27 June, 2011

The Silent Companion

My mother was the only person in the family who could and would tolerate P. The rest of us would acknowledge his presence and then, go about our ways.

P, in his early 20s then, belonged to my parents' hometown near Kasargod. He had come to B'lore in search of employment. He ended up as a peddler - of different products at different times. If it was pure honey at one time, it was banana chips, kokum products, tickets to cultural events (that nobody would attend),.... at other times. Since he would refuse to leave until she bought, my mother ended up being P's permanent customer :(

It was when P was selling leather bags that my mother bought this brown bag.

I thought that it looked more like a bus conductor's bag than a college girl's! And so, for a long time, the bag stayed in a corner, unused.

I don't remember when & why I used the bag for the first time, but, once I discovered the convenience of the multi compartments, the bag became my permanent accessory! If I had to change bags, I'd have had to transfer such a lot of 'must have' things that I simply stopped changing bags. Anyway, it would go with most of my clothes.....

After many years of regular use, the bag began to look a little haggard & dog-eared at the edges. I would feel embarassed if caught in its company (feeling a little bad about admitting this one!). I finally stopped taking it out about 6-7 years ago. And, I don't have the inclination to throw it away..... it now serves as a container for trivia & stuff that mean a lot to me.

Recently, I was sorting out some papers and came across some of my kid's earliest scribblings. While keeping them safely in my brown bag, I couldn't help thinking that, by silently sharing so much of my life, this bag was also doubling up as a close companion!!

17 June, 2011

TambuLi thoughts

TambuLi is a side dish - unique to the cuisine of certain communities in Karnataka. It is very easy to prepare and is believed to be a digestive restorative. All tambuLis follow a similar recipe - grinding some part of a plant (main ingredient) with coconut. Adding salt & buttermilk completes the cooking. It is a bland dish and chilli/ pepper, if used, is more for the aroma than for the spiciness. Depending on the main ingredient, one either boils the tambuLi or serves it cold. Seasoning is optional.

When it comes to whipping a tambuLi out of any plant on earth, the prize must undoubtedly go to the women of the Havyaka community - I mean the women of a bygone generation, of course! The tambuLi range is so vast that the main ingredient could be anything from fresh ginger to dried amla to pickled lime, mango,... to tender leaves of the guava, pomegranate,... to mature leaves of herbs like Brahmi, Doddapatre,... to dried rinds of orange, pomegranate,....Phew!!

Take this flower for example.

This flower/ plant is called KuTaja (koDagasana in the Havyaka dialect). The tambuLi out of the dried flowers is supposed to be a very effective controller of the 'Delhi belly'.
Wow! Considering that this plant flowers for about 15-20 days, once a year during summer, who first thought of this tambuLi?

While I was checking out this plant bordering our hedge, a farm hand passed by. He went on to volunteer that the resulting liquid from chewing the bark (very bitter) could cure snake bites.. he'd tried it successfully on his snake-bitten cow!
Wow! Wow! Who had the presence of mind to come up with this one first?? When bitten by a snake, to actually tear out the bark of a nearby plant, chew it and spit it on the bite!

Another passerby, listening in, said that the water in which fresh flowers were soaked for some time was a good soothener for tired eyes!

Wow! 3 different 'medicines' from the same plant! For a fleeting moment, I wonder if I should be showing interest in other wild plants...free classes from passersby would equip me with enough information to be a 'home-remedy specialist'!!

And then, there was this Kannada thriller by Mr.K.N.Ganeshaiah that I had read last year. In it, an American pharmaceutical company assigns two separate, unconnected groups of Indian scientists to conduct research. Their job is to inject virus strains on monkeys and the Jarawa tribals of the Andaman islands respectively. The scientists then had to follow and record the reactions to the feverish symptoms - what leaves/plant parts were consumed for relief,.... and send the report to the pharma company. The ulterior motive - of course, to patent the cures... It was a book that had left me feeling quite uncomfortable.

But, could that be it?? Could it be that we first learnt self-medication from the monkeys??? If so, who taught the monkeys??? ..... a never ending series of questions!! :)

P.S. To make Kutaja TambuLi : Fry about 10-12 sun-dried flowers and 1 red chilli in ghee . Grind this with about 1 cup of coconut gratings and some water. Add about half a cup of buttermilk & salt to taste. Dilute to required consistency and boil thoroughly. Season with mustard seeds and curry leaves if you want to. Serve with rice.

03 June, 2011

The First Novel

If a kid pesters you with 'Say sorry', you can be very sure that he/she will retort with something that rhymes with 'sorry'. If the kid is from Mangalore, the retort is sure to be 'Hampankatte Byaari' ( Elsewhere in K'taka, the retort will be 'One plate poori' ) !

Hampankatta (katte in local lingo) has been one of M'lore's business localities for centuries. Byaari is the local Muslim tradesman...a descendant of the 12th-13th century Middle East trader who settled down.

This bit of nonsense - 'Sorry....Hampankatte Byaari' - comes to me every time I pass by Hampankatta! And, that hot afternoon in May was no different. Thinking of HB & other things, I was walking down the main street. Huge buildings on either side of the road had barred Mr.Sunshine... making the whole experience of walking on a summer afternoon very eerie!

Suddenly, this very attractive cover on a book-shop window caught my attention.

Durgesh Nandini (d/o the lord of the fort) by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya --- an author I'd read and liked before. Turning over, I read the opening line...'The first novel in Indian literature'
Really?! I HAD to read this!

Written nearly 150 years ago, Durgesh Nandini has been translated into English from the original Bengali by several people. This version is by Arunava Sinha.

'The Chieftain's Daughter' - as the title has been translated - is a triangular love story set in the Bengal - Orissa region of the Mughal era ... Akbar's era, to be precise. It is romance and drama with a dash of history!

The chieftain's daughter falls in love with the prince of the enemy camp. Prince is captured by a second enemy. Wounded, he is revived by the second enemy's daughter - and, guess what? She falls for him too! Wow! some Prince Charming here!
Quite a lot of sub-plots and surprises later, things end neatly... of course, not happily for everyone involved. The unhappy, thankfully, accept their situations matter-of-factly and move on.

Like in other Bankimda books, women here have a strong presence. They're free spirited and independent in thoughts and deeds. Wonder if women in the 16th century really had that freedom!

You know, one of the two women in love is bold enough to write a letter to the prince. When the ink smudges due to fallen tears, she tears up the sheet and takes a fresh one! I'm not at all sure if 'ink' & 'sheet', that too in the women's quarters, were known in the Bengal-Orissa of the 16th century. Also, if a Pathan princess could write in a language that could be understood by a Rajput prince!

On the other hand, it could be some local stuff that had to be translated as 'ink', 'sheet'... and, as for the language issue, lets assume that our Prince Charming/ Pathan Princess were linguists!

Actually, the theme of Durgesh Nandini has been replicated several times in several stories/ movies. Inspite of that, there is a certain charm to the story... maybe, the translator has quite succeeded in bringing out the flamboyant prose that Bankimda is well known for.

It is a book that's witty and fast paced enough to quell the misery and gloom caused by pre-monsoon thunder storms. Read it if you don't mind something that has been written by and for a different generation.

Century on the Bronze Anniversary!

This is my100th post, and today is the eighth birthday of Alter Idem !! That's an average of a post per month......1.04 to be precise!!...