I venture to write on a topic which I am familiar with – ‘porulankai’- that moderately sweet, round, eatable stuff, which your mother or grand mother prepares to delight your palate. I am sure that, this is a topic of interest to all of us here.
Porulankai is not a ‘kai’ like thenkai, a seed or vazhakkai, a vegetable. It has nothing to do with podavalankai, though their names sound they are twin brothers. You know that they are opposite in appearance and character. I had a friend in my college, the Lab. attendant, Mathan panicker. He had nothing common with ‘mathan’, our pumpkin. That guy was lean like a ‘payar’ and tall like a panamaram, palm tree. Names can be deceptive often. Kunjukuttan was my classmate. He was neither kunju nor kuttan; was a Kumbakarnan in body-size and also in snoring. We often used to fight for the last seat in the last bench. So was another one, ‘Dayalan’ who was the most unkind, cruel friend, I ever had. He used to sit and weep in a corner when other children go near to wipe his tears, he used to kick them at their abdomen. Kicking at abdomen is one of the cruelest acts, as you know.
Back to my topic again. Unlike his cine- star-stylish, fragrant, rich girl friend, Laddu, Porulankai is not endowed with a glossy skin or tempting projections and curvy features . What pains me most is that, even the gods go by looks. Otherwise, why do they accept laddu for neivediyam and not porulankai. Even dark skinned, dull faced appam is accepted by them, probably because of the shiny skin, but I am yet to receive porulankai as prasadam from any temple.
I am a Palkkadan porulankai, wheat skinned, hard to break and spicy in nature and my sahadharmini is Thekkan Maaladu, fair, frail and comely. Maaladu, as you know is a favorite item in Thiruvananthapuram area, golden- yellowish, soft to feel and breaks with a mild press. If you have a mamiyar from TVM, as I do, she might be bringing a dozen or two of those sandy, sweet balls when she comes to meet you. The problem comes when the stuff is too hard. The problem is for you and not for her. Her teeth, all, might be as strong as they were, when she brought out your wife to this world. And, what a wonderful product she has brought out! Long live mothers in law!
I did some research on Porulankai as I thought it would be more useful than many topics of our current discussion. I took the assistance of my friend Seshu, from Ambasamudram, who has crossed all the samudrams (oceans ) in the globe, as the caption of a commercial ship, as the subject of study is as complicated as, ‘whether Brahmins should eat brinjal or not’. Bye the by, you know why bringal is not to be eaten by brahmins? Because, there is egg in it ! That is why it is called ‘eggplant’. You are shocked and are in a hurry to find out the prayachithams for gulping different dishes of eggplant. There are experts in our group to help you. The harm already done cannot be undone.
This is what Seshu says on porulankai:
“Porulankai is not Palakkadan. Its origin is Thanjavur, Kumbakonam or Mayavaram. It accompanied the migrants to the bank of the Kalpathi river, as one of the food items, safely stored in the ‘mootai’ or cloth bundle, hung on the shoulders of the ‘pilgrims’.( The word ‘pilgrim’ is used to satisfy his ego, as he has a paper on the first migrants to USA, later named ‘pilgrims’.)
The original name of this snack was porul valan kai – seed or substance full of ‘porul’ ( meaning, essence etc). What was that ‘porul’ ? Remember, our forebears had to undertake an arduous journey on foot, lasting several weeks or months and there was an urgent need to induct some courage into their blood so that they were bold enough at least to hiss if not to bite, while encountering enemies en-route. The usual ‘thair sadam’, innocent in looks and invertebrate in nature, was not the ideal food for that purpose, they realized. More over, like all good things, its life is limited. So, in their wisdom, our worthy patties of yore, invented porulankai and added some chukkuppodi, powder of chukku or dried ginger into the dough so that the ‘satwa’ spice ingrains a bit of ‘Raajasa’ gunam or courage in their mail folk. This porul, ‘thathwam’ is the basis for the favorite snack to gain the name porulankai. It is the spice content that made it unfit for the consumption of gods., as the gods are ‘sathwiks’ and they eat porulankai only when they appear on the earth to kill demons. ”
The Tamizhan Seshu’s thesis hurt my Palkkadan pride and here is my version:
Porulankai was indeed invented by a Palakkadan mami and it has derived its name from the word, ‘urulan’ in Malayalam, meaning round in shape.
It is now for the learned members of this group to discuss and derive at a conclusion on this important topic. Please also discuss how ‘paruppu thenkai’ got that name, when there is no thenkai, coconut, in it? We two here are busy here, breaking our head to find out how ‘cheedai’ got its name.
April 2, 2012
The article porulankai is enjoyable.
A joke to relish
K S Subramanian
Hello Mr. Sivasubramanian, let me add something to your mail. I am sure the original name must have been PORUL VILANGA URUNDAYI!! to prove its mysterious appearance, taste, hardness etc.