Dil maange ‘moru’

For over 10 years, residents of Kumara Vijayam Apartments have been serving 200 litres of refreshment per day during summer
Every year, the residents say they spend around `60,000 to serve free buttermilk.
Every year, the residents say they spend around `60,000 to serve free buttermilk.(Photo| P Jawahar, EPS)

CHENNAI : As the devilish summer sun tries to squeeze out your last ounce of energy, the gates of Kumara Vijayam Apartments in Mylapore are thrown open to you. What awaits you there is an ultimate bliss: a glass brimming with rich, thick buttermilk blended with the coriander leaves ground with ginger, green chilies, chat masala, and asafoetida. It is an invite you can hardly resist.

The tradition of serving the refreshment to passers-by has been a part of the residents’ annual ritual for a decade. From May 1 to June 15, the complex ladles up to take on the summer. The hubbub is constant as one of the residents is handing out the drink, another washing the used cups and the third one, refilling them. Around 200 litres are distributed on a daily average at the apartment free of cost during the 45 days when the sun rises to bother us.

“I dedicate an hour daily to prepare the buttermilk during the period. We churn around 15 litres of curd daily. True satisfaction is when people crowd the building entrance asking for multiple servings, some even asking for parcels to take on their way back,” Abhirami Balakrishnan, one of the residents who heads the initiative, says. The consistency of the buttermilk is made watery-thin so that it melts away along with the woes of the heat.

“It started in 2014 when Gopal G (a resident) came up with the idea of distributing buttermilk in the apartment complex. From the food delivery guys to officials, whoever visits the building leaves with a refreshed throat and possibly, mind due to this glass of buttermilk. We took the reins from Gopal four years back, now my wife, Abhirami and I head the initiative,” adds AV Vishwanathan, a 60-year-old psychologist. Food delivery boys, nearby shopkeepers, and a multitude of others who pass the building on their commute to the Mundagakanni Amman MRTS Station gratefully gulp down the drink. The passers-by then bless the residents taking special care to touch their heads while saying, “Vazhka valamudan, noi noodi ilama irukanam (Live a healthy life without any diseases or problems).”

“The whole process brings the community together. We want to teach the children the satisfaction in giving and sharing, so we let them play music to ensure their participation. The elderly make a day out of it, they dress in their best and supervise that everything is well executed. It spreads smiles and brings a lot of joy to everyone involved,” says Vishwanathan.

It costs the residents about Rs 60,000 to distribute the buttermilk every year. They get the money through pooling and donations. Residents’ relatives, friends, and well-wishers chip in. Sometimes, they exceed their expected collection and set aside the money for the next year. “We bought an umbrella and a bucket to store the buttermilk from the additional money from last year. Sometimes, the people who drink also contribute. It might be Rs 5 or Rs 10, but it brings everyone closer, a way to harmonise during these trying times. Vendors from the nearby Thanni Thurai market offer curry leaves and coriander leaves for the drink,” adds Mala Shekar, another resident.

“We have tried mango juice, panagam, rose milk over multiple summers, but the one that has always been a hit, across all ages is buttermilk,” concludes Abhirami.

At the gates, Vijayalakshmi Balakarishnan is the most energetic of the lot. The 85-year-old has travelled from T Nagar to volunteer at her daughter’s place. Clad in yellow saree, her white hair forms a halo around her face, as she serves passers-by, she appears to be shining brighter than the sun.

(Edited by Meghna Murali)

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