A petti-full of your grandmother’s kitchen hacks, illustrated on postcards

Coimbatore-based Make Mail invites you to share kitchen hacks and recipes handed down by your grandmother, to get them illustrated on postcards for its Paati’s Petti intiative

On Saturdays in Panvel, growing up, we would make a weekly trip to the past. Just for my sister and me (as nosy then as we are today), the house would transform itself into a maze of trinkets waiting to be unearthed: some resting in the loft, some under the bed, and some in the back of closets. Daadi’s cupboard, generally out of reach, was especially enticing. On one such day, when she wasn’t around, we fished out an old box comprising thatha’s bulky frames, photos, coins, and a Pentax MX camera.

It is over a year since she passed away but these markers of memory live on; her own moonframes now give company to thatha’s.

Everyone has a petti like this at home, belonging to their grandmothers, believes Shuruti Vengatesh, founder of postcard service Make Mail. “A battered old tin which draws us to pry it open in hopes of yummy treats, only to find an eclectic mix of knick knacks — jewellery, photos, shopping lists, sewing kits, kohl, coloured tablets… Things that have no business sitting together!” says Shuruti.

Illustration by Shuruti Vengatesh
 

The 29-year-old from Coimbatore has started a yearly initiative, Paati’s Petti to celebrate grandmothers. The idea, she says, is to create a box every year, and fill it with illustrated postcards that encapsulate family traditions, passed on by grandmothers: be it beauty hacks, embroidery techniques or lunchtime stories. Anybody can send in their family hacks, to be featured on one of the postcards.

A plateful of memories

This year, the theme is recipes and kitchen hacks, and Shuruti has already got 50 responses so far. “One said ‘You can never have too much ghee’, and another shared a specific memory of their grandmother always offering nimbu pani to whoever came home. Some others have sent elaborate recipes of kathirikai kuzhambu, carrot pickle and so many types of podis,” she says. “I even got one in French, but I am yet to translate it!”

The illustrations on the postcards, drawn by Shuruti, will represent these dishes and scenes of cooking or serving, along with the shared recipe. Whoever contributes a hack, will receive it back on a postcard. “At the end of it we will have an online archive of these recipes for everyone to access, but at the same time, we will also create a physical petti full of postcards. I am still figuring out whether we want to have just one petti or make more and send to others at a nominal fee,” she says.

The initiative had been five years in the making, as Shuruti and her sister were wondering how to document the life and times of their grandmothers.

Shuruti and her sister with their grandmothers

Shuruti and her sister with their grandmothers
 

“Both my grandmothers were born on the same day, but they couldn’t be more different. My mother’s mother is soft and silent, she writes down all her recipes in her 1963 diary. My father’s mother is assertive and independent, she collects magazine cutouts of recipes. We are very close to both of them,” she says. “Once I started Make Mail last year, she thought postcards would be a good way to document: they’re pocket sized, tangible and evoke warmth.”

A page from the recipe book handwritten by Shuruti’s grandmother

A page from the recipe book handwritten by Shuruti’s grandmother
 

Shuruti started Make Mail in July 2020, sending out postcards to her close friends. “I wanted to reach out to them during the pandemic on something other than WhatsApp. They were very happy to get them, because most of us are used to just notifications popping up on our screen.”

Hoping to build a culture of slowing down, Shuruti began taking in requests for handmade postcards. Anyone can now sign up for a free postcard, either to send to themselves or their loved ones, and she acts as the middleman — the letter-writer who brings messages to life with her illustrations. She sends out 15 a month for free, and there are about 250 people on the waitlist to receive theirs. “I also started something called Children Make Mail specifically for kids, because children today might live their whole lives without even seeing a handwritten letter,” she says.

Twenty postcards a month could be a handful, but lately, she has been getting volunteers saying they would also like to draw on, and send postcards. Which all feeds into her ultimate dream: where we all slow down and appreciate the people in our lives.

Visit @make.mail on Instagram

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