Chocolates, Cycles and Cashews

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Eclairs is now Choclairs apparently

Cadbury Eclairs. All I wanted was Cadbury Eclairs. I was nine. I would pop one of these in my mouth and suck on it till the insides of my mouth became sore. The outer caramel layer crumbles and the chocolate filling would come gushing out like the first rain of the season. I would have barrels and barrels of it when I grow up, I thought. One for each day for the rest of my life.Years passed. Now my students give me these for their birthdays. I don’t have barrels of it but I have quite a few stocked in my cupboard. I am planning to give it back to them as rewards. I don’t like to eat them anymore.

We had a room full of pictures of various Gods. I used to spend half an hour every evening, praying. I touched every God’s feet or anything that was ‘Godly’ and took its blessings. I was careful that I took blessings from each and every one. If I felt I missed someone/something, I would start over. I did not want to be a victim of their spite.

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So many Gods!

My Grandma took me with her to every temple she visited. I was her sidekick and we roamed the town, day and night, to strike off temples from her bucket list. Fast forward to the present, I rarely go to any temple or participate in any kind of religious events.

Every Sunday morning, I used to wake up early, brush my teeth and sit front of TV to watch Rangoli on Doordarshan. My favourite shows were lined up back to back. I would only get up from my seat, late in the afternoon.I skipped important family functions and was infamously known as the child who watches a lot of TV. Grandma and I were devote followers of a series called Jai Hanuman. On the day when Hanuman was to be born, we had no power in our house. It was night and rained heavily. My mother, grandma and I huddled under an umbrella, walked to a nearby house where there was power and watched the show. It has been a decade since I stopped watching TV. I do sometimes, but I find myself mindlessly changing channels and not watching any content.

I had an old cycle. It was beyond repair. Tubes had holes. Tires worn out. All metal parts rusted. Brakes not working. Pedal pads broken. It would wake up the whole neighborhood when I take it for a ride down the street. So much noise it made. It was unfit to do anything that a normal cycle would do. But it had an advantage over others. I can use it however I want without worrying of getting it damaged further. Off I went. Over the hills and rocks and bushes and muddy paddy fields. Trying stunts, I could never do. Bashing it against trees and boulders and walls. Why? Because I could do it! I did every possible nonsensical thing my 10-year-old brain could think of. Best days of my life by the way. When I got my first salary, I bought a cycle. Rode it to my heart’s content. Some things don’t change.

Other day I walked through an old path which I used when I went to school. Few old houses still stand. But people living in it have changed. The lonely mysterious house on top of the faraway hill still beckons me. My desire to go to that house and look back at this stretch of road, still remains unfulfilled. I pass the house where a girl whom I liked used to live. I wonder where she is now. The auntie who talked loudly, still exists. You can’t pass her house without the trademark shrill voice damaging your eardrums.

In summer holidays, we played cricket. My cousins came down for a month or two. Paddy fields turned into cricket playgrounds. We dug up the pitch, put water and beat it flat. Made wickets out of bamboo sticks. Bats out of coconut branches. Fake trophy stands from leaves and twigs. Drew a pot of water from the well. And started playing like there was no tomorrow. We all grew up. We don’t have summer holidays anymore. There are no paddy fields.

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Picture happy kids playing here

My father used to stay in Mumbai. Only means of communication was through letters. Until our neighbors got a landline telephone connection. We set up a structure for my father to talk to us. My father would give a missed call every Monday evening around 8.00 p.m. Neighbors inform us. My mother accompanied by my brother or me,would go to their house and wait. My father calls again and we talk. So much for a simple conversation.

I remember all the small details. The smell inside our cowshed. The sound of cattle gnawing the hay. Its warm breath on my hands. Big innocent eyes staring at me. The taste of the well water boiled in clay pots over firewood. Taking out hot cashew seeds from fire, smashing the outer layer with coconut shells and eating the world’s most amazing cashews. I remember the moment just before I jump into a flowing stream. Swaying with the trees when a strong wind blows. Time has this amazing quality of making the past look glamorous. Maybe the past is not what it seems like. It might have been shaped into something that I want it be. I am seeing it through a filter. A morphed reality. A trick to convince myself that I had a good time.

For a mouthful of Charumburi…

For the past three years, I keep missing the jaatre or the annual festival of the temple near my house in Mangalore. Since I live in Bangalore now, something will always turn up and I cannot attend the festival. It has always been a tradition to go to the jaatre every single year, since childhood. Devotion is one thing, but another (and the important!) reason is to eat charumburi or churmuri (I have no idea how to spell it!).

What is Charumburi? Its main ingredient is puffed rice. Other ingredients are added for the flavour i.e., to make it spicy, sweet etc. Many variants of charumburi are made all over south India. But I love the one which prepared here in Mangalore.

  • Two cups of puffed rice
  • A little salt
  • A pinch of chilli powder
  • Few drops of lemon
  • Two tsp of coconut oil
  • Chopped coriander leaves
  • Tomatoes, onions
  • Grated mangoes ( sometimes beetroot may be added too)
  • A few groundnuts

Mix these real nice and there you have it… aromatic, crunchy and delicious Charumburi!

So this year, I went to the jaatre, pulled the Ratha or the chariot, directly went to one of the charumburi stalls and started eating. But there were many stalls, so I tasted them all! One better than the other 🙂

The man in the maroon lungi

Once, a man bought a farm and also hired some men to work in it. Among them, there was a small boy. The farm owner never knew then, that in years to come this boy would have grown up and become more than just a mere daily wage worker. Such would be the bonding that the boy would have become a part of his family. The farm owner was my great-grandfather and the boy is the one, this article is about.

When I came into this world, the boy had grown up and was in his fifties. He had carried my mother in his arms, when she was a child and later, he carried me. As far as my earliest memories go, I remember him wearing a maroon lungi, with a same coloured towel wrapped around his head (we call it mundas in Tulu). He wore no shirt or any chappals. Only on some special occasions he could be seen wearing a white shirt and a white lungi.

Ajja (that’s how I call him) never compromised with work. Let it be cutting the weeds, washing the cattle or watering the plants, he always used to do it with dedication and honesty. It is blissful, to watch him work… it’s like he is praying constantly to god or something like that, when he is working. I have never seen him rant or argue about the wages he gets. Sometimes we used to call workers from outside to do some heavy duty stuff. They always keep complaining about the wages they get at the end of the day. Also, very often, they have self-proclaimed holidays. Ajja completely opposed these things.

Ajja taught me to climb trees, especially areca palms or the areca nut trees. Areca palms are thin, diameter-wise, and  grows straight without any branches for about 30-40 feet and bores nuts at the top. You have to climb all the way up get the nuts. I was able to climb those trees but never had the stamina to stay on the top. I always wondered, how ajja used to climb it so effortlessly, that too in his age. My mother told me that, earlier ajja also used to jump from one tree to another while at the top, i.e., about 30-40 ft above ground! He doesn’t do it now. May be he thinks it’s too risky at this age.

Every year during the harvesting time, ajja is a busy person. After the rice is separated from its plant, the product still contains some paddy leaves, dried stem etcetera. To separate them, ajja used to throw, at a time, little amounts of this mixture using a plate in such a way that it spreads out as it travels. The rice travels more distance than the leaves and gets separated. The picture of bright afternoon sun, shining down on the uniformly spread golden rice always attracted us. We used to run on them with joy and ajja used to scold and then chase us away.

Ajja never talked too much. He always spoke in a low voice. I have never seen him sad. Either he is serious or happy. At lunchtime, he would quietly eat his food, wash his plate and sit on the jagali or the veranda in front of the house for some time. And then go back to work. He did this each and every day. The most important occasion of the year is the Bhootha kola (it’s a ritual of holy spirit worship performed in some parts of coastal Karnataka). Ajja is always the main guy that time.He knows what to do and how to do it. He does all the work, whether it is cleaning the place, painting the walls or setting up the dhompa (canopy of coconut leaves which are weaved together) and still, he always remains in the background. I doubt if anyone can fill his place when he is gone. We are so used to him being around, that life without him is unthinkable.

Now, whenever I am at home in Mangalore, ajja asks me about my studies, about Bangalore… it’s nice to talk to him. Everyone in my family asks advice from him. Everyone in our neighbourhood wants ajja to work for them. Everyone trusts him. In this ‘practical’ world, some say ajja is ‘impractical’. He has zero goals, zero ambitions, zero planning, but still has led a successful life. His children are in good jobs and his grandchildren go to good schools. More than that, he has made life a lot less difficult to many of them. Recently, at marriage function, ajja was sitting alone in a corner. I asked my brother to take a pic of him with me. I never had any photo of his. I always wanted one… to claim that,once there existed a man who never had any education but had knowledge more than any random guy in the crowd; who influenced and inspired me in many ways, unknowingly.