All roads lead to Chandra Mahal in Chandrapur. No, Chandra Mahal is not a palace, it is a popular restaurant in the town. Morning walkers time their walk to arrive at Chandra Mahal at 7.30 in the morning for a hefty breakfast of idli, vada, and dosa, followed by piping hot coffee.

I went in the evening. The place was getting filled. I was looking for a place to park myself when I noticed this elderly man seated in a corner, waving to me. There was an empty chair opposite to him. As I settled down, the friendly elder smiled. “Your first visit to our Chandrapur?” he asked. I nodded. “Let me treat you then,” he said and before I could stop him, he made a sign and in no time a plateful of dal-vadas arrived. “Nowhere on earth you get such crispy-crunchy dal-vada,” said my talkative friend. “And it tastes the same as it used to when I came here as a kid. Seth Chandranna, then an old man of eighty used to sit at the cash counter,” he said pointing to a black and white photograph hanging above the cash counter.

I could see the smiling face with a turban around his head. “We owe all these dal-vadas to that turban he wore,” the talkative man said. “You may wonder what has a turban got to do with dal-vada; let me tell you the full story.”

I settled down to listen to the story, leisurely munching a dal-vada, savouring its taste. Those dal-vadas were really good. Even more exciting was the story the talkative man told about Chandranna who invented it.

Chandranna and Lakkamma lived in a small hut on the outskirts of the town. Chandranna would do some odd jobs, and what he earned was barely enough to get some ragi to make ragi-mudde. They grew vegetables in the backyard. Husband and wife were devoted to each other and had no complaints. They were satisfied with ragi-mudde and some onions and green chillies to go with it.

Chandranna had one weakness. He was fond of dal-vada, which his mother used to make when he was a kid. He had not eaten dal-vada for years. One evening, he had such a strong desire to have dal-vada he spoke to his wife Lakkamma about it. “Get me some dal and some oil. I’ll make dal-vada for you,” she said.

Chandranna put on his long coat; he tied a turban round his head with a long white cloth and left with a bag. He went to Ramanna’s shop and asked the price of cooking oil. On hearing the price, he nodded his head in disbelief saying, “price is too high, too high.” As he shook his head vigorously, the turban came off and fell into the tin of oil. “Oh, no” he exclaimed, quickly retrieved the turban soaked in oil. Shopkeeper Ramanna offered to get the turban washed for him. “No, no,” said Chandranna, holding the turban. “I’ll change the turban and come,” he said as he left in a hurry.

As soon as he reached home, he squeezed the oil out of the turban cloth and collected the oil in a vessel. “We have enough oil. Where’s dal?” asked Lakkamma.
“In a minute, I’ll get you dal,” he said as he wounded the oily turban cloth round his head.

Chandranna now went to Bhimanna’s grocery shop, which was next to Ramanna’s shop. He asked the price of dal. When the shopkeeper quoted a price, Chandranna nodded his head in disbelief saying, “price is too high, too high.” As he shook his head vigorously, the turban came off and fell into the sack of dal. “Oh, no,” he exclaimed. The shopkeeper picked up the turban and Chandranna snatched the turban from him and left in a hurry. On reaching home, Chandranna shook the cloth vigorously and the dal grains sticking to the oily cloth came off. “We have enough dal,” said Lakkamma. “Get some fresh onion a few leaves of mints and two-three green chillies.”

Chandranna went to the backyard where they grew vegetables. He pulled some fresh onions, washed them, and collected a few mint leaves and some chillies.

Lakkamma soaked the dal for an hour. Chandranna ground the dal into batter to which salt was added. Lakkamma cut the onion, chillies and mint leaves and mixed them with the batter. Meanwhile, Chandranna had started the fire in the oven and kept oil boiling in a kadhai. Lakkamma made small balls of batter, flattened them a bit and dropped them in the boiling oil. A couple of minutes later she scooped them out and dropped them into a plate. Soon a plateful of dal-vadas were ready. Chandranna, picked one and bit into it. Then he stopped.

“Why, it has not come out well?” Lakkamma asked anxiously.

“It’s delicious, ” said Chandranna. “Pack a few vadas. I want to share it with some friends, “he said. Lakkamma picked up a few dal-vadas and put them in a tiffin box. “I’’ll be back in a few minutes,” he said to his wife and left.

Chandranna went to the grocery shops and offered dal-vadas to Ramanna and Bhimanna. He confessed he had deliberately dropped the turban to collect some oil and dal. They hardly heard them as they were busy munching dal-vadas which they found very tasty. “Chandranna, why don’t you get us a plate of dal-vadas every day?” they asked. Chandranna said he would be happy to do so but he had no money to pay for the grocery. They said he could take the materials from them without payment. “Get us a few plates of dal-vadas instead,” they said.

That’s how Chandranna began to sell dal-vadas which became famous in no time. People queued up in front of his hut for dal-vadas. He earned enough to open a restaurant which he called Chandra Mahal.

“Now you know the connection between the dal-vada and the turban, don’t you?” asked the talkative man.

I nodded my head in reverence as I dropped some notes for the dal-vadas.

I left a generous tip, thinking of Chandranna.

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