Draped in a cotton saree, she walks out of her thatched hut. Her voice commands strict orders about what the menu for the day is going to be. Grey peppered hair, and glasses perched on the nose. They slide down every time she inspects the ingredients of her recipe.
To most, she might pretty much seem like a ‘grandma’ figure. But at 106, Karre Mastanamma has been declared the world’s oldest YouTuber.
With over 5,00,000 subscribers, Mastanamma, the face of Country Foods, a channel dedicated country-side traditional cooking, is nothing sort of a celebrity, not just in India but for food lovers around the world.
Who is Karre Mastanamma?
Named ‘Martamma’ at birth in the village of Kopalle in Andhra Pradesh, she was adopted by a Muslim family who did not have a daughter. They gave her the name ‘Mastanamma.’ As a child, Mastanamma refused to stay with her new family and soon returned to her village.
Married at 11, to a man named Bhushanam, she was widowed at 22. Left to fend on her own and raise five children (four sons and one daughter), Mastanamma became a daily wage labourer who worked at the paddy field for a hand-to-mouth existence.
In an epidemic that hit her tiny village of Guduvada, in Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh, she lost 4 out of 5 of her children to cholera. Of the five, only her eldest—David—survived, who lost his eyesight.
Even though all her relatives stay in houses surrounding her, Mastanamma, continues to stay independently in her hut and cooks her own food. She even worked as a daily wage labourer in paddy fields, till she turned 105 last year and would earn Rs 200 or 300 which she would share with her son.
“My husband was a nice man. I miss him sometimes. At his deathbed, I asked him– How will I survive alone with our five children? He held my hand and said, you are a very intelligent and strong woman. You will survive,” she shares in an anecdote from her life in one of her videos.”
How did Mastanamma become a YouTuber?
This story dates back to when Karre Laxman, Mastanamma’s great grandson and his friend Shrinath Reddy, decided to visit Gudivada on a vacation. K.Laxman, a graphic designer by profession, who worked for TV9, decided to start a YouTube channel that would focus on countryside bachelors cooking their own food. His friend and channel partner, Shrinath, who worked as a video editor for ABN Telugu Andhra Jyothi embarked on this journey with him.
When people at the village enquired about what they do for a living, both Laxman and Shrinath began explaining their YouTube venture. Laxman’s mother over once such lunch, mentioned his great grandmother, who he had lost touch with, being based in Hyderabad.
“Why don’t you shoot Mastanamma? She is the best cook in the family and in the village!” quipped Laxman’s mother.
“We started our channel in August 2016, and put up around 40 videos of us cooking as bachelors initially. They did not do well. But once we got granny on board, the views touched the sky! Today our channel has reached over five lakh subscribers. Just within days, a video reaches 1 lakh views,” says Shrinath.
The first recipe, Mastanamma cooked was an eggplant curry and it was an absolute hit! She had no idea how the world of Internet worked. The first time, the duo tried shooting her, Mastanamma thought they were taking pictures. “When we went back and showed her the videos, she understood what a celebrity she has become,” says Shrinath.
She saw the video uploaded on YouTube and was bombarded with calls from her distant relatives from US and UK.
What makes Mastanamma different?
Right in the middle of a paddy field, Mastanamma sets up her kitchen. She cooks on an open wooden stove and uses only dried leaves and firewood, to fuel the fire.
From flipping emu eggs to making an omelette to chicken with sorrel leaves, she gives everything a traditional touch. Her chicken biryani is cooked in smoked bamboo, her curries made with lamb intestines. Quail eggs, goat legs, lamb head and even beef paya, you name it– Mastanamma cooks it all!
She even made her own traditional version of chicken burger and KFC chicken! One of her most popular videos, apart from ‘egg in tomato’ is her ‘Watermelon chicken.’ It has reached 10 million views on YouTube and shows her roasting chicken in a watermelon shell.
Her granddaughter Rajshri acts the sous chef. Even though Mastanamma doesn’t particularly like help, since the whole cooking scene is being shot, she accepts it. Shot in the most picturesque of places, Mastanamma not only chats through the videos but gives instructions, too. She adds the masalas herself and no dish reaches its finale until she has tasted it.
Each video ends with Mastanamma feeding her food lovingly to children, her grandchildren and the labourers working in the paddy fields.
“One guy touched my hand and I flung him, straight into the river. His brother asked me to save him, I said how dare he touch me! Finally, I saved him! But from then on, nobody teased me again,” she shares with a mischievous glint in her eyes.”
Mastanamma believes cooking comes naturally to her. Her measure is her eye and her judgement is based on her tastebuds. The tale of how she fell and broke her dentures is a tale for another day.
She has cataract in both her eyes and the doctors say that there’s a possible of her losing her eyesight if they try any surgery, shares Shrinath.
Her appetite isn’t much but if you eat just a little food when she serves you, there’s a high chance, she’d get highly offended! When at Mastanamma’s open field kitchen, everybody eats their heart out. Every feast is king-sized because she does not cook a small quantity!
Two or three recipes are uploaded every alternate day. Both men race against time to finish shooting and find a place with good internet connectivity, to upload it.
Her food is not the only talent that attracts viewers, but also her sense of humour and the anecdotes she shares. In one instance, she talks about being teased by two brothers in her village in her youth.
Powered by YouTube, Mastanamma now has a fan following across the world. Each video gets thousands of comments. Most comments are full of affection for her and talk about how she reminds people of their own grandmothers. Many of her followers from other countries, who try her recipes out at home, ask for English subtitles. Most of her subscribers are from India, followed by the US, Pakistan, UK and Malaysia.
The world’s love for Mastanamma manifested itself when her subscribers raised over Rs 30,000 for her 106th birthday celebration on April 10, 2017. In addition to bangles and saris, they raised enough money to feed 40 members in Gudivada.
“She received a sari from a subscriber from Pakistan. Another Indian family from New Zealand invited her over to felicitate her. But she refused to go. At her age, she is too attached to her hut, she has lived in it for over 90 years. Even though her son stays next door and wants her to stay with him, she doesn’t want to be dependent,” says Shrinath.
With BBC and Al Jazeera featuring the centenarian, her popularity has only grown. Laxman and Shrinath are now bringing out pickles made by Mastanamma. Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, they plan on calling it ‘Country Food Pickles,’ to be shipped worldwide.
“The e-commerce portal is underway and will launch in the next 15-20 days,” says Shrinath.
Gudivada might be a lost village on the map of India, but it has made its mark on the world map with a new name now. The children of the village, when asked where they’re from, delightfully say, “We belong to Mastanamma’s Gudivada.