Stepping into 2019; with Hope

Happy New Year 2019 to everyone reading this piece. I am writing after several months ; most of this time was spent in self introspection, travel and reading. I stepped into 2019 with hope thanks to a teenager who I have carried in my arms and never realized when time flew by and she transformed into a thoughtful young lady.

Sometime in December 2018 ; my 15 year old niece Ira who is a 9th grader in Stonehill International School in Bangalore came up with the idea of helping to rebuild a school library. This was a part of her project through 1M1B (1Million 1 Billion) initiative aligned with the UN Sustainability Development Goal. Her broader project area was on floods, causes, prevention and the aftermath of the devastation. While doing her research she came across a news paper article about a school library of a century old school in Chendamangalam, Kerala devastated by the floods.

DDSHS Karimpadam established in 1912 catered to English and Malayalam medium students from the age of 5 to 15 and was an established name in that area. Ira gathered the contact details of the school through net search and sent a mail to them expressing her desire to help. The school was more than eager to hear from a young student in Bangalore who wanted to come to their aid. She told her parents that she wanted to spend her Christmas and New Year break working on this project rather than take yet another comfortable holiday and they readily obliged.

Her parents encouraged her enthusiasm and Ira visited the school accompanied by her mother as soon as her Christmas vacations started. She interacted with the students, clicked pictures, and noted down their needs. She had to collect nearly 1700 books (1000 in English and 700 in Malayalam) as well as raise funds for reconstructing the library area. In conversation, she also realized that the older students could do better with some counselling and career guidance which she had the access to as a privileged international school pupil.

  • She created a flyer that she circulated to  friends, family and friends of friends for books that would be suitable for children in the age group of 5-15 and in a short span of time has managed to collect 750+ books which are now being sorted and categorized to be transported to the school
  • She is working with a startup who have a socio-psychological assessment and well being app for general and career counselling of the students so that they could do a program in the school; https://nsmiles.com
  • She is raising money to reconstruct the library along with an NGO Sahayog Foundation

In conversation, she mentioned that all the books that lie in our shelves gathering dust; could be used by someone somewhere  to gain knowledge, laugh on a gloomy day or time travel to another land then it would have met its purpose.

When you are on the other side of 40 and someone years younger than you, who has grown up in front of you inspires you to get moving, to give back to the world from where you get; you know that it is time to fill yourself with hope; that the future is indeed in the right hands.

I toast 2019 to Ira and several ones like her in different parts of the world; who are trying to make a difference with their efforts and inspiring others around them. If you want to know more/ or donate books for the school or lend a helping hand please contact

Ira Ratnaparkhe : iraratnaparkhe@gmail.com

 

 

Kappa Chakka Kandhari ~Lost in Time; Taste from Kerala

Kappa Chakka Kandhari !! The names of 3 special vegetables ( Tapioca, Jackfruit, Chilly) that every Malayalee is nostalgic about, the smells and the tastes that grand mothers dished out from their kitchens cooking on country clay ovens, carefully prepared in earthen pots. The taste of fish from the river and tapioca from the garden mixed with earthy love would make many an afternoon special while lazing under the trees in a country made hammock!! With changing times, very few are lucky to enjoy such pure unadulterated moments. With the globalization of the Kerala cuisine coupled with fusion recipes across the world most people outside the region identify it with Appam, Stew, Avial and some fish curry with coconut milk, Biryani, whole set of payasams made with anything that can be remotely cooked in milk or coconut milk and a variety of chips.

Frankly, I am no exception and when my friend asked me to come along for a curtain raiser event of Kappa Chakka Kandhari which promised a trip down memory lane with food, I was more than happy. This is a brain child of Augustine Kurian and John Paul along with Chef Regi Mathew who are extremely passionate about this curated cuisine which to them is a brand that will redefine the perception of the Malayalee cuisine. A quick conversation with Augustine Kurian and Chef Regi Mathew revealed that they had a team who visited villages in Kerala, tasted food directly from the home kitchens, researched on recipes and techniques and came up with a list of dishes  that they wanted their patrons to experience prior to launching their outlet.

It was a huge spread complete with starters, curries and desserts sans any kind of carbs – rice, parotha or appam !! Sometimes the accompanying bread and rice items just kill the appetite in its zest to fill the stomach. All the dishes were laid out in earthern ware and the tables had trays of chips and pickles. I gorged on the jack fruit chips which were crisp and golden and did not have that familiar stench of stale coconut oil like the one from the neighborhood store. The accompanying fruit pickle and the garlic/chilly fry just made it all the more tasty. Had to remind myself a couple of times to control.

The starters and curries had a mix of vegetables (pineapple, ladies finger, tapioca, jackfruit, sweet potato, yam) and the main course had fish, dried fish, chicken, pork and beef. Since I am staying away from all kinds of red meat, I just took a helping of pork fry which was simply delicious. I loved the dried fish curry with the tapioca, the grated pineapple curry, the prawns baked in banana leaf along with tapioca, the ladies finger cooked in coconut milk, the spicy tender jackfruit fry and I can go on and on. I am a little ashamed but I do not remember the names of all that I had !! To name a few Kappa Unnakka Chemmen Cutlet; Maathi Fry; Kappa Vevichatu; Varal Meen, Etangadi Puzhukku; Meen Vathichatu; Chakkakuru Manga Curry etc etc

The story down memory lane would remain incomplete without the desserts. The Uniyappams were soft and had the right balance of sweet, the pineapple cake with jam was swoonworthy !! It was dense yet soft without the over addition of baking powder to make it fluffy. The Mango Chutney coupled with some dates and raisins was something that set the tongue clicking. To keep it as authentic as possible, there was chilly ice cream and jack fruit ice cream. One spoon of the chilly ice cream and it set my throat aflame which had to be quickly quietened by an helping of the melt in the mouth jack fruit one.

While, I was gorging a young boy band (Atma) was crooning chart buster Bollywood and Kollywood numbers and while it is hard to keep me away from foot tapping soulful music; this spread managed to do that with minimal distraction !! Need I say more; A big Thumbs Up from a Non Malayalee foodie and am sure it will strike more than a chord with the Malayalee with its evergreen authentic touch. I did pick up more than a bottle of pickle from the store and needless to say, I love the taste just hoping that it was a little less oily.

The curtain raiser was held on 8th Jan in St John’s Auditorium, Bangalore and the main event will be held on 3 days starting 29th Jan to 31st Jan, 2016 at the same venue. The tickets are available at Book My Show

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Life in the Backwaters of Alleppey; Kerala

The best things in life come for free or rather almost free. I spent 2 days in the Backwaters, the first in a home stay (Breeze Backwater Homes) by the waters in a small sleepy village in Kuthiathode close to Cherthala mid way between Ernakulam and Alappuzha; and the other in the backwaters of Alapuzzha. Backwaters is a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes that are connected by canals which in turn are fed by rivers flowing down to the Arabian Sea.

Solo Ride in Backwaters 

I spent Rs 1200/- for a 3 hour canoe ride all by myself chaperoned by 2 boatmen who kindly took me through the narrow passage ways, patiently paused as I clicked pictures and also showed me life along the way. What turned out to be a unique experience for me was actually life as usual. Women went about their daily chores, fishermen went about their livelihood, children were  going to school and the infant was safe and warm in her father’s lap. We passed by green paddy fields lined with coconut and palms with gentle drizzle for company. Soon we reached the mouth of the canal which merged into a large lake. It was green all around, and I spotted a bunch of yellow birds who flew by before I could even press the shutter. After a while, we docked and walked through a slushy path jumping over pools of water for the rocky beach in Pallithodu.

Backwaters in a local Ferry

The next day, I spent in the backwaters in Alappuzha (Alleppey). This time, I wanted to do it different and instead of a private secluded trip, I opted to do it the everyday way. I took a 2 hour ride this time boarding a local ferry from the jetty which was going to Kolath. For a princely sum of Rs 14/- for the round trip, I traveled with the locals observing life as it showed up at the window. As I seated myself next to a bunch of giggling children, I realised I was returning home with them. From practicing their conversational English with me, to telling about life and school and showing me sights on the way, and teaching me a word or two in Malayalam, they made me realise that the best things in life are almost free. We passed by the Nehru Stadium where the prize distribution for the annual boat race is held. The large houseboats -Kettuvalams passed by with couples, familes and myriad groups on board. Most people appeared to be bored, they were observing from seclusion while I was in the middle of it all.

Soon there was a splash of red in the middle of green and blue waters. The local team attired in red T shirts were getting ready for the annual boat race to be held on 8th August 2015 (2nd Saturday of August every year). Watching them row in unison as they screamed out for power brought a smile to my lips in praise of their team spirit. The ferry had turned around for Alleppey and the golden glow across the distant green soon changed colors to make way for the moon.

Travel Tip:

If you are a solo traveler on a budget and you want the best of backwaters, take the local ferry and may be get off in some village, walk around for that rustic local experience and then move on to the next point. I can assure you that you will not regret any moment on this journey !!

Annual Snake Boat Race is going to be held on 13th Aug, 2016. 

Somewhere deep within I was remembering Dal Lake, the glimpses of life of Dal right here in Kerala !! More about the Kashmir connection in Kerala in a later post.

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Tryst with Kerala Dance Forms; Greenix, Kochi

I often wondered why Kerala was known to be God’s Own Country, surely the rest of the world did not belong to the Devil. Did the people of Kerala generously bribe God or was God simply partial after a heart Kerala meal. When you travel around Kerala experiencing its many facets, you are reminded that it is the people who retained it with care through the centuries in reverence to the divine and God was not really partial. When I was planning my trip to Kochi, I included an evening of art and culture. After some research I zeroed in on Greenix Cultural Centre in Fort Kochi. 

Show and Tickets

I purchased the combination ticket for Rs 500/- for all the dance forms which also included the permission to click pictures during the performance. The program is for about 90 minutes starting around 6pm. If you wish you can arrive early and watch the Kathakali artiste don the elaborate makeup. Experiencing the dance program from the sensuous and gentle Mohiniyattam to the martial art form Kalaripayattu or the Kathakali, was a tryst with history, turning the pages with every movement, as the performers glided through poses to the rhythmic beats and background narration of love, passion and chivalry.

Mohiniyattam

Kerala Dance Greenix KochiKerala Dance Greenix Kochi

True to its name, Mohiniyattam is characterized by gentle movements and perhaps the only dance form performed by women only. It is the dance of the enchantress (mohini), stressing on enticing eye movements and mudras (hand and finger movements) but performed with deep devotion to god. The name was derived from “Mohini” – Lord Vishnu incarnate to entice the asuras(demons)  away from the nectar of immortality. The dancer dressed in “Kasavu” – white saree with a bright golden border swayed gracefully, flowing from one pose to another and the expressive eyes communicated with the audience.

Kalaripayattu

erala Kalaripayattu Dance Kochi Greenixerala Kalaripayattu Dance Kochi Greenixerala Kalaripayattu Dance Kochi Greenixerala Kalaripayattu Dance Kochi GreenixKalaripayattu is often termed as a martial art form given the demonstrated kicks and punches, and use of sticks and shields but if you look beyond, it is yoga in motion, exploring the limits of the body, discovering the joys of rigorous movement that can heal and regenerate and keep the body agile. The dancers moved from one end of the stage to another in lightning speed spinning the sticks in hand with amazing dexterity. It traces its origins to Agastya Muni and was practiced from as early as 2nd century BC by mighty mythological Bheem in Mahabharata to later day royal princes and more recently silver screen heroes.

Kathakali

The Kathakali performance started with the dancer demonstrating the Navarasams or the 9 dimensions of human feelings through facial expressions. He was accompanied by a singer who was reciting verses in Manipravalam which I am told is a mix of colloquial Malayalam and Sanskrit to the tune of carnatic music. Soon the artiste who we had watched earlier applying makeup appeared on stage wearing an ornate head gear and a billowing skirt. They were enacting an event from Ramayana related to Surpanakha (the demon princess). The night long Kathakali performances of yester years have now been transformed to short performances to keep with the taste of the evolving audience.

Theyyam

I missed the Theyyam performance since the artiste was out that evening. Theyyam is a bit rustic, performed in the villages of Northern Kerala, with makeup and attire having similarity to Kathakali.

While travelling through Kerala, spending an evening watching dance performances may be an ideal way to connect to the soul of the land. If you are in Kochi, drop into Greenix in Calvathy Road. There is a performance every evening between 6pm and 7.30pm. If you arrive early, you can watch the artiste apply the elaborate Kathakali makeup which is an art by itself. At the end of the performance, you can click pictures with the artistes on stage. Make sure to take off your shoes while stepping on stage since these dance forms have connection to temples and mythology and are treated as an act of devotion.

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Foodie Trail in Kochi and Backwaters, Kerala

Apart from nature and culture , my 4 day monsoon trip to Kerala was also about the taste of the land. The best way to explore any place is to indulge in food specially in local hideouts, ask for dishes that the guest in the neighboring table ordered and eavesdrop on conversation just so that you can pick up a tip or two for the next pit stop !! I did just that during my Foodie Trail in Kochi and surrounds.

The first two days in Fort Kochi were eventful with all the rain, sightseeing and not to forget the food in the street corner eateries, cafes and restaurants !! The mornings were slow with a plate of idli or idiyappam generously served with chutney laced with red chilly but not so spicy to set my stomach on fire. I plonked on a rickety plastic chair at the street corner eatery, drooling over the chutney, the radio blared peppy Malayali numbers and men and women with neatly oiled hair grinned at me enjoying my monsoon in their land. I also tried it with vegetables stewed in peppery coconut milk. Foodie Trail in KochiFoodie Trail in Kochi -Idiappam in Kochi Kerala

I spent most of the day walking around in the beach, through the bazaar in Matancherry and finally in Jew Town. Crafters is a huge handicrafts store which seemed to have multiple outlets including ones that dealt with cashews and spices but what caught my eye was the pretty hanging balcony on top with promises to be a quaint cafe. After a short climb through a narrow staircase, I was warmly welcomed in. I found my seat in the hanging balcony with my plate of prawns, batter fried to perfection. It is a little expensive by Kochi standards but for that view and the me time I enjoyed, it was acceptable !!Foodie Trail in Kochi -Crafters Cafe, Jew Town, Kochi Kerala

I rounded off with coconut water from the orange one generally found in this part of the country which was a tad bit sweeter than the green ones.  I paid more for coconut water in Kochi compared to Bangalore 🙂 Tourism!! I am told

Foodie Trail in Kochi- Coconut Kochi Beach Kerala

Visit to Kochi is incomplete without a visit to the famous cafes in Fort Kochi near Rose Street, Princess Street and some near the waterfront. Many like the Solar Cafe were closed due to off season and so I stepped into the perennial favourite Kashi Cafe. Everything about this place is impressive, the installation art, the natural ambience, peeping sky and the fusion menu. I ordered a slice of chocolate cake not realising that it will be drenched in chocolate sauce. Would have preferred if the sauce was served separately.

That evening while strolling down the Chinese Nets area, I thought of experimenting with some freshly cooked fresh catch. I bought a few prawns and some sea fish and was let to a street side eatery who offered to cook for a charge. The fish was overpriced to say the least and specially when they know you are an outsider and the preparation, less said the better!! May be I was simply unlucky with my choice !!

Foodie Trail in Kochi-Fresh Fish Catch in Kochi KeralaFoodie Trail in Kochi-Kerala-Kochi-Beach-Prawn

I was a little bit cautious the next day and the Fish Meal at lunch complete with all the curries and chutneys and payasam in a restaurant in Vypeen island was very satisfying. Dinner was at the much acclaimed Fusion Bay near Santa Cruz Basilica. I ordered their signature crab dish with appam. The crab was cooked with excess onion and tomato that I had to actually hunt for crab or yearn for the taste of it. Disappointed by the dish and even more disappointed by their adhoc pricing on the dish.

Foodie Trail in Kochi-Kerala Thali in KochiFoodie Trail in Kochi -Crab Curry Fusion Bay Kochi Kerala

I spent the next day in Alappuzha navigating through the backwaters, lazing on the beach and ambling around in the busy market area. After a little bit of navigation and a couple of web searches later, I zeroed in on Hot Dishes for lunch. I assumed it to be a restaurant but turned out to be an extension of Snehadhara Homestay. The host and hostess very kindly welcomed me in and offered a fish meal complete with brown rice, avial and sambhar. The unforgettable banana chutney tempered with curd had a unique taste and I have not been able to dish it out at home for want of that perfect banana and the skill of course. The last meal on this trip had to be put to rest with a glass of the Kerala special Pineapple juice.

However, the best experience was frying chips at Malabar Chips next to the boat jetty in Alappuzha. I was ushered in while they found me aimlessly roaming around the area with a camera around my neck. Before, I realised, I was served a plate full of different kinds of chips and halwa and half way through I remembered to click a picture. Next, I was turning the big ladle frying banana chips which was kindly packed for me to bring home.

The variety of chips is awesome ranging from banana, potato, tapioca, jackfruit, ginger etc and the variety of halwa (pista, dates, cashew etc) was fresh, sweet, tangy and awfully tasty. I burped my way out a few kilograms heavier having purchased a little bit of all varieties to relive the trip back home in Bangalore !!

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