Saturday, December 17, 2016

What will be ...will be... The future is not for us to see...


It was a trip that was conceived in the subconscious mind many years ago.

Those were the tumultuous years of our lives.  A lot had happened in the past and good deal of healing and reflection lay ahead of us if we were to move on with our respective lives.

It was not about taking a holiday, going on detox, trekking up a hill or meditating that could have made us see things in a different perspective.

Life is'nt about finding yourself ... perhaps it is about creating it all by yourself ..
.
As they say time is the greatest healer of all.  Sometimes you just need to let time take its course.

And thus went by the many years in the pursuit of  healing and moving on. That visit to ‘Kukke’ that was perceived and conceived had just found its right time to materialize. It felt like the entire universe just conspired to make things happen.  

We took to the road at about seven in the morning  on the thanksgiving weekend.  Equipped with clothes, mobile(s), charger(s), power bank(s), credit card(s), Driving license(s), RC book, insurance papers, emission certificate, in case of emergency contact number(s), and some new cash we speed off and away from the city.

The roads away from Bangalore were such a breeze at that time of the day. It is true; Bangalore roads instinctively know when Americans celebrate Memorial Day, Independence Day and thanksgiving weekend.  The first surprise awaited us the Nelamangala toll. As the queue of vehicles approached the toll gates, one could see the barriers lifting up faster than they normally would, every time you pass by the toll gate.

As we readied ourselves in the queue, pulling out old ten rupee notes in order to tender the exact change and approached the toll, we were pleasantly surprised to know that the toll charges had been waived.

Bolo Modiji ki jai... we say as I  press the accelerator of my automatic  gear Hyundai i10 2010 model  and speed off into the high ways.

And thus was born the tag line for the trip... ‘Bolo  Modiji ki  jai’ …

My Hyundai i10 – the main Protagonist of this long post deserves a better introduction and a better name. She is six and a half years old and has been a highly domesticated vehicle.  Like that chaste Virtuous Virgin girl  (hereinafter referred to as V V Girl) who never crosses the line that her parents laid out for her (except occasionally when parents were not watching), my i10 has only done trips within the city. From home to office and back to home on weekdays. And then to buy groceries and to visit the neighbourhood temple  over the weekends. 

*Barring those occasional trips to Salem, Dharmapuri  and Mysore that have been a well guarded secret in all these years.


Virtuous virgin girl aka V V Girl has been serviced unfailingly every six months for the last six and a half years.

Feeling like the father of the bride, it was with trepidation that we prepared the Virtuous Virgin girl aka V V Girl for the long trip that awaited her over the thanksgiving weekend.  A visit to the car servicing centre to check the wheel balancing, tyre conditions, air pressure, engine oil, coolant and what not was done to ensure she was in perfect health to take on the stress on the ‘D-day ’

And boy!!! Barring a little detour around Tumkur where we lost our way after the breakfast, the next four hours was a wild rush of the odo meter. From 80 à 100 à 120 and occasionally a 130 … mmm  aaaacctually 140 … our V V Girl  really ran wild.  It was an orgasmic rush of adrenalin like never felt before.    

The monsters of the past that loomed like a storm of grey clouds in a dark cold night in our heads were clearing away. Well… at least temporarily, thanks to that adrenalin rush.  A sense of adventure that brought us together all those years ago was rekindled. How long ago that was … I do a mental math…. 

It was indeed many many years ago ... a lot had happenned in the world that surrounded us .... 

I remember clearly ... my niece was born in that year.  but for us ... It was as if time had never passed by.

Miles and miles of high way lay ahead of us. It felt like we would cruise the 100 and 120 speeds for ever.          

That is how it felt all those years ago. Of course we knew there would be barriers and bridges to cross along the way. 

But we blindly believed we would  cross them when they came on... and cruise along ... 




This was the national highway - NH75. And yet there were road humps and toll gates where we had to slow down. We crossed  the barriers that no so long ago were buzzing with toll fee collections and uttered loudly ‘Bolo Modiji ki jai ‘  and cruised along.     

We had decided that we would cover the longest haul of the trip first. And thus it was to Kollur, a good 700 kilometers from home that we headed for on Day one. A quick stop for breakfast, lunch and snacks at roadside eateries saw us through the day.  Our Virtuous Virgin girl was loaded with full tank at the start of the trip and so she happily roared along the way until Kollur when we reached there in the evening.  

Barring a twenty kilometre stretch of pot holed roads; it was a decent drive all along.  We were sceptical if our Virtuous Virgin girl and her chassis would take to the pot holes kindly, but we need not have worried. She was made of sterner stuff and stood her ground through the onslaught of craters and ditches. The second half of the day was through the tree lined State highway (sh14) where we had to slow down to speed limits of 50-60. But it was well worth it. The quaint villages along the way and the tree lined state high ways soothed us like a pleasant perfume wafting along the way. After all speed isn’t the only thing when you venture out on a long drive. 

How we wish we had known this  all those years ago. The bridges, the barriers and the pot holes did come along and it was such a bumpy ride.  Sadly no one had warned us about it then. Everytime the ditches and potholes of life hit us, we shuddered. Life felt like one long haul full of pot holes and ditches and the prospects of surviving it over a long haul  looked bleak.   

For a very long stretch, life felt  like a one way street and the U turn was nowhere in sight.  Truth be told, we did want to take a U turn but were terrified to look for it.and missed many along the way. In all those years we consulted the google maps of life from time to time. They came in the form of Astrologers, psychiatrists, and counsellors. But we were too confused to trust them.         



In our country especially when in the countryside no matter how much we rely on Google maps, we find solace in consulting the locals for reassurance. Every time we were at crossroads we listened to the voice from Google maps for directions. And there she was, for want of a better name let us call her Google Girl - G G Girl for short. She has a nasal voice, as though she was just recovering from a bad cold and has an accent that struggles with names of Indian towns. But she kept us company all through and gave us our directions in no uncertain terms. And yet, we stopped by and consulted the locals. Oh well, sometimes we got directions from them that would contradict the one that G G Girl  gave us, but we trusted them nevertheless. 

We got lost many a times, went around in circles and the journey seemed like a frustrating drag.
 A very long drag with our destination nowhere in sight. 

It was on day three that we decided to take a detour and visit Sringeri. But before we tell you about our trip to Sringeri which we decided on the spur of the moment, we will pause and tell you about our stay at Doddamane in Agumbe.

Two years ago, in a inter office quiz contest, this question got passed and came to our team. 

If Kaziranga was for Rhinos, Corbett for tigers what was Agumbe for ?

That was the first time I had heard of Agumbe . 

Perhaps due to enhanced application of a quizzers logic (endangered- wild- life - kannada-sounding name-western- ghats) or perhaps because I felt like I had a subconscious connection to this place and them, I replied... ‘snakes’ and quickly corrected myself and said ‘cobras’. . 

The quiz master nodded and our team got the points.
 
That is what brought us here.

Google Girl says we are approaching Agumbe in four kilometers.  Ahead of us is a steep hill with a mobile tower looming at the top. From that  distance it feels like we would hit a dead end. As we approach closer the road winds itself up the hill through steep Ghats and I worry for the Virtuous Virgin Girl.  She has never been driven onto steep hilly terrains like this one.  This is her first time. But then she surprises us yet again. As we drive up the hill to Agumbe, we worry if the drive downhill would be safe. The inflow and outflow of traffic is dense in these narrow winding roads. There are trucks and plush cars going up and down the steep hills. A good half hour drive up the hill and we emerge on a plain stretch of plateau.  Agumbe is a small town located on a plateau above a steep hill on the Western Ghats. No wonder it is called the Cherrapunji of the south.  There are boys plaing cricket on an oversized cricket ground at this altitude. 

As we pass by the sunset point, we decide it is time for us to stop by for a quick late afternoon lunch at a road side eatery. It is past three in the afternoon and the woman at the road side eatery tells us she could quickly prepare us some hot Dosas if the cold Idlis are not to our liking, only if we are ok to eat it with ‘saaru’ and coconut chutney prepared in the morning. We are famished and know that we could gobble up just about anything that is doled out to us.

She bears a striking resemblance to someone we know, especially when she smiles. We take an instant liking to her and are intrigued by her sense of enterprise. A small tricycle parked near the cart makes us guess that she is a mother of a small child.  An ‘American sweet corn – very TESTY and HEALTHY’ cart is parked just outside the shed. It is perhaps what is wheeled across to the sunset point in the evening, where tourists help themselves to some hot and spicy sweet corn while watching the sun set amidst from atop the lush dense forests of the Western Ghats.

As we finish up our lunch, we ask her for the directions to Kasturi Akka’s house which is known locally as Doddamane – the big house and discover it is just about 200 meters along the road.  We are thankful because we realize this was our last point where we could have grabbed a late lunch before checking in.  Not that we could not have got lunch at Doddamane. In fact we had called them earlier in the day and let them know that we would have our lunch since we would be coming in late in the afternoon.         

Agumbe is a detour from Kollur and is set deep and high up inside the Western Ghats. Since those bonus points from the quiz, a visit to Agumbe has been playing on my subconscious mind.

A Google search familiarized my conscious mind with Agumbe.

Agumbe is known as the Cherrapunji of the south.
Agumbe is where the king cobra research institute is located.
Agumbe is where the rain forest research station is located.

None of this would have appealed to us in its entirety but for that last bit of trivia that dived us down a nostalgic trip of our childhood days.




Agumbe was the location where ‘Malgudi days’ was shot.   The cherry  on the cake – Doddamane was the house where ‘Malgudi days’ was shot.             





Doddamane  takes you down to an era 30-40 years earlier and can help you experience life of the days you might have had at your grandparents place when you were a child.  Preserving a way of living like that despite the onslaught of modernity takes will and commitment and that is what Doddamane is striving to achieve. 
After a heavy breakfast of Kasturi Akka’s dosas followed by her kashayam we pack up and get ready to go to Kukke.

That is the plan as per our excel sheet.   

As a parting comment Kasturi Akka suggests that we stop by Sringeri via Horanadu, as that is a very scenic route to drive by.

As I have said earlier in the post, we  trust the locals to give us the directions but always verify with Google and go more or less by what the Google girl tells us with her nasal voice and un-Indian accent.  

A quick tap on the smart phone and Google girl confirms that Kukke is about 3 hours drive from Agumbe and Sringeri would be on the way only with a few kilometres detour.  We have the entire day ahead of us and Virtuous virgin girl had also been rested for more than 18 hours by now.
That is how we set out and diligently followed Google girl.     


The roads were narrow but extremely scenic. The Tungabhadra river bank was close by and we skirted the river bank and the bridges very often. The greenery surrounding the mountains, the lush paddy fields on the plains and the tree laden state highway was a pleasure to drive by.

But for that massive mess up by Google girl.

Perhaps some overworked, oppressed, sleep deprived and frustrated software programmer from an offshoring sweat shop made this massive mistake in the middle of the night at some point in time.  

And we paid the price for it.

'Sringeri Mutt' is wrongly programmed as 'Bhadravati' on Google maps. In reality they are a 120 kilometers apart,  What was supposed to be a two hour drive turned out to be a much longer one.  

We straddled many by lanes and after three hours, since we blindly trusted Google Girl and her not so infinite wisdom, we realized that we were going in circles. We checked with the locals and got contradictory views. 

With the blind faith in Google girl’s navigating capabilities we ended up at Bhadravati steel plant, where the barrenness of the plains and stress of city hit us suddenly and very hard.  

We were driving for four long hours and Sringeri was nowhere in sight.

We had been working on our relationship, year after year. 
We straddled through life and after many years, realized that we trusted the social norms that we believed came from centuries of wisdom. , Every time the pattern repeated itself we came to the conclusion that we were going in circles. It was only getting stressful as the years passed by. The negativity that it generated was making the very act of daily living a big chore. 
Despite good intentions and advice, there have been times in life when we did not end up where we should have ended up.            

It was time to take a pit stop. Look up the map and not just listen to directions. First things first we needed to grab some food and start off a with a fresh perspective. After all Google girl was not god. Perhaps she had been wrongly programmed.  

And here we were throwing accusations at each other and repeating the same patterns of blame games. 

It was a time to take a pit stop, look up the patterns of life from a higher plane and look into things with a fresh perspective. 

After all the society around us was not god.  Norms - social, economic, cultural and moral  norms have changed  over time. The ground beneath our feet had shifted drastically in our times. 
Perhaps our upbringing handed us down a set of norms that were wrongly programmed for our circumstances and the times we are living in... 
      
And here we were throwing accusations at each other and repeating the same patterns of blame game.

The sun had set and the sudden darkness that fell was scary.
The road ahead was gloomy and dark. 

The prime years of our youth had passed and it  was a hopeless feeling to look forward. 
The life ahead was gloomy and dark. 

We were nowhere close to our destination.  Driving through the Sakleshpur’s treacherous Ghats after dark to reach Kukke was something we wanted to avoid.  
This was not how we had planned it. 
We had come a long way and had taken a long detour. But Reaching Kukke was non-negotiable.

We were not getting anywhere in our relationship.  We needed to make conscious decisions about where we lived, where we worked, our jobs, about our choices, and most importantly about our inner calling. 

In all this we felt paralysed. This was not how we had planned it. 
We knew we had come a long way and had taken a very long detour.  But making peace with life was non-negotiable. 

And here is where the conscious and the subconscious met. 

And here is where the conscious and the subconscious met. 

One of us had to take the Driver’s seat. Drive us both through the dark, and get us to reach 'Kukke'. 

One of us had to take the Driver’s seat.  Take life changing decisions and get us to embrace peace. .

Driving the mountainous paths that lay ahead of us was scary. It was dark and lonely.

Navigating through life ahead of us was  scary, and the future looked lonely.

And yet it was a conscious choice.

And yet it was a conscious choice.

The stress of driving through the dark took its toll and just as we reached Kukke, we broke down and lost it. 
No… no…V V Girl was all right.    She is a kickass car. (And no Hyundai have not paid me anything to write this post)  

 The stress of living through hell had taken its toll and just as we reached the point of going separate ways, we just lost it. Life from the outside looked perfectly all right. We were made of sterner stuff.

Kukke Subramanya was suggested as a place almost five years ago by a colleague who said he found a deep sense of peace when he was at Kukke and recommended a visit.   

Ever since then I have been looking for an opportunity to visit. Kukke. The Subrahmanya temple is nestled in a deep valley winding down through the Sakleshpur Ghats on the banks of Kumaradhara River.   

It was a trip that was shelved somewhere in the list of to do things and when the circumstances surfaced I was overjoyed and looking forward to it. I hoped that this would be where we would find our peace.  

Kukke was the last stop down our road trip itinerary. 

It was already Saturday and in another day the thanks giving weekend would come to an end.
By the time we checked in at Kukke, we were exhausted and emotionally drained out. Tempers ran high, blame games began and shouting matches followed. Weeping, crying, slamming the door and the usual pattern followed. Where was the peace that we came looking for, I began to wonder.   

It felt like visiting those terrifying years all over again
But this time around we were wiser.  We knew we could not afford to repeat ourselves all over again.
We were by now familiar with the patterns and we knew that we needed to let go.
What was not to be … Was not to be.


Perhaps  like Sringeri and Bhadravati on google maps, we were wrongly programmed.

Kukke is where we made peace with ourselves.
Life was not  about finding yourself ... perhaps it was about recreating it yourself ...

And then began the long drive back to Bangalore. From down the Valley of
Kukke Subramanya, and up the Sakleshpur ghats, via the coffee  plantations of Coorg, and then through long barren highway to Bangalore.  All toll free, Thanks to Modiji

As we passed by the toll gates, we uttered ‘Bolo Modiji Ki Jai’ and drove on.

Every time we had to take a leak we did the same.  We stopped by the fields hid behind the trees and said ‘Bolo Modi - ji ki jai’. 

Forgive us Modiji… unlike in the cities, a little bit of it into the lush green wilderness will only make it more fertile. That is how we Indians have been programmed. We are country bumpkins at heart.  It will take us some time to adapt to the urban way of life.  

We will get there Modi-ji. We will get there. 
We all like watching Vidya Balan. She is pretty.   

V V Girl was now cruising like she was born to be driven like a formula one car.
On the music system, as if by cue the tune began .
Que Sera Sera … What will be will be …
The future is not for us to see …   
Que sera .. sera…

And then the phone rang.  Oh my god … I totally forgot.
Happy birthday Jaanu I said  … it was my niece’s 15th birthday. 

It took us 15 long years…to make peace with ourselves...


  

Que sera sera … whatever will be will be
The future  is not for us to see… 






Sunday, December 11, 2016

OXFAM TRAILWALKER EVENT FUNDRAISING


 

For the last one month I have resisted eating out ( except occassionally), Occassionally I have walked to work (it is faster than driving these days in Bangalore) , cleared up my clutter of books that i have collected over the years to sell them for a charity.  For those who can see me everyday I am going to exchange some great collections of classic old movies in exchange of a small donation to OXFAM. 
No .. I am not in dire financial crisis. 
Far from it .. this is my payback time to all the opportunities that I have had and others have not ... 
Talk about a challenge!
In the month of January I along with Sowmya, Merlyn and Praveen will be walking 50 km (31 Miles) to raise money and awareness for Oxfam India.
 The event is Oxfam Trailwalker. It is starting from the edge of a beautiful valley of Nandihills near Bangalore and along the trail is a walk that is all set to give us a challenging rural experience. 
The trail will take us through more than 30 villages including checkpoints, farm lands of grapes, vegetable, flower and valley around the trail.
Click here to see my reflections Last year's OXFAM Trailwalker  over a small one minute movie. 
Teams of four enter this event and have 24 hours to walk or run the 50 km trail, although our team is hoping to finish in less than 15 hours .  It’s very likely that we’ll walk through the night (with little or no sleep) until the end. 
Through this event we raise vital funds for Oxfam India.  Oxfam is an independent, secular, non-government organization working in more than 28 countries and Indigenous India.
My team .NOMADS, is hoping to raise well over INR 70000 ( USD 1000) to help some of the world’s poorest people. Our fundraising enables Oxfam to continue its work delivering projects that support orphans and also the money we raise builds the lives of some of India's most poorest communities but people we support don't want to survive on aid and assistance forever. They have the right to lead a dignified life. Oxfam India works in partnership with over 60 grassroots NGOs to address root causes of poverty and injustice.
My Oxfam Trailwalker team, Sowmya KB, Merlyn Fernandes and Praveen CR and I will be going the distance and hope that you can support us in this massive challenge. Please consider how you may be able to get behind us, either by sponsoring us directly or referring us to others.  If you would like to sponsor us please follow the link: https://trailwalker.oxfamindia.org/
The work that Oxfam does is vital to so many people worldwide and  50km is a long way to walk!  But putting ourselves through months of intense training to walk  50 km is worth it for the impact our fundraising has on others through Oxfam India programs.
Remember no amount is a small amount and you do not have to be embarassed donating a small amount.  It is your support that counts. We count on friends like you to please give generously if you can and consider how your donation can make a real difference. And if you cannot that is ok as well.  
Do not hesitate.  Pull out that credit / Debit card of yours right away and Donate.  Be assured that your money is making a difference to the lives of the underprivileged somewhere in India.  
Thank you!
Steps to be followed for donation-
1.       Click on the link https://trailwalker.oxfamindia.org/
2.       Scroll down to select support a team>> in the pop up window click donate
3.       A page will open, select contribute to team>>select City Bengalurur>> from the drop down for the team name select –Nomads(Statestreet)
4.       You will then see the details of team members, followed with details to fill in the amount you wish to donate and your personal information. Fill that
5.       Proceed further to donate either through credit/ debit card and make payments of your  choice.

 Keep in touch. We will let you know how we fared by the 22nd of January. 

Friday, December 02, 2016

Agumbe - Doddamane days



It was an Independece day - India quiz contest being conducted many years ago. This question got passed and came to our team. 

If Kaziranga was for Rhinos, Corbett for tigers what was Agumbe for ?

That was the first time I had heard of 'Agumbe '. 

Perhaps the quizzer's logic told me to take that wild guess (endangered- wild- life - kannada-sounding name-western- ghats) or perhaps because I felt like I had a subconscious connection to this place and them, I replied... ‘snakes’ and quickly corrected myself and said ‘cobras’. 
The quiz master nodded and our team got the points. 

That is what brought us here many years later. 

Google Girl says we are approaching Agumbe in four kilometers.  Ahead of us is a steep hill with a mobile tower looming at the top. From that  distance it feels like we would hit a dead end. As we approach closer the road winds itself up the hill through steep Ghats and I worry for the Virtuous Virgin Girl.  She has never been driven onto steep hilly terrains like this one.  This is her first time. But then she surprises us yet again. As we drive up the hill to Agumbe, we worry if the drive downhill would be safe. The inflow and outflow of traffic is dense in these narrow winding roads. There are trucks and plush cars going up and down the steep hills. A good half hour drive up the hill and we emerge on a plain stretch of plateau.  Agumbe is a small town located on a plateau above a steep hill on the Western Ghats. No wonder it is called the Cherrapunji of the south.  There are boys playing cricket on an oversized cricket ground at this altitude. 

As we pass by the sunset point, we decide it is time for us to stop by for a quick late afternoon lunch at a road side eatery. It is past three in the afternoon and the woman at the road side eatery tells us she could quickly prepare us some hot Dosas if the cold Idlis are not to our liking, only if we are ok to eat it with ‘saaru’ and coconut chutney prepared in the morning. We are famished and know that we could gobble up just about anything that is doled out to us.


She bears a striking resemblance to someone we know, especially when she smiles. We take an instant liking to her and are intrigued by her sense of enterprise. A small tricycle parked near the cart makes us guess that she is a mother of a small child.  An ‘American sweet corn – very TESTY and HEALTHY’ cart is parked just outside the shed. It is perhaps what is wheeled across to the sunset point in the evening, where tourists help themselves to some hot and spicy sweet corn while watching the sun set amidst from atop the lush dense forests of the Western Ghats.
As we finish up our lunch, we ask her for the directions to Kasturi Akka’s house which is known locally as Doddamane – the big house and discover it is just about 200 meters along the road.  We are thankful because we realize this was our last point where we could have grabbed a late lunch before checking in.  Not that we could not have got lunch at Doddamane. In fact we had called them earlier in the day and let them know that we would have our lunch since we would be coming in late in the afternoon.         

Agumbe is a detour from Kollur and is set deep and high up inside the Western Ghats. Since those bonus points from the quiz, a visit to Agumbe has been playing on my subconscious mind.

A Google search familiarized us with Agumbe.

Agumbe is known as the Cherrapunji of the south.
Agumbe is where the king cobra research institute is located.
Agumbe is where the rain forest research station is located.

None of this would have appealed to us in its entirety but for that last bit of trivia that dived us down a nostalgic trip of our childhood days.

Agumbe was the location where ‘Malgudi days’ was shot.   The cherry  on the cake – Doddamane was the house where ‘Malgudi days’ was shot.   Thanks to  tripadvisor that  is where we planned to stay when at Agumbe.         
   

Ah to reminisce those childhood days watching R K Narayan’s – Swami and his friends on Doordarshan, the only available channel on national television would send anyone born before the mid-eighties into a nostalgia trip.

Our host confirms to us that Malgudi days was shot in this house. The house is about 130 years old. Made of stone walls and carved with doors and pillars of strong forest teak / timber wood, I find striking similarities with my grandfather’s house in Mangudi … agaramangudi.

It is not just the house and its ancient architecture that has been precisely preserved.  At the backyard there are huge copper pots in which hot water in boiled through a wood fired boiler system.  The ceilings are low and supported by beams made of teak wood. 

When we are shown to our rooms we observe the intricately carved ancient teak wood dresser with a mirror. The rooms overlooking the central courtyard are long (pretty inefficient use of space by today’s standards) and the staircase leading to it is made of stone and is steep.  Doddamane was built long before electricity came into this country and therefore you see traces of electric wires pulled over for the light bulbs and table fans that were added on much later to the house.

If you peep into the dingy  cob web laden store room besides the stair case on the first floor, you glimpse into a bygone era when wealth was measured not by what you could draw from your bank account but by what you could draw from the nature’s bounty that surrounded you. 
In Malnad (rain forest land in local language) surrounded by dense forests wild life must have been abundant.  King cobras were revered. Every house had a ‘Sarpa Kavvu’ a shrine to worship the snakes that were displaced to make way for the house, in its court yard.


A deer horn carelessly dumped into the dingy space peeps out of the iron grill of the store room window. At some point this must have been its hunter’s pride possession. Huge pillars of teak, timber and sandalwood lay casually stacked up to give way for sturdier pillars to reconstruct the house.
Kasturi akka welcomes us and her granddaughter shows us to our room. She also shows us around the house and lets us know where the bathroom and the toilets are. And there comes the realization of what we have signed up for.  Like in most homes that were functional almost a century ago, when the luxury of ceramic toilet bowls and electricity were not yet discovered, one did not fathom the concept of attached bathrooms leave alone a western toilet.

Up until about 40-50 years ago people used dug up mud pits in the outhouse, which they covered with a bucket full of soil after the job was done. A small narrow lane that opened to the side of the house was for the night soil workers, who came along and picked up the matter covered in the soil and kept the pits clean for the next morning.  The night soil workers were usually untouchables from a lower caste and did all the dirty jobs that no one else would sign up to do. 

(Perhaps like the BPO workers who now work the night shift in our cities!!!)

Women, when they menstruated stayed in a corner room, perhaps besides the cattle shed where they would get a break from the daily chores while other women who were not menstruating went about picking up the daily chores.  Three days later, the woman, after her menstrual periods were over would wash up all her clothes that she used  during the periods  and take a full  dip  at the river, pond or tank whichever was  the closest water body situated  behind  the house to purify herself before she entered  the household.

That perhaps explain the term ‘muzhukame irukka’; loosely translated as 'she has not been dipping herself in the river and bathing’ signifying that the woman has skipped her periods and was pregnant. 

In the more recent generations the rules were relaxed and the restrictions only applied to the menstruating women’s entry into the room which was the shrine of the house where the figurines of gods and goddesses were kept and into the kitchen where food was cooked.  They moved along in the rest of the house freely.

Kasturi Akka understands that the strict rules of the generations gone by cannot be applied in these modern times. Ever since they started welcoming tourists into their homestay she knew she had to relax some of these conditions.

Doddamane serves pure vegetarian food. Alcohol and meat are strictly prohibited. Guests freely move about the house except into the sanctum sanctorum where the shrine of gods and goddesses are worshipped daily by the family. 

Years ago, soon after Kasturi Akka had started letting tourists stay at Doddamane a king cobra emerged in her shrine from nowhere. Far from killing or chasing away the intruder that could have killed many a family member with its deadly venom, Kasturi Akka’s family surrendered   to the messenger of the gods and begged   for forgiveness. They prayed and conducted purifying rituals at Doddamane. 

Since then the entry into that room – the shrine of gods is prohibited for the home stay visitors. The rest of the house is freely available for the visitors to move around and have a look.

Kasturi Akka is in the kitchen preparing for dinner. She summons her granddaughter to light the lamp and do the evening pooja rituals in the shrine as the evening sun sets.


It is that time of the evening as the sun sets down after leaving its traces of dense orange blush across the grey sky.

It is that time of the evening when the cows come home (In the literal Indian sense) and settle into the cattle shed.

It is that time of the evening when the birds withdraw into their nests and get adjusted to the dark

It is that time of the evening when the bats fly helter-skelter at supersonic speeds to grab their supper,

It is that time of the evening when the frogs start croaking, trap and eat up the mosquitoes for supper

It is that time of the evening when the snakes emerge out of their abodes and eat the frogs for supper,

It is that time of the evening when the woman of the household lights the lamp besides the tulsi plant in her backyard.

It is that time of the evening when mother summons her children playing in the courtyard to …

Assemble for ‘Shubham karauti’ ,  ‘Sandhya Vandanam’  or  ‘deva aarti ‘
‘Shubham karauti’ ,  ‘Sandhya Vandanam’ ‘ ‘Sandhya aarti ‘ and the various names of that  quaint ritual conducted in Hindu  households every evening as the sun downs signifying the end of yet another day.  

Thanks’s giving is a daily ritual in this country.  

That is when conch shells are blown, temple bells are rung, lamps are lit, and camphor and incense sticks are burnt. That is the time when the entire family gathers up in prayer for thanking the powers to be for yet another day gone peacefully.  ..                        
It feels peaceful, watching from the courtyard, the granddaughter   lighting the lamp, reciting the evening hymns and doing the pooja ritual.  A strong smell of sandalwood incense wafts through the courtyard.   

On any other Thursday in Bangalore,

It is that time of the evening when we would be logging into a call with colleagues in the east coast. .

Did I say Thanks giving is a daily ritual in this country?

I stand corrected; Thanks giving is a daily ritual in the countryside.

Suddenly we feel a sense of gratitude and are thankful for the thanksgiving weekend.

* * * 
           
It is few minutes before 8.00 pm, the designated dinner time at Doddamane. Outside the house on the road, the street dogs are barking. Looks like there is a territory war going on and one has intruded into their territory.

We are sitting opposite to each other leaning on the timber wood pillars and the main entrance of the house while watching the street dogs barking, chatting up while we are also chasing away the mosquitoes buzzing around us. 

We talk about the rustic title music of the television serial Malgudi days ( remember thandane thane nane naa …) that was shot in this house in 1986, now almost more than 30 years back.

It was a story written by R K Narayan, reminiscicing the life of a bygone era that was almost 40 years earlier to the time it was televised. 

We think time moves slowly in places like this.  The sun has set, it is pitch dark, we are back from our evening walk and we have pretty much nothing to do. 

Very soon we would realize how wrong we were.

That is when our host comes by and gives us the Wi-Fi password.

* * * * * * * * * 
                        

Kasturi-Akka summons us and says  the dinner is ready.

In Doddamane it is still a wood fired stove in which the food is cooked.
A Gas stove and an electric induction stove are seen outside the kitchen, But by the looks of it, they look like they are seldom used.



We wash our hands and sit on the table where banana leaves are laid out. About three or four members of the household both men and women take turns and serve us our food on the leaves. 

We are not great fans of Mangalorean food. And there is a good reason to it.  In those days when we began our careers in Mumbai , we would regularly eat our late night dinners at the ‘Shetty joint’ .  

The Mumbai restaurant business was a monopoly of the Shetty’s from the Udipi region.  The temple town of  Udipi is very close to from this place.

Food  had a predictable taste and wherever you went out to dine in Mumbai, you would experience the same taste, flavour and looks of the food that was dished out in a ‘Shetty’ restaurant.
We used to call it the Mcdonaldization of  south Indian food.

And how we hated it !!!.

The evening before, when we ate at the restaurant in the town of Udipi, our taste buds cried out loud and reminded us of our overdose of late night ‘Shetty food ‘during our overworked days in Mumbai.  Even that over boiled milky tea tasted exactly like how it tasted in the college hostel all those years ago which too was managed by a 'Shetty' contractor.   

If consistency reminded you of McDonalds and Subway, dear Indian, think again. 

Don’t you think the Udupi restaurants mastered it before anyone else?

Ah... that was a digression.

Back in Doddamane, we lunged into our dinner leaves   With trepidation of ‘Shetty’ food looming large in our memories.

We were taken in for surprise.

Oh yes !  there were coconuts scraped into every dish, there was sweet jaggery and spicy red chillies paste ground  into most of them.

And yet they tasted different. There was brown rice and a variety of other dishes laid out for us. We were not used to that heavy a dinner.

Very soon we realized we had worried unnecessarily. Despite multiple helpings, the palate was so light on our stomachs and so invigorating to the taste buds that we had to agree  that there was more to Mangalorean cuisine that just  ‘Shetty’ food.

Over the last few decades before economic liberalization came into India, young boys driven by poverty or perhaps the lure of city lives migrated from Malnad  region onto cities like Bombay and Poona to work as cooks, cleaners and servers in ‘Udupi restaurants’  owned by fellow Mangaloreans..

They learnt the tricks and trade of   food business and moved up the value chain. Over the years Udupi restaurants mushroomed all over the country like the way McDonald opened up burger outlets in America and then the rest of the world. 

The overworked boys put in their sweat and toil along with their pent up frustrations and on-going oppression into the food that they cooked and served. 

While they all had standard ingredients very similar to what Kasturi Akka’s kitchen served, what they lacked was the love and the warmth of  fresh ingredient from Mother Nature in the food.

Perhaps that is what made all the difference

A woman’s touch makes all the difference in the food’, I say. 
After some minor argument we agree that it has nothing to do with gender.

Anything produced in mass scale, with only monetary profit in mind, by way of standard methods and procedures by an overworked and unhappy labour force shows up in the form of lack of quality over a period of time.
The theory applies to ‘Udupi restaurants’ but can be extended anywhere and to anything.  

Detour over… back to Doddamane.  
The Dinner at Doddamane was as authentic as it could get.
Full marks to Kasturi Akka’s Malnad (vegetarian) cuisine. .           
    
Kasturi Akka lives with her invalid mother-in-law, her daughter, son-in-law and grand daughter in Doddamane. 

Doddamane was built by her late husband’s great grandfather and they reckon it is approximately 130 years old. Her father- in-law was the landlord of about eight villages surrounding this area and they had lands that cultivated paddy and Arecanut.  

In 1957 when the land act came into force all the land that was farmed by the farmers was taken away and they were left only with the house that they could call their own.  In his hey days her father- in- law built schools and dispensaries in Agumbe just about 200 meters from Doddamane.  Her uncle was a civil engineer and paved the roads that connected Agumbe to the plains across the mountains and the Ghats.   

She recalls the days when the mountains had mud roads and they would have bullock carts that brought people from the plains to Agumbe.

Today the State highway, runs through Agumbe and connects other towns like Sringeri.   Expensive cars, tourist vans and buses have increased road traffic over the years.  The forest cover has drastically come down. Kasturi Akka says that the last two years have seen a very scanty rainfall over
Agumbe, which was known as the ‘Cherrapunji’ of the south.  She puts it to afforestation which has resulted in the drastic decrease of forest cover and therefore rainfall in this region.  

The Rain forest research station and the King cobra research institute was established in Agumbe in 2005. Through the eighties, around the time the television serail 'Malgudi days' was shot at Doddamane,  many students of botany would be hosted at Doddamane, while they went about doing their research on the flora and fauna of Malnad region.

Ever since the King cobra conservation institute was established the Cobras and other species of snakes started coming into the main village where human beings lived.  Over a period of time the cobra population was decimated.

The venom extracted from poisonous snakes fetches good money, since it is used to prepare antidotes for snake bites and shipped in small vials the world over.  A government subsidized research institute that should have ideally protected the king cobra population seems to have served exactly the opposite purpose.
Human greed and motives of profit have driven many a species of plants and animals to extinction.  Perhaps Agumbe’s king cobras were just another set of victims.       

We finish dinner and the granddaughter of the house asks us if we would want to join her at the Venugopalaswamy temple that is about a 100 meters away from Doddamane. 

Aware that we have overeaten for our dinner, we thought a walk to the temple would be a good idea.

Vengopalaswamy temple , apparently is about 800 years old, The frills of modernity  have come about this temple, thanks to patronage of the native  non-residents of Agumbe that have migrated to bigger cities away from Malnad.   

This evening there are about a dozen people at the temple. A man is holding the palanquin of the statue of Lord Sri Krishna on his head and they are about to circumambulate the temple. People from the neighbourhood gather as soon as they hear the sounds of the bells and the procession begins. The granddaughter at Doddamane whom we accompanied to the temple leads the procession and sings a couple of ‘Purandara  Vithala’ compositions in praise of Lord Krishna in a loud, clear and firm voice. We are in awe of her.  She is a college student, pretty contemporary in her way of dressing, with a decent command over English and her confidence levels. Yet she is firmly entrenched in her roots and tradition.

Venugopalaswamy – the reigning diety of the neighbourhood is the ‘ishtadevata’ of the families around Agumbe.  They perform daily pooja rituals at the temple.  The temple has clearly seen much more pomp and splendour in it’s hey days when the families were firmly entrenched in the prosperity that came from cultivating the land around Agumbe. With many absentee residents having migrated to big cities in search of their living, the upkeep of the temple is now relegated to a few members of the neighbourhood who have stayed behind and keep up the daily rituals and the upkeep of the temple.

The strangest part about Doddamane is that they do not specify any charges for the home stay.  

 In accordance to the age old tradition, you pay what you can afford, when you leave the place.

The hospitality is unassuming yet amazing. They leave you to yourself when you need it and look after you to the extent that you need to be looked after. Kasturi Akka tells everybody who comes there to consider this not as a homestay but as their own grandmother’s house.

And true to that tradition she gives you a ‘Kashayam’ – concoction of Ayurvedic herbs that acts as a soothing medicine as well as an invigorating drink. 


The travel weary drivers that we were, Kasturi Akka’s Kashayam was an instant antidote to the headache and fatigue that was troubling us. Do look up the recipe for Kasturi Akka’s kashayam on this link on Youtube.

It would not be fair if we did not tell you the inconveniences at Doddamane. 

This is a place for heritage travellers, nature lovers and those that do not seek much of comforts and can adjust with very basic facilities. 

For starters there are no attached toilets. Especially if you have to pee in the night, you have to put on decent clothes, navigate down steep set of stairs and go down into the courtyard where the members of the house are sleeping and then to the kitchen area where you open the  door to the backyard before you can use the bathrooms.  

There are Indian as well as western style toilets fitted with taps. 
No toilet tissue paper here because scrubbing a paper down your soiled bottom is an insult to Goddess Saraswathi the goddess of learning. This is in keeping with the Indian tradition apart from being environmentally unfriendly. 

Bathrooms and toilets are clean, however you need to fetch your own bucket of water to bathe from the big copper drums from the adjacent boiler room.   

There could be mosquitoes and if there are fellow travellers in the room adjacent to you, that are noisy, it may not be very comfortable for you to sleep. If everyone followed the basic etiquette it would not be a problem.

That said, if you can adjust to these minor irritants, Doddamane takes you down to an era 30-40 years earlier and can help you experience life of the days you might have had at your grandparents place when you were a child.  Preserving a way of living like that despite the onslaught of modernity takes a lot of will power and commitment and that is what Doddamane is striving to achieve.  





     

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