Millets have arrived!!

January 29, 2022 - Reading time: 8 minutes

Anantha Sayanan

When a bunch of us (youngsters then) quit our corporate jobs and wanted to work with farmers, Circa 2006! We would meet regularly, visit farms/farmers across the state and come back and share our experiences. Sangeetha Sriram was the boss. She was the most aware. So when we all heard of millets we asked her. She told us all about thinai, saamai etc apart from ragi, kambu. some of the moms and grand moms were aware of it, and so we asked them for some recipes or cooked samples. And a long journey started..

When we explored in local markets, only thinai was available in a few places in the whole city and as a bird feed. So we all decided to ask various farmers that we visited and try and bring that too. Solitude Krishna used to sell varagu in those days and people from far off villages used to come and buy from him- for their temple kumbabishekam! Not for cooking!! Because that was packed in the kalasam on top. So we learnt our first story.. that the virility of the seed was for so many years and it could restore a community if drought or flood hit, and hence was stored in the highest point of the village- temple top.

So these were our early restore days.. once we bought the thinai from some farm and divided between all of us.. we all used to buy directly from the farmers and divide between the 5 of us. So we were the first consumers:) We would try diff items, cook and bring along and share thru pot lucks. This time each one tried different things with foxtail millet.. adai, pongal, just as steamed rice etc..and each of us found it very odd..its then we found out that what we had got was unprocessed whole grain.. because farmers used to sell only as bird feed.. and we b(r)ought it and cooked! Oh the joy of ignorance!

But then the Restore launch was celebrated with a 10 course millet meal! (2007) So many people attended, ate and were so impressed. DDS women came and cooked millet meal for us along with my cousin Usha Rajagopal here and what all we had and how it was all taken by people!! What a beginning! Restore was born with a bang.

Then we sat with Dr Shivaraman Gurusamy Sivaraman for one full day and understood more about it. (2008) In the initial days we arrived at a fantastic combo- dry roasting so many millets, red rice, wheat, ground nut, elaichi etc and made a kanji mix. Which is a big hit till date! How he arrived at the combo.. oh! Paatavey padichittiya? Seri maaney theney sethukko type- he wud say ‘ no there is too much carb, lets add some protein, oh yes lets have that, its ok to have complex carb, ok this one for that sake..’ we wud all watch him gaping! what a time it was!!

 Slowly we understood and started professing millets. For a long time, restore was the only place u could buy varagu, thinai, saamai etc. people used to come to that small garage from all across the city.
we used to cook various stuff and show case to people.. give them pieces of adai, sweet pongal, bele baath etc made from these millets..and people would taste and ask “ oh one can do this too is it”? and so we spread it..Then a big input session from Pamayan and also asking him to get the millets thru his farmers around thirumangalam!

A small booklet by sangee (who else?) stating the nutritional facts, recipes etc was a big hit.. 1000s of copies were sold/distributed. Till date it serves a huge purpose. (2008)
we used to cook for some eco- events.. once for the International traditional healers meet that happened in adyar poonga thru our dear Joss brooks. (Feb 2009) Then once some 400 siddha doctors had congregated (2009) and we served 5 course millet meal! And displayed unpolished (but processed) small millets.. Many of the traditional doctors hadn’t seen these then! such was the time..
slowly the millets were ‘recognised’ and so were our ventures..

Then came along Smt. Shanta Sheela Nair (SSN), a senior IAS officer who started buying and using millets personally. As the senior bureaucrat and then as VC of the state Planning commission, she talking about millets took it to a different level. Then through the State Planning Commission, Restore organized a one day workshop at IIT. (2014) Bringing various people including doctors to talk about millets, some excellent presentations by experts and to top it off, a   10 course millet meal!

During the morning and evening tea breaks millets biscuits with herbal tea was served. 20 IAS officers and top state govt officials attended , thanks to SSN! It was a grand show and we had touched so many top state govt officials and bureaucrats.. No looking back after that! The millets promotion and spreading in the state took a rapid pace because of her.

Oh, in the meantime Pamayan and more popularly Dr Shivaraman would keep writing their articles in many publications. There was a time we used to call Dr S and joke- "Sir, you should have told us before hand that you arr writing about panivaragu! We would have stocked it,  no!! uch used to be the impact of his articles..

So many selfless volunteers worked for this, and it was a very interesting and nice journey. Today, to look back and see that every small store, deparment store and biggies have these millets sold (even if polished and white) we can feel it has reached.. or “ Millets have arrived” as they would say!

Now the latest is the TN govt saying that these millets will be taken to people through PDS - a double bonus - as local purchase and local market will also be enabled. Thanks to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for this good move.

To receive so many calls and to think people still relate us to millets, is so very invigorating. It gives OFM/restor/SFA so much more energy and reason to keep marching..

Dear customers! You have a big role too. After all you all travelled with us all along, shared your stories with us, patronized us and our farmers, helped the dry land farmers and now these millets are available in all the street end shops too!

That’s a great development and now the Govt linking it to PDS – local purchase & local market is such a great step forward. You can all feel great and proud for being a part of this journey. And to have seen this in such a short time in our lifetime is a bigger achievement!