Friday, March 28, 2008

Daughter Of Spring

Commuting to office has one benefit I must say, it gives me ample time to read and ruminate. So, the other day I was reading “The other side of the Moon” by Asha Miro in the bus. It is the true story of her adoption by a family in Barcelona and her search for her biological family in India. When she comes to India to know about her childhood, she looks for clues in every person she meets, everything she sees, hoping that somehow miraculously she’ll remember something, somehow the window to her past will open.

What if I did not know my birth date? I thought, imagining myself in a similar situation.
“I would know that I was born in spring.” I reasoned with myself almost instinctively.

Sounds strange, but I feel that I share a kind of relationship with spring. A season with renewal as its sole (soul) mantra; a season that celebrates life and death, together. The trees are riot of colors this time, it fills my heart with so much joy to see a tree in full bloom, but there is also a hint of inexplicable melancholy amidst this, which makes this feeling all the more absolute.

Yes all seasons evoke feelings and emotions in me, but it is spring that makes me feel nostalgic the most. It feels great to pine, I know not for what, and I languish in this nothingness, I do this very often in this season. Maybe it is all just psychological because I know I am a daughter of spring, but maybe just maybe the seasons we are born in do evoke strong feeling in us.

Let me know of the feelings the season of your birth evokes you.

P.S – Coincidentally my blog is a “daughter of spring too”. It was born on 22nd March last year and though it is hard to believe we have completed a wonderful year of togetherness.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Thought For Food Series 1: Idli


Breakfasts in South India are a yummy affair. You can choose from a variety of offerings, which are delicious and healthy at the same time. Idly is one of them, a popular breakfast snack not only in south India but all across India, it is one of my favorite breakfasts. For the uninitiated, it is a savory cake two to three inches in diameter made from fermented batter of rice and lentils. The batter after being fermented is put into specially molded trays that are in turn placed inside a pressure cooker. The batter gets cooked by the steam and out come the steaming hot idlis, supple but shapely.

Traditional South Indian meals are served on banana leaves which is a pragmatic and charming practice; there is a certain subtle taste that the banana leaves lend to the meal. Idly usually is served with accompaniments like chutney and sambar. Chutney is a blend of various spices and condiments where as sambar (not seen in the picture) is a vegetable stew with a hint of tamarind.

Now comes the best part, savoring the delicacy. Here it is the case of to each his own. I have seen people eat idly in a lot of different ways. Some like it mishmashed with the sambar and chutney the idly lost and assimilated in the hodgepodge best eaten with bare hands. Some prefer forks and spoons making little pieces of idly and dipping it in sambar and chutney in turns. I like to eat idli with my hands, dipping the idli in the sambar and letting it soak the essence, and then brushing it past the spicy chutney; it tastes yummylicious.

Happy Eating Folks!

P.S. – Now that I am roaming around a lot I get to try a lot of authentic traditional food, so will be posting about more dishes with yummy pictures. This particular picture was taken in Parambikulam before a trek. The plate is not mine, but my friend Nishka's. I had ordered dosas, which were delicious too! More about dosas some other time though.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Kambala: Racing Buffaloes, The Slushy Way

The rhythmic beat of drums and trumpets reverberates in the air. The area from where the sound emanates is jam-packed and I can barely see the goings on from my position. Camera in hand, I make way through the all men crowd dexterously, swinging my head to the intoxicating music.

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I find myself inside a unique arena (I had been expecting a marshy field all along); two tracks dug up and filled with slush run parallel to each other for about 450 ft. with the spectators’ stands adjacent to the two tracks with a well defined boundary to keep the spectators in check. The chaotic scenes that I had been imagining in my mind all the while are put to rest; Koti Chennaya Kambala organized at Puttur is a highly professional affair.

And this entire hullabaloo is for the buffaloes; paired with the help of a yoke they are lined up with their owners ready to enter the arena. Fresh after a pooja and a wash at the temple nearby, their black skin gleams in the blazing sun, they are decorated with fancy ropes, mirrors and some of them even sport amulets. The men are well sculpted; having a six-pack is no big deal here. Most of them are bare chested wearing just a modest lungi.

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A man wearing a red turban and a matching lungi checks the buffaloes’ teeth with the air of a specialist. Checking for bad breadth? No. I later come to know that buffaloes are partitioned into different groups (small, medium and big I guess) according to the number of their fallen teeth. Ingenious, I must say!

An organizer is very happy to see my friends(Akshath and Srividya from the BWS gang.) and me, mistaking us for reporters as all of us are sporting cameras. When we inform him that we are just hobbyists he sportingly gives us the scarves which the volunteers are wearing. “Go close and shoot” he tells us in Kanadda and that’s exactly what we do, we have an up, close and personal encounter with the buffaloes of Puttur.

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We position ourselves at the starting line. An enclosure is made for the buffaloes waiting in line for their turn; it is difficult to control some of them who are raring to be free and have a go at the slushy track. The main race will only start in the afternoon now is the time for the first timers to show their skills.

The first buffalo pair looks every bit menacing their muscles taut, quivering with excitement and their noses flaring. Agitated by the incessant whipping and war cries of the lone man (Saarthi) behind them, they rush past us at maddening speed leaving a trail of water flying behind.

“Splash, Splash, Splash!”

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All this happens so fast that I fail to retract my camera in time and so it gets a generous helping of the mucky water. A fitting start to a day that is going to be action packed. No serious damage done though, thankfully. After a few runs I am taking pictures with the ease of a photographer seasoned for kambala.

Some of the buffaloes cover the length of the track in a mere 10-15 seconds. I realize that running in water keeping pace with galloping buffaloes is no mean feat. Many a men fall in the slush, face down, unable to keep up with their more sturdy counterparts. But some men make it look really easy and I secretly wish to run in the slush; the muddy water does look tempting in this scorching sun. Maybe I’ll do this in Kadri Kambala sometime where there are races for women and children too sans the buffaloes.

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The area around the arena dons a festive look; bhel and pani puri the ubiquitous Indian street food are present here too, “Pepsi Coca cola” a stereo announces running in a loop continuously, the pao-pao of the candy-floss (Oh! How I used to long for “Buddhi ki baal” as a kid!) Man’s cart adds to the din. We settle for a glass of sugarcane juice that as always is surprisingly refreshing.

Muthappa Rai looks down on us from huge posters, sporting a French beard and talking on a mobile phone. I find him good-looking quite contrary to the appearance I had expected when I had heard that he was a underworld don turned social worker. He hails from Puttur and is the organizer of the Koti Chennaya Kambala this year, which I later come to know, is the largest Kambala in Karnataka drawing a crowd of around a lakh people.

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We now stand close to the finishing line that slants upwards; a simple braking mechanism to stop the buffaloes running at break neck speed. But still some of them crash straight into the crowd standing at the finishing line; some men rush with whips to control them and no harm is done.

As photography in the scorching sun is a tiring job, hunger pangs start making themselves felt in no time. There is some time for the main event to start, so we head towards a Akshath’s cousin’s place for lunch. I simply love the way these traditional homes are built, they are so inviting and cozy, and make you feel right at home. All characteristics of an ideal home I feel. The lunch is traditional Tulu fair and is yummylicious. Revitalized, after the lunch and a little rest we revisit the arena.

The bands are playing elaborately; the main event has started. The buffaloes are burlier now; they run even faster and splash more water in the process. I want to get some head-straight shots of the buffaloes so we join the freelance photographer with his bazooka like lens, who is already standing at the finishing line.

This is as adventurous as it gets! I point my camera on the buffaloes till I feel they are at a safe distance and then scamper inside the crowd for protection. The men look at me amused and sometimes I have the eerie feeling that the buffaloes too are eyeing me curiously, but then it is just a feeling. None of the buffaloes crash on us but we do have some close shaves.

Kambala, Up, Close And Personal

As the evening matures it becomes even more cool and pleasant; the floodlights cast obscure reflections on the track. The dignitaries have started to arrive and the speeches on the stage run parallel to the commentary in the arena. Now comes the part for which I had been waiting for all through.

War Cry

Kambala is not just about completing the stretch of the track in the least time, that is one aspect of the race. There is another unusual aspect too. In the middle of the track some markers are placed at the height of 6.5 and 7.5 feet respectively. The idea is that the splashing water should rise to this height. And for this the Saarthi has to stand on a plank attached to the buffaloes.

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As the first pair with the Saarthi on the plank arrives it is a most bizarre sight. The blurred outline of a man is visible through the diaphanous film of water rising all around the buffaloes. The man himself seems to be hanging on to nothing but air and when they approach the middle of the track, where the markers are placed, the water astonishingly rises to great heights and manages to touch the 6.5 ft mark. I feel that the man has fallen into water by now but as the pair approaches the finishing line I am shocked to see that he is still there hanging on to the buffaloes.

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Many buffaloes thus pass by, but none touch the 7.5 ft mark. But there is enough time; the competition will go on through the night ending only on Monday evening. And that reminds me that I have to be in office tomorrow. The night seems promising, Yakshagana is also supposed to happen and I’ve been wanting to watch one for quite sometime.

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Loath that I am to leave I wonder at the juxtaposition of the two different lives I seem to live on the weekdays and weekends. I’ve been really lucky to have watched Kambala; the one in Puttur is amongst the last to happen during the Kambala season, which starts from Dec. and goes on till March. Thanks to Pavan for digging out the info and arranging the trip!Information about the Kambala schedule is hard to get by on the internet, but I promise myself to come back for the Kambala next year, if not Puttur some other location. After Jallikattu and Kambala I want my tryst with rural sports to continue.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Ultimate Greed

To and fro, To and fro, her fingers go, round the candle’s wick.
“This is fun.” she thinks, “Ohh! What a trick!”

Her saree well draped,
The flow of fire, liquid.
Her delicate anklets tinkling,
The burning feet.

To and fro, To and fro, her fingers go, round the candle’s wick.
“This is fun.” she thinks, “Ohh! What a trick!”

The tongue of fire,
Her lush dark hair;
The jasmine fragrance fading;
The overpowering reek.

To and fro, To and fro, her fingers go, round the candle’s wick.
“This is fun.” she thinks, “Ohh! What a trick!”

Her lovely face, melting,
Her teary eyes, sparkling.
Her gasps for breath, heaving,
Her cries for relief.

To and fro, To and fro, her fingers go, round the candle’s wick.
“This is fun.” she thinks, “Ohh! What a trick!”

The Ultimate Greed

Women, both of them,
The killer and the victim.
One plays with the candle,
The other is the wick.

To and fro, To and fro, her fingers go, round the candle’s wick.
“This is fun.” she thinks, “Ohh! What a trick!”

Her smile, smug, contorted
Her gaze, intense hatred.
Her eyes eager, hungry;
The ultimate greed.

To and fro, To and fro, her fingers go, round the candle’s wick.
“This is fun.” she thinks, “Ohh! What a trick!”

A voice against Dowry Deaths, on Women's day.

Cross-posted on Writer's blend and Desicritics