her hand and returns, someone from the host's household would have taken away the used palates for washing.  Many times someone would say he does not want payasam because he or she is full and there is no place for next helping.  Then the eldest person or the one serving payasam would remind us of the Coconut bag and rava or soji (also called semolina in the west).   When a Gunny bag is filled with coconut and there is no place for adding a single coconut, still several Kilograms or pounds of semolina can be easily added in the bag.   Similarly, the stomach may be totally full, but it will still find some place for the liquid or semi-liquid payasam!   It was probably one way of exhausting all payasam prepared for the day.  In the days of no refrigerators, payasam would get stale quickly and any argument for full usage when it is good for consumption was just and fine.

The example of  gunny bag filled with coconuts and adding semolina or rava in it was also quoted in several other contexts, say for example making place for one more person in a crowed bus or train compartment.   Or scheduling one more visit in a crowed program.

A friend sent me a story by e-mail nearly five years ago.   It is a popular story and is still making rounds. It is of the Mayonnaise jar and 2 cups of coffee.  It says that when things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee:

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him.  When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.  He then asked the students if the jar was full.  They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly.  The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.  He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.  He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous "yes."

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand.  The students laughed.

"Now," said the professor as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things---God, your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favourite passions---and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else---the small stuff. "If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.  The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

"Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.  Play with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents.  Take time to get medical checkups.  Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18.  There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first---the things that really matter.  Set your priorities.  The rest is just sand." 

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented.   The Professor smiled.  "I am glad you asked.   It just goes to show you that no matter what your life may seem, there's always room  for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend".

Whether it is the "Full stomach and a small helping of Payasam" or "Gunny bag filled with coconut and semolina" or "Mayonnaise jar and two cups of coffee", the message is same. There is always time for a friend, however much busy you may be otherwise. 


  1. Very nice and was heard in different contest.All elders were same during those days .After we4 ate KOOTU anna of my grand mother we dint want to spoil by consuming payasa of ghassagasse.She used to bring at the end and my Grand Father like Captain of a rehiment used to be sitting and we wont afford to say no loudly .We used to tell two times SAKU .And my grabd mother knew everything and would put just half table spoon of payasa and move forward which was not understood by my Grand father and we would get away.Father's descipline and Mother's uncomparable love on earfth we found in my Grand parents in those days as we were not privilaged to understande 2what is father or mother in the child hood

  2. Fantastic message. Majority of us run behind sand thinking life without sand is zero. Appropriate lesson to be shared with one and all.

    Thank you Keshu for your wonderful small but effective stories. I am enjoying every inch of it.

  3. always enjoyed the mayo jar story...the payasaa take wss interesting....thanks Maama

  4. The mayo jar story was interesting!