Growing up, lunchtime for Shuruti Vengatesh meant storytime. As her maternal paati (grandmother) Devatha would feed her, she would hear mesmerising stories with valuable lessons — like how to save money and the importance of kindness. What also enhanced these experiences was the food, she recalls.
“It was simple soul food, made with so much love. One of my favourites is the pullakura, which is a Telugu sour dish made with greens, potato fry, and rice. My paati would take turns to feed my sister and me, as we hung on to her enthralling stories. She would hide the vegetables we didn’t like inside the food, and as we would be busy with the story, we wouldn’t even realise that we are eating something we didn’t like,” she laughs.
As her parents were both working, Shuruti (30), who is from Coimbatore, spent a lot of her childhood with her grandmothers, and every fond memory inadvertently involves them, she notes.
As a child, she would rummage through their items and find interesting things, like an old recipe book, or in the case of her paternal grandmother Rajeshwari, an old trunk or petti, which contained old pictures of family get-togethers and her old house.
“I’ve always been interested in documenting small traditions. Take the kolam for example. Every paati has some special designs, but do we ever archive it? No. Every grandmother has some recipes for comfort food, like this pullakura, which is passed on through mothers, but is never written down. It’s always major events — political and historical — that are archived. But to me, these things must be archived as well,” says Shuruti.
Three years ago, she got talking with her sister, and they thought of creating a blog to archive the memories of their grandmothers. Conversations with friends revealed that it wasn’t just their paati who had collected treasured memories — almost every house had a similar story to tell.
This was the thought behind her initiative Paati’s Petti, which she began last year. At the time, the graphic designer was already running her website ‘Make Mail’, which sends out handmade postcards every month.
Under Paati’s Petti, Shuruti turns grandmothers’ recipes, hacks, memories, and more, sent to her by customers across India— into handmade postcards.
She plans to have a different theme every year — this year’s being recipes and kitchen hacks.
The various facets of a grandmother
“Every grandmother is unique. They have a way of teaching us, without shouting. Most of us have great memories of our grandmothers. And they have hacks for everything. Have a cold, have this drink, have a backache, try this. We must preserve that,” says Shuruti.
So far, she has received 80 responses from across the country.
“The responses have been great, and we’ve received such wonderful recipes — from jadoh from Meghalaya, mutton ball fry with coconut milk, and sarson ka saag, to remedies for stomach ache, how to use leftover rice, etc. I’m waiting for more recipes before turning them into a petti,” she adds.
Paati’s Petti was formed through Make Mail, which Shuruti started in 2020 during the COVID lockdown. At first, it was just her endeavour to send postcards to her friends. “Everyone was facing a tough time that year, and was unable to meet or hug their loved ones. I wanted to bring a smile to my friends’ faces,” she explains.
She likens these to a “warm hug”, and would jot down a special memory or thing that a friend liked, and customised each accordingly. Overwhelmed by the response she received from not just known ones, but also the internet at large, she decided to expand her base.
She opened orders for everyone, and sends one postcard each to about 15 people a month for free.
In total, she has sent out 3,200 handmade postcards so far in the last two years. Among those who received one is Rahul, who received a Diwali-themed postcard. “I signed up for these postcards last year and they were absolutely fabulous. They took me down memory lane. I remember my grandfather sending letters on these postcards. They are beautifully designed and a little note from Shuruti really makes my day.”
She says the idea behind sending these postcards is to make people realise the value of slowing down and living in the moment.
“We are living in a fast-paced world. We need instant gratification, and panic if someone doesn’t reply after seeing a message. The joy of receiving a handwritten note from a loved one is worth a million gifts. Take a minute, breathe, and appreciate the smaller things in life,” says Shuruti.
You can sign for a postcard here, and share your paati’s recipe here.
Edited by Divya Sethu