I have always felt that this dish should have shot to fame with brands trying to patent it. It’s my own stupid notion, but I feel that it suffers from its own simplicity and modesty. Much like the women who make it
Cucumber, coriander, coconut, split green gram dal, green chillies, salt and a dash of asofotieda. Its all too simple to be celebrate it.
But it’s special because simple isn’t that simple.
The sixty odd year old lady opposite my house probably knew something that she never told me about.
‘Manjunath Aunty Mane Kosambari’ (Manujunath Aunty’s House’ Kosumbari) has something that I can never ever recreate.
Maybe it was the perfume of the Nandi Diamond Agarbatti engulfing her house. Or the smell of jasmine flowers that crept into those pulses from her puja room.
Or the fact that despite the enitre colony changing their floor tiles, she still chose to shine her red oxide floor every month with coconut oil and coconut fibre.
Maybe it has to do something about her house being the only house in the entire colony that still rests only on the ground floor. (There’s something about an only ground floor house with ivory window panes).
Maybe it was the Bhimsen Joshi’s cassette on her tape recorder blaring ‘Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma’ that did the trick.
When the food is good, you start to like everything around it. The person who makes it, the flooring, the color of the walls of that house, the curtains, the plates, the spoons
I would wait for ‘Ganesha Habba’ to arrive, when she would call me over to her house to see the decorated ‘Ganesha’ idol in her house, and seek the lord’s blessings. And I would jump at the opportunity only because I could get a taste of ‘Manjunath Aunty Mane Kosambari’.
Uneven pieces of cucumber, chillies smashed on stone, abundantly chopped coriander with stem, roots, mud and all, coconut carelessly grated with the traditional hand-grater, along with splinters of its shell, mixed with split green gram dal soaked overnight, and rock salt, mixed in a manner that proved that she never prepared it with the kind of love that mothers are now famous for.
She never bothered to respond to my compliments “Aunty, kosambari thumba channagide’ (Aunty, the kosambari is superb). It had little to do with modesty, and more to do with lack of experience on ‘How to handle praise?’.
She would turn red behind her ears whenever I praised her humble dish. (It’s not like she made some special basmati rice vegetable pulao cooked on slow fire for hours. It was just a random salad that every ‘kannadiga’ household should be able to make with their eyes closed).
I could never understand why these women would behave this way. Infact, a lot of kannadiga folk are pretty much like these. Its not in their ritual to invite guests over for a feast every other day.
Guests would arrive only during festivals, dussera, diwali, sankranthi and ganesha. Apart from these it would only be a random visit to invite them over for the thread ceremeony of their child, or a grihapravesham or a wedding. It wasn’t a ritual for guests to pop over for dinner or without any other agenda.
The talk would mainly consist of the host coaxing them for a tea. Or a coffee. Or a uppittu.
And it is expected of the guest to say “no no…we are full. Just now we had coffee and snacks in Latha’s house”
And the host would coax further saying “swalpa thogoli …swalpa”
And the guest would say “ok..half plate..or quarter tumbler coffeee”
And the host would return with a full tumbler and a full plate of snacks.
And the rest of the conversation would only be spent on coaxing and cajoling from the host’s side and the guest slowly giving in to the delicious snacks.
This however, would never graduate to the guest praising the dishes anymore than a customary “thumba channagide”.
It was complicated. Because if the guest praises anything more than that, he is hinting at ‘give me more’, which would mean ‘I’m a glutton’. Because he had just declared that he had eaten to his full, in some random ‘latha’s’ house.
And the host would silently conclude that ‘her dish wasn’t good enough otherwise they would have asked for more.’
I feel a million dishes that deserve praise have been lost in this ritual of modesty.
And the host would ignore the praise and coax them to have some more.
But I still find this ritual charming and endearing.
I would wait for Manjunath Aunty to disappear into the kitchen before puckering my lips and shooting mini-darts of the coconut shell chips into obscure shadows on the red oxide. And crunch on her muddy coraindered kosambari. And scream for help till I could no longer take that lonely chilli that arrived in my mouth without warning.
She would reappear from her dingy kitchen with a tall steel tumbler of water. Just in time to rescue my watering tongue, eyes and nose from her inconsiderately imbalanced chillies.
“ayyo paapa, sorry, nimmagilla idu tumba ne kaara alla?’ (oh poor you, sorry, you people aren’t used to so much spice right?) she would express her concern, suggesting that her dish isn’t up to the mark.
I loved the spice. The sting on my tongue. But I probably could never express it.
I would gulp the water and then seek blessings from her ‘Ganesha’ idol, before I dived back into the kosumbari container that was called ‘dhonne’, a cup made from dried banana leaves.
Yes, the ‘dhonne’ had its part to play in the taste too. I could smell that faint scent of raw bananas as I slurped the watery residue of the kosambari. A kind of summary of all the flavours that went into it. A magic potion that was a heady mix of all the ingredients. The part I hated the most. Not because I didn’t enjoy it. But because it signalled to me, that the dish was now over.
It’s been many years now since I have tasted “Manjunath Aunty’s Kosambari”.
I have tried it many times now. I have googled recipes and followed them to the tee.
I’ve tried preparing them carelessly, carefully, artistically, intuitively, meditatively, and every other ….ly.
And then served it to myself in the humble ‘dhonne’.
They all taste sexy.
But it just doesn’t taste like ‘Manjunath Aunty Mane’ Kosamabri’.
Every time I sip that juice in the end, I realise that there is something missing in it. One tiny little thing. But I can’t put my tongue on it.
I realise that the identity of every state lies in its simplest of dishes. Dishes that follow the same recipes and add the same ingredients. And dishes that are so simple that it forces the cook to add a little something to it just to gain a satisfaction of having done something ‘extra’ to it to deserve all that much advertised ‘mother’s love’.
Something so little, that if it were to be taken away from them, it would be such a bland world.
I’m happy that I can never ever crack that recipe.