Clad in a simple saree, Mastanamma squats on the ground before a primitive stove, watching her dish of the day as it cooks. Sometimes it's watermelon chicken, sometimes it's a delicacy made with emu eggs. She marinates meat, pushing her glasses back, and stopping to taste the masala once in a while before deciding that it's just right.
Cooking with coconut shells, cleaning fish under a bright blue sky, Mastanamma flashes her toothless smile as she does what she loves best.
And following every move of this 106-year-old chef with wispy grey hair, are her YouTube fans.
Mastanamma lives in a remote village called Gudivada in Andhra's Guntur district.The centenarian lives alone and likes to lead an independent life. Her passion is quite evidently cooking and locals have had the pleasure of tasting her delicious food.
But the food made by the world's oldest YouTuber has crossed all borders. For the past few months, Mastanamma has taken the internet by storm with her cooking videos.
The channel, 'Country Foods', which uploads videos of Mastanamma’s cooking, has seen its popularity soar over the last six months, and now has more than 2,50,000 subscribers.
The channel was first started by K Laxman and his friend Srinath Reddy, both media persons from Hyderabad.
Speaking to The News Minute, Srinath says:
Laxman and I have been friends for close to five years, and we had this idea where we wanted to shoot a group of bachelors cooking traditional food out in the open. We started the YouTube channel in August last year, and it got a fairly decent response.
However, it was around six months ago that they discovered Mastanamma.
"We had gone to Laxman's village for a vacation, and we were telling people that we had started this channel. Laxman's mother told us about Mastanamma, who is their distant relative, and was famous for making great food," says Srinath.
The duo says that they were taken aback when they first met her.
"She was so active, and led such a busy lifestyle. She loved to be independent, and lived alone, while her son stayed in a house adjacent to hers. We loved her attitude, and decided to shoot four episodes with her," Srinath recalls.
Within a matter of weeks, the channel started gaining attention from people across the world, with many pouring in their love for 'granny'.
“Initially, she thought that we were just impressed that she was still cooking, and we would take some photos and show it to our friends. However, now she understands that she’s quite famous and people across the world really enjoy the videos,” says Srinath.
Srinath credits the entire success to Mastanamma, whose manner of presentation and style of cooking can't help but make one smile. Of course, it helps that she also has a range of interesting recipes, from traditional mutton biryani to village style KFC chicken!
Married off at the age of 11, Mastanamma had five children, of whom only one son is alive today. Her husband died when she was just 22 years old, leaving her to raise all the children on her own.
Despite her hard life, Mastanamma has some spirited stories to tell.
In this video, she narrates how she pushed a man into the river, after he held her hand and tried to harass her.
But where did she learn all these recipes?
"Guntur district is generally known for its spices, and she has stayed by a river for almost 100 years now. She says that she has figured out all those recipes by herself. Seafood is her specialty, and she can cook anything from fish to prawns and crabs," says Srinath.
Mastanamma's prep work is distinct just as her recipes are.
"She actually peels tomatoes with her fingers, and uses only the part that is inside. Even things like ginger and potato, she peels with her fingers. Even the way she breaks an egg is unique," Srinath adds.
Mastanamma has always cooked on firewood, and other natural substances that can be used as fuel.
Owing to the success of their channel, Srinath and Laxman have quit their day jobs and are devoting their time to making videos for a living.
"Since we are getting revenue now, we have told her to relax and just cook when she can. She was even raising crops till we met her, but we've requested her to stop that now. We are paying all her bills, including medical ones, and we have decided to take care of her," says Srinath.
"Since she's old, we bought some new utensils and have also requested her granddaughter to help her out with the cooking," he adds.
For Mastanamma's fans who are spread all over the globe, watching her videos is not only about learning to cook. They also care about this sprightly chef who belies her age.
Around two weeks ago, it was Mastanamma's birthday and several people had written to the channel, asking if they could send money or help her in any way.
"We were moved, but we didn't want people to send too much. We told foreigners to donate anything below 3$, while Indians were told to donate anything below Rs 200. We still managed to collect Rs 20,000 and added another Rs 10,000 from our pockets to celebrate her birthday," says Srinath.
"However, what moved all of us the most, was a man called Farhad Durrani, who hails from Pakistan. He called me up and said that he could not give money, but that he would like to gift a saree and a greeting card. She was very happy when the gifts came from Islamabad," he adds.
For now, Mastanamma continues to remain an internet sensation with people constantly demanding her recipes, and some even asking for an English translation of the videos.
Not just that, Mastanamma is basking in her new found celebrity status as many people from different media channels have been doing an interview with her.
"However, despite this, she's always natural. How you see her behave when the camera is on, is exactly how she behaves off camera too. She is a positive and spirited person, with an inspiring life story," Srinath smiles.
(This story was originally published on The News Minute)