Archive for the ‘Asides’ Category
We discovered cranberries when we lived in Minnesota a decade ago. We were searching for local alternatives to tamarind – the traditional go to for adding a tangy/sour taste to a good many recipes in Indian cuisine. An adventurous aunt who had lived a few decades in that part of the world told us that there is nothing better than cranberries to make good చారు, a sweet & sour rasam that isn’t too spicy. And living in the Twin Cities, we were lucky enough to have cranberry farms in nearby Wisconsin and then when we moved to Toronto, it was the Bala cranberries.
The cranberry farms would organize these cranberry festivals during harvest season and show case the whole process of harvesting and processing cranberries. Though most of the harvest happened through mechanical harvesters, the farms offered people an opportunity to walk through their flooded marshes to harvest these air pocket filled small fruits that float up waiting to be picked. But the thought of having to dry off in the cool fall breeze and that of driving back 3 hours after that didn’t let us venture into those thigh-high gum boots.
As the leaves turned colour and fell, every year since that realization in 2005 (or was it 2004?), we would indulge ourselves by working cranberries in to various recipes – ಗೊಜ್ಜು, ತೊಕ್ಕು, chutney, చారు, పప్పు, jam, spicy bread spread, pasta sauce, etc. From the second season we started making cranberry sauce and chutney to preserve them for the rest of the year … other than stocking up on the berries themselves in the freezer.Since moving back to Bengaluru in 2011, and working consciously to increase the diversity of our nutritional sources, we had discovered kokum and were using it on and off. Last year when we were introduced to Savita of Buda Folklore and learnt that there was a chance to go pick kokum from the trees on their (and their neighbors’) farm in Angadi Bayal, near Kumta in Uttara Canara, we were quite excited. Unfortunately, we couldn’t work it into our calendars last year and we decided to give it top priority on this summer’s plan.
I am so glad that we did go to AB. We had such a great time ! We collected/picked/harvested the fruits, cleaned and segregated them, cut them up to make sundried fruits, sugar steeped preserves, jaggery sweetened jams, and spicy lip smacking chutneys. And while these were probably the driest and warmest days of the year at AB, the open air shower, the sprinkler cooled afternoons, candle and lantern lit evenings and dinners more than made up for the weather. Oh! the thick tree cover with a mango tree here and a kokum tree there in full fruiting glory are sights we will remember for a few months … till we come across the next seasonal fruit that we shall harvest and relish !! 🙂
In a recent social media conversation, I stumbled on this concept / idea / realization that, the increasing co-option of ‘our history’ by those in power is strengthened because of our lack of awareness / knowledge of our very own personal histories. This vacuum at some point allows for some form / notion of motivated narratives to gain a toe hold in the drafting our histories – gays and lesbians in India have always been treated well, women in India were happier than anywhere in the world, the congressization of the freedom struggle, the brahminization of Hindu identity, the ‘paddy’ization of south Indian food, or the vegetarianization of Indian food … the list is endless.
We are a mixed breed family – my mother is a brahmin and my father is a Lingayath. And my parents’ was the first inter caste wedding in either one’s family. Their mothers and siblings reconciled to this at different times over the many years since (their respective fathers had died before they tied the knot). As one would naturally expect, a lot of stories about family histories have been about and around this watershed event. Yes, we did hear a few stories about the extended family tree but very little about the generations before that.
So a few days after that realization, I had a conversation with my mother about her maternal grand father. I grew up hearing stories of my maternal grand mother’s struggles in life, and know a few things about her siblings and her first cousins. But I knew very little about the generation before that. Here are some things I have learned about my personal history …
My mother’s maternal grand father was a health inspector and worked for/with the British officers in the State of Mysore about a century ago. He had a fairly good standing in society and was one of the models that his peer group would refer to when talking to their children – ‘you should study hard to grow up to be like him.’
He had a large family (by today’s standards) and his wife, my mother’s maternal grandmother died during her 5th child birth. He was not very old at that time and given his name and position did not have a difficult time finding another bride. Apparently all the children from his first wife, including my grand mother, were dispatched off to live in some near/far relative’s house or married away.
And so, having grown up as a daughter of a person in such a position of power and influence, my grand mother was married to a very skilled and fairly learned, but poor, man living in a village east of Bengaluru, more than 200 kms away from where she grew up, i.e. Mysore. One can only imagine what an experience this would have been for the young girl that she was back then.
So my great grand father and his second wife continued to live in Mysore. They had a few children. Apparently, my great grand father did not live for too long after his second marriage – though I am not sure what was the cause of death or at what age he died. Of the children from his second wife, only one maintained some contact with my grand mother and apparently remained in sporadic contact till my grand mother died in 1995.
I shall continue collecting (and sharing) more stories from my family’s her/history, and the people’s her/histories of places and families I have had the good fortune of being born into or interacted with during my lifetime. I am just wondering if I should move this to a template of a oral history project, like the one by the Minnesota Historical Society …
Our first visit to Sitapur earlier this year was soon after Holi, the festival of colors. At that time of the year, the harvest is completed and a three to four week window opens up when there isn’t much work in the fields. The heat and the hot wind apparently does not deter people from stepping out of the house and travelling. Almost all the members of the sanghatan are farmer-labourers and thanks to this window of time, we were able to meet with a lot of them in different village and regional meetings.
Most women members bring their kids along to the meetings. The venue of the regional meetings are usually equidistant from the villages in that region. In the few kilometers they walk to get to the meeting, the kids fall asleep in the arms of their mothers. As the meeting begins and people start speaking, the kids start waking up and pretty soon they get active with their own games and exploring. As two or more kids start playing together, the noise level goes up and the people at the meeting start asking the mothers to control their kids. Usually this means that one or more of the kids get whacked by their mother(s) and soon one can hear more than one kid wailing away. Once the wailing starts, invariably, almost all the mothers I noticed employ the silencer – dragging the kid into their lap, they stick the kid to their breasts and start feeding! With no fighting or wailing kids, the meeting goes on.
Breast feeding in public is an accepted practice in these parts. Infact, in some cases the women do not even bother covering the kid or their exposed breast under the free end of their saree. Though there is a sad facet, I feel, to this story. Almost as a rule, every woman of child bearing age had a baby in her hands or on her lap, and may be even a kid one or two trailing along. On the other hand, when visiting the villages, I noticed that that most couples had four or fewer kids. So I must confess that the fertility rate is much lower than what I expected seeing all the babies in public places. But yes, it is higher than the global or even the national average.
A few weeks after Stubby died, a discussion started in the family about bringing home a puppy. My father grew up with a dog in the family, and other than the 5 years that we were in Delhi, we had a dog at home. My sister also decided to came to Bangalore for a weekend and it was decieded that we would get a puppy from Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA) that Saturday.
There were quite a few pups at the adoption kennel at CUPA. After debating whether to pick a male or a female, a brown or a black, an active one or a not so active one, and a few other points, my sister and mother decieded on a male not so active pup with brownish black coat and a white patch at the end of its tail. We called him Stingy for a while, but the name didnt really catch on.
The pup was quite sluggish the first couple of days and we thought it was because of the deworming medicine it received just before leaving the shelter. But it just would not eat anything. We tried everything from milk, rice, boiled egg, bread, roti, biscuits, rusk, and an assortment of many other things. But the answer was a no go on all counts. It was a proper hunger strike and we were just not able to discern why. On the second day I force fed some milk using an ink-dropper. When the fast went into the third day I took it to the vet. Knowing the ways of pups, he said, ok lets try this. He opened a bottle of dog food took a few pieces in his hand. Within no time his hand was licked clean !! The pup attacked it like it hadn’t eaten anything for a few days. Well, it hadn’t !
Hoping to make the best use of the complementary pack the vet gave us, we tried mixing the packed food in different forms, with home cooked food. An adamant no way was all we got. It even refused the dog food by itself. I realized that the complementary pack was a different brand from the one that the vet gave in clinic! It was the seventh day and four force feeding sessions later. My father caved and bought a pack of Pedigree and the pup gobbled it up in seconds. After another unsuccessful round of trying to get it to eat home cooked food mixed with the Pedigree stuff, we decieded we would not be able to feed him packaged food nor did we want his growth to suffer due to the hunger strikes at such a crucial stage in its growth.
10 days after we brought him home, we took the pup back and left him in CUPA. The managers and helpers maintained that they do not feed packaged food to their dogs, or any other animal in the shelter. In one of their cupboards they had a large jar about one third full with the same Pedigree stuff that was the only acceptable food according to the pup. Anyway, whether they accepted it or not, the pup was hooked.
Take home: When you go to the adoption center, take a bowl of whatever you plan to feed. Line up the potential candidates and pick the one that attacks the food and devours it!
There are competing theories on how the domesticated plants and animals of today came to be. Genetic and archeological evidence have resolved some of the common questions but pioneering claims are made by different communities and many of these challenges are far from settled. But it is beyond debate that even if a particular plant or animal species was domensticated in one place, there are many different varities of the same plant or animal in different parts of the world. Over many generations, various factors from climate and soil conditions, parent variety, other ecological conditions, and human intentions, have created different varities of a particular species. For example, our ancestors selectively bred cattle for better milk yield, or adaptability to local conditions, or to serve as better beasts of burden.
As one variety of a species becomes more famous, more and more people convert to that variety, invariably leading to a decrease in the genetic diversity. In a few cases new varieties are bred using the famous non local variety with local variety to come up with newer ones, increasing the genetic diversity. Loosing the older varieties, especially when they were adapted to local conditions, is genetic wealth that we rob our future generations of.
The advent of genetically modified seeds and the barely tested or challenged theories of the manufacturers have highlighted the need to protect local seed varities. Governments, academic instiutions, NGOs, various societies and cooperatives across the world have set up seed banks to protect local genetic diversity. A less recognized loss is that of indigenous varieties of cattle. Paintings from different times representing the cow, a revered animal among Hindus, shows that almost all local varities were treated with comparable reverence and respect.
Operation Flood brought about a great revival in milk production, and cattle rearing in India. But the stress on higher milk yield also meant a swing away from indigenous varieties. As the adaptability to local climate, health and other concerns started surfacing, development of hybrids picked steam.
One of the objectives of the Central Cattle Breeding Farms of the Dept. of Animal Husbandry & Dairy development is to protect indigenous breeds. Looking at the details of the program, it does not encourage much confidence regarding sustaining traditional varieties beyond the lab. Given the religious values associated with cattle, there might be some traditional gaushalas working in this direction (I am not aware of any).
How far are we ready to go to protect genetic diversity? If we are ready to take steps to protect genetic diversity of grains like rice, wheat, bajra, jowar, raagi, etc. shouldn’t we think of cattle also along the same line?
Stubby, the pet dog in my parents’ place in Bangalore, died on June 3rd. She was a real darling, friendly to the core, accomodating and always ready for a shut eye ! At 11 and a half years old, she had just entered the canine senior citizen bracket. During her younger days, she would converse with us whenever she wanted something or did not approve of what we gave her. She was pretty slow by the time we returned in March and was refusing to eat anything by the end of May. After the diagnosis of multiple organ failure, and a lot of dicsussion within the family it was decided to put her to sleep and spare her the suffering as her condition deteriorated. My father and I drove her over to the vet to have the cocktail injection administered. When we reached there we found that she had died without a whimper somewhere on the way.
She was my father’s pet, and a spoilt one at that. Back when she was still young, every day he would spend an hour or more preparing biscuit crisp ‘roti’s for her. He started sharing sweets and crispies with her, inspite of protests from all of us, and slowly Stubby’s taste buds started demanding rusks, biscuits, cakes, and other such bakery items. She became picky about the other not so tasty, but healthy food that ma prepared for her. How can Raagi ganji, multi-grain flour roti, boiled egg, bread & milk compete with sweet baked yummies? Fortunately though, untill the last week, her primary diet was still one of the healthier foods.
I was the designated ‘bather’ and ‘vet guardian’. Even in the year when I was in Mysore and the family was in Bangalore, stubby care would be a part of my weekend visit. When my parents moved to Gandhinagar in Gujarat, Stubby and I, along with a driver, drove over in the family’s Maruti van. When I rejoined the family in Gujarat, Stubby was getting a little more exercise and was in a much better shape. By the time I left for Minneapolis, my sister was trained enough to take over Stubby care.
Like me, Stubby also had a fairly bad memory, I suspect. After a long absence it would greet me like it was greeting a stranger and after a few seconds, when reminded by ma, appaji and yaa, she would guardedly come towards me seeking to be petted. A few moments later she would start a conversation with her ‘bow-wow-bow’s!! We miss Stubby …