At the heart of Srirangam, a small island town 12km from Trichy in Tamil Nadu, stands the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple dedicated to Ranganatha, a reclining form of Vishnu. Known to be the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world, it was built within seven walls and its main deity lies supine amidst 21 gopurams.
A gated community stands just outside the perimeter of the temple. Subbiah Radhakrishnan and Geetha, a retired couple who are an online cooking sensation now, live here. A Google search for “Srirangam Radhu” will give you a list of 300 recipes they have posted on YouTube. They have 2,169 subscribers—nearly half of them male—and two million viewers spread across the US, the UK, Singapore, Canada, the UAE, Australia, Germany, France, Saudi Arabia and India. They have received 3,000 comments so far.
It all started when their son, a mechanical engineer settled in the US with his Canadian wife, longed for a taste of his mom's avial and asked his parents to send him the recipe. They instead made a video of how to prepare it, so that he could learn faster.
As Radhakrishnan uploaded the video on YouTube, it asked him whether he wanted it to be ‘private' or ‘public'. “Since it was not a secret or any such thing, I pressed ‘public' as a gag,” he says. And then a Jyothi Sri from the US, who saw the video, requested the recipe of vathal kozhambu. Soon came other requests and reassuring comments like ‘the recipes reminded me of grandmother'. Some mothers said their children who were otherwise fussy eaters had started eating proper meals. Others got nostalgic about their childhood days and it did not take long before “Srirangam Radhu” went viral.
Since last year, YouTube has been advertising on their video stream, paying them $100 a month. “Since both my children were brilliant I never had to spend any money on their education,” says Radhakrishnan. “So we give this money to the trust we had started long ago, which uses it to educate six or seven children.” Their proud moment was when a flower vendor girl completed her education and found employment at Larsen & Toubro. She now earns Rs.30,000 a month, and is contributing to educate another girl.
Radhakrishnan, who handles the camera while his wife cooks, makes their videos interesting with his witty remarks and goofy questions. Though the recipes prescribe no exact measures, Geetha says the aroma of the dish decides whether the ingredients have been added in the right measure. This adds to the charm of the video, along with the couple's banter in Tamil.
“Earlier, I had to cook and take care of the children before rushing to school,” says Geetha, a postgraduate in biochemistry, who was employed as a chemistry teacher. Her husband, who took voluntary retirement as general manager at India Cements, was always away and of not much help in the kitchen. But now he has become an expert at chopping vegetables, she says.
Comments and responses from their viewers keep them going, says the soft-spoken couple. They are pleased with their success; not just because it has made them famous. “The more hits [our videos] get, the more we will get paid, and the more it will do good for our charity,” says Radhakrishnan, with a smile.