Kosambari

kosumbari1I 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.

traditional coconut csrapper

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.

Court

Like when you wait for your turn at a barber shop, you do notice a lot of things. You notice it, because you are doing nothing but just waiting. You notice that the barber just went outside and blew his nose, and then he’s back massaging some guys head. You watch some random telegu channel, which you have at your home too, but never ever stopped at it. But you now watch it in the barber shop because you have nothing better to do than wait. The guy next to you is on the phone speaking to his uncle about some sick relative of theirs in a language that you dont understand but you strain your ears and try and figure out the story because you have nothing better to do in that barber shop than wait.

Court is an incredible incredible documentation of just observations. Observations that are so accurately translated back to cinema.

c o u r t_0If every road, every street and every room in the country had a cctv camera, and if one incident were to be covered in its entirety by only using footage from these cameras, the result would be something like court.

Court makes everyday life more exciting than fiction. Court throws the spotlight on everyday mundanity and makes it steal the thunder out of the most bizarre fantastical dream. Court creates superstars out of nobodies. Court makes you sit up and take notice of everything happening around you, and makes you believe that your life is not mundane. It makes you think that you could actually be amidst the most engrossing story ever.

Court opens up your mind to a new topic. A mundane life. And it has the sexiest stories hidden underneath.

Emosanal connecsion

emotional

The pop corn seemed potent. And the coke tasted like neat vodka. Watching Dev D is like going on a dizzy ride into fantasy, rather ecstasy. The thrill is quite similar to screaming together in a rock show, watching the local band belt out ‘cocaine’. The intoxication is so misleading, that you start confusing the cheap liquor inside you to be something of an higher order. 

Fluorescent streaks of colour, crazy camera works, eclectic sound effects transport you to a world that you only hangovered about till now.  

It looks like the director, the cast, the cameraman, the spot boy, the editor were on dope throughout the making of this film. And the censor board was on a overdose  to pass it. 

The film is a narcotic pot boiler (quite literally) of a man who indulges in everything that you only had seventh hand information about. All said and done it was one hellofatrip in the name of modern cinema. All the weed that Anurag Kashyap sowed has reaped off. And it shows.dev-d-0a1

 

 

What distinctly catches your eye in that dark tele cine are a few scenes, infact single symbolic shots, like the sex starved punjabi kudi who cycles away to the some ganne ke kheth with a bed on her carrier, freeing the location from the clutches of Yash Chopra and his disciples, and putting it to better use. 

Or the scene where Abhay Deol walks in slow motion, out of a wine store balancing an entire carton of vodka on one hand, to depict the extent of his misery. Worth learning how to whistle.

Or the scene where the firangi girl turned prostitute, regrets why her father did not pardon her for all her sins, and Abhay Deol pulls her close and gives her a hug, reciting the same lines that she wanted to hear from her father. 

smoking-upYes, there could be people who would argue that this encourages alcoholism and drugs and spreads messages that are against our culture. But again, it is only a movie. Nobody set out to install lightbulbs in villages after seeing Swades. Maybe, movies can only do so much. So, it’s best to leave your moralistic viewpoints aside, and watch this movie for the sheer pleasure of watching good cinema.  

The guts behind getting a local brass band to lend their voice for the lead single ‘Emosanal Attyachar’ says a lot about the director wanting to redefine the tried and tested Sonu and Udit for delivering a hit, or for that matter  engaging a garage musician to score the music tracks.  

Apparently, most of the songs were written by the singers themselves, because Anurag had identified closet poets behind those voices.

This movie actually reminded me of someone closer home who tried what Anurag accomplished, a decade ago. Uppi.satyam42

Yes, if you follow closely, there is an uncanny resemblance to what Uppi set out to do when the audience had still not got their fill with run of the mill stuff (the rhyme happened without my knowledge, sorry about that). Right from the title, Uppi decided to be different, yes just for the sake of being different. Titles like A, Shhh, Om, Upendra, Swastik, H2O and other titles that weren’t as distinct as the ones above. 

However prepared you might have been for unpreparedness, Uppi still had surprises. Surprises that you enjoyed. Fleeting references to situations that you’ve been through in the past. He narrated stories from a place that you left behind to join a group that you actually don’t belong to. He sucked you in, releasing you from the trappings that you have so stupidly got yourself into. He welcomed you back to a world that is loud, unpretentious and mediocre, where appreciation required no additional knowledge or effort on your part. Letting you give in to the unpolished side of yourself, that you sometimes so desperately seek in the world you’ve graduated into. 

Crude dialogues, unpoetic lyrics and extreme performances found a method to creep into plots that made the last benchers of school, first benchers in the cinema hall. Weaved into stories where you willingly reduced yourself to the lowest common denominator. 

 

Sample this dialogue from A…”Indian culture is great, Indian tradition is great, Indian heritage is great….but Indians are not great.” This is juxtaposed against a rape scene, where he steps in to save the victim. Over the top and deshdrohi..ish, but thoroughly enjoyable when you become one with the crowd and whistle along.

The story lines made you uncomfortable in your seat, and the message was conveyed only after tossing and turning in your bed that night. For instance, Upendra was a film that set out to prove that a man can actually have relationships with three different women, one for love, another for lust and the third for marriage, as all the three from one person could be unsatisfying. Or H2O was a story about a Kannadiga and a Tamilian falling in love with the same woman called Cauvery. And just to make it more difficult for audiences used to regular cinema, he made it a bi-lingual film, where the two heroes (He and Prabhudeva), spoke in Kannada and Tamil respectively. What happened was not as surprising as the film. It was promptly banned.

Strangely, I find far too many similarities between these two geniuses of cinema.

I found the cinematic treatment of Dev D slipping into trance, quite similar to Uppi’s introduction shot in Upendra. A technique where still photographs are taken on a trolley that rotates around the subject, and then strung together in high speed, to give you a crazy rush. Apparently, Danny Boyle advised Anurag to use this technique to get the desired effect, while Uppi plainly learnt it from ignorance.  

Or for that matter, the shaky camera that blurs on and off as Dev D approaches his lover after downing a bottle, is quite close to the ‘helkolakke ondu ooru’ song where Uppi in a similar state goes swaggering all over the place, conveniently transferring the buzz in his head on to yours. And made it a universal favorite of every boozard in crowded cheapo bars, when alcohol began to corner them to solitude. Suddenly a lonely victim from under a zero watt bulb would break into this number, slowly drawing the fellow drunkards into his gloomy world. Eventually, the entire bar would echo his sentiments, pour their left over drinks to plastic tumblers and sway down the dark stairway, singing in chorus, bumping into each other and bonding like buddies, finding similarities in the shitty scripts that God  had written for them.

 

Uppi then offered further comfort to lonely love-struck boozards with an optional number in H2O, ‘Dil ilde love maadukke”, repeating his cinematic treatment with lyrics that conveyed feelings for his beloved by comparing them to alcohol, that roughly translated like this ‘If I see you, it is like downing a 60. If you laugh, it is like downing a 90. If you talk to me and laugh at the same time, it is like downing a full bottle.’ These automatically found an emosanal connection with Auto drivers and truck drivers, who paid homage in the form of distorted caricatures of Uppi on truck and auto backs. 

Uppi fused popular advertising baselines like ‘Boost is the secret of my energy’, or ‘Amul, a gift for someone you love’ into his film’s music track of ‘A’. As juvenile and crazy it might sound, it certainly boasted of a newcomer’s guts who gave into his raw instincts without letting them steer away into logic, without processing them till they came back without that spunk of spontaneity.  

Even the posters were eccentric. The poster for ‘A’ had Uppi pulling a handcart with a woman sitting on it. He narrated the script to a local artist, and asked him to paint anything that came to his mind after hearing the story. He then added a baseline under the painting that read ‘For intelligent people only’. The poster for the film ‘Upendra’ had Uppi screaming, with the letters “FRID’ in bold. He later told me that it meant nothing. He wanted to write something in the poster that meant ‘nothing’, just to get people talking about it. And it worked. The public went bonkers trying to decode that nonsense, and even drove them to buy a ticket, just to solve the puzzle. 

He then wanted to make a movie with no title. His distributors who were still clinging on to sanity, requested him to call it something, or they would not be able to list it in the papers. Uppi found an intelligent solution that could keep both of them happy. He gave it a symbol instead, the symbol of Swastik. The posters had nothing but the sign of Swastik. This time, he got people guessing, what the name of the film could be. 

Eventually, Uppi had to catch up with the audience, who had now returned to their regular cinema after that brief stint with insanity, dragging him there in the process.

Unfortunately, Uppi did not have the finesse to elevate his kitschness to an art form, that could be openly appreciated by MG Road audiences of Bangalore. Uppi restricted himself to kannada speaking audiences and failed to transcend beyond these provinces. Nevertheless, it was incredible to see him blend his learnings from world class cinema, suitable enough to an audience that he knew so well. Which after a long time, I now see in Anurag Kashyap, who operates in a language that is more fortunate. 

Sophistication is a curse on mankind, imposed by people who are too jealous of men being themselves. Dev D, Oye lucky lucky Oye, Slumdog Millionaire welcome loud, crass and over-the-top depictions of life into the basket of appreciatable cinema. Restraint and silence are replaced with energy and kitsch. Old fundas of realism in cinema that stretched the ‘thought for the day’ on your school boards to snail paced renditions of unattractive looking people enacting bodily functions like eating and sleeping to painfully long durations, with absolutely no background score, has thankfully been thrown out of the window. Tacky camerawork that masquerade as natural lighting have faded out. Stories on poverty are no longer supported with budgets that are similar. And dialogues that deserve seetis have percolated down to non-starry films. Thankfully, art cinema has progressed beyond serving these self obsessed audiences who take great pride and pleasure being amidst boredom.

Whatever you may call them- multiplex cinema, new age cinema, alternative cinema, parallel cinema or offbeat cinema or any other term, this too shall pass, and there will no longer be the great divide that separates films that are watched and films that need to be watched. The new brigade knows that the audience is there to be entertained, and not to support someone’s mission of picking up a national award. It’s relieving to know that you no more have to be subjected to subjects devoid of entertainment.  

It seems like Indian Cinema never had it better. 

Bakasura Beedhi

Those who read it as beedi, let me correct you, it’s beed(h)i. Like in South India, when we put an ‘h’ we mean the ‘h’. We would spell Vidya as Vidhya, Tandav as Thandav, Dil will be Dhil, and we don’t forget the ‘h’ when we pronounce Mukesh.

Coming the point, Beedhi means street.

vadas-and-others

I am talking about what most people refer to as ‘food street’ at VV puram. To me it has lost half its flavour with that name, so I have renamed it gastronomically. 

This has been covered in Time-out and sporadically in other newspaper supplements when they’ve run out of pictures of fashionable drunkards. I have always felt that no coverage has managed to give people an actual idea of what a visit to this street means. To embark on this mission itself is stupidity but nevertheless. So, let me give you my version of it.

Firstly, it doesn’t fall on your way back home.

Secondly, they do not serve non-veg.snake-god

Thirdly, it is located in a boring Brahminical area where the only other thing you can combine to this trip is a visit to the umpteen temples located next to it.

Lastly, there is no bar in the vicinity.

So I am completely aware of the risk I undertake by recommending that you dedicate one evening out to this place, inspite of all these shortcomings.

To begin with, this place lies somewhere between Chamrajpet and Basavanagudi. Near Jain College. Near Lal Bagh West Gate. Behind JC Road. Close to Cauvery Petrol Bunk. Get somewhere close to any one of these and find your way.

sms1

Tucked away in a part of Bangalore where people still haven’t changed their ways to suit lifestyles of the modern. 

The street runs for about 400 metres, with stalls located so close to each other, that the aroma from one stall might actually lead you to the other. I have been frequenting this place for over 16 years. And after lot of experimentation I have now developed The Ideal Path that could help you enjoy this place better.

First, make sure that you stay away from health and fitness magazines during the preparation period. And assemble a gang of four or five. And make sure that they don’t include killjoys who take pride in displaying their knowledge of good eating habits, and turn into calorie counting machines while you are at it. 

The golden rule is that never ever order too much at any stall. Order about one or two plates of each dish and split it among yourselves. I also advise that you skip your afternoon lunch. And get there by about 8pm. (The place is open only in the evenings, between 6 and 10:30pm). 

And prepare your stomach to hold everything that your tongue callously sends below.

The street starts with VB Bakery and ends at a corn cart. Get to the other side, and begin with the corn. It is easily the most unique offering of this place. You’ll find a fancy cart that has a small electric fan fitted on to it that kindles the charcoal. He has an elaborate menu printed all over his cart, that can end up driving you nuts, american corn ghee fry, baby corn chaat, corn mix and other non-innovative names. Screw it. It’s just the same ingredients in various permutations and combinations. 

charcoalStraight away ask for the baby corn masala. The final dish in your hand looks as good as the raw material. But it is nothing short of dynamite. Tender baby corns are thrown with their covering, into the burning charcoal. And removed when the covering is charred. The corn is now stripped off its leaf, cut into small pieces, and served with a squeeze of lime, salt and some explosive green chilly masala, on a harmless looking platter of a fresh corn leaf. The flavour of charcoal is so subtle, that had it been done in a five star, the chef would have had a program named after him on Travel and Living.

Once they disappear, keep an order of American corn mix on standby to quickly recover from the jolt that just ruptured the path between your nostrils and your brain.

The second one will calm you down a bit. Now, finish it with an total mix. I have no idea what the official name for these mixes are, neither does the maker. So, just rotate your hand around all the ingredients and tell him ‘all mix’.

What you’ll be holding is a medley of raw mango, baby corn, american corn and pineapple. All charcoaled and spiked up adequately. Beside him is a strategically placed fruit chaat vendor. Use his services, if you feel the need to instantly bring down the dizziness in your head.

Walk down the path without being tempted by anything else you see around, and stop at the most crowded dosa corner on your right. 

Order for a couple of masala dosas. And while you are waiting for them to be done, fix yourself a plate of idlis and gatti chutney. The idlis are not the best I’ve eaten, but the chutney definitely makes you lenient on the criticism. While you are passing judgements, keep an eye on your masala dosa taking shape on the smoky tava before you.close-up-dosas

Once the batter is spread out in concentric circles, watch the guy pick out a packet of ghee, that he will now squeeze out inconsiderately on to every dosa, through a pin hole prick on the packet, drenching each piece with ghee, as you go through a list of legitimate reasons to justify why you deserve this binge. And just when you begin to think that he’s overdoing it, he’ll invert the dosa, and repeat the act.

 

ghee-laden-dosa1You’ll be delighted when you notice that the dosa comes without a smearing of that disgraceful red paste, a recipe that most darshinis share today. 

Once you bite into it, the ghee oozes out from every pore of this delicacy but tastes so heavenly, that you instantly pardon all the evil that this humble dish has been cursed with.

Pick an odd assortment of the various vadas and bajjis on the counter, but resist all temptation to settle down here, and move on. Just make sure that you haven’t forgotten the Mangalore bajjis

Walk further down, and stop at the stall that has a curious looking dish being fried on a bumpy vessel that I find hard to describe. (See pic)baba-fried-idli1

Ya sure, the vermillion sadhu adds to the effect. It’s called fried idlis. Not too tasty, but I guess it must be appealing to some taste buds. But the tamarind chutney that accompanies it is uniquely sweet, salty, sour, pungent and spicy in equal measures. 

Walk further up to the ancient VB Bakery and pack some breads, biscuits and other condiments. By now, you’ll be sufficiently full, so chances are that you will not be packing more than necessary. The variety over here is quite tasty, but I’ve heard from some old timers that the quality has dropped. So skip it, if you belong to a generation of better taste.

Since you are in the area, walk ahead a little further, and on the right hand side of a massive circle, is a shop called “Vasavi Condiments’. During season, they make specialities with a green colored bean called avrekai. You get to taste it before you buy. So take your picks, and walk back to the street that is still waiting in the hope of your insatiable return.

I have delibrately left out quite a few dishes, so that you have some to discover on your own. Like the mysterious looking preparation in this picture.

akki-rotis1

 

Oh! I forgot, stop by for some hot jamoons and jilebis, the exact location of which, I trust the sweets will announce on their own. 

Once you’re through with this, walk back all the way to the corn cart that started it all. Close to that you will find your finale point. The last shop on your left. Order for a ‘Butter Gulkand Fruit Salad with Ice Cream’. Ya! that kind of sums up what it contains. But you can still expect surprises. And finish it all with a Masala Pepsi, a jaljeera of sorts, and probably the only new age offering on this side of the planet.

 

last-shop-menu2So, the next time you have someone from Delhi raving about purani dilli ke parathe wali gully, you know where to take them.

 

May not be so elaborate, but then we’ve always been known for our modesty.