Thursday, February 12, 2015

Peepal Grove

Peepal Grove River Route Trip

Sara Taylor

This past weekend, BuDa took  students from Peepal Grove, their art teacher and a few friends on an adventure along the Sharavathi River as a part of our River Route Program. Here is a play-by-play of how our magic moonlit trip unfolded:

~ Day 1: The students arrived early in the morning. We had a quiet breakfast. I looked across at the timid group and let my mind wonder how/if they'd come out of their shells during our 5 days together. My mind was quickly eased when we started our first activity: learning shedi art. Each member of the group eagerly observed Hanmi Akka's strokes and threw themselves into their own interpretations. Smoothly joining together our pieces, the ladies were ready for their next artistic challenge, while the boys took time to explore. Calm and focused, Abhirami and Kaveri picked up river reeds for the first time. Growing more familiar to the twists of the grass with every row woven, the students gracefully took on more of Hanmi Akka's teaching.

Abhirami starting to weave a river-reed basket
After a bountiful traditional style lunch, we rested and the boys took their turn at weaving, equally patient and successful in their pursuit. To break from focused-bent-over-ness, we gathered to learn more about each other. Arpita lead an activity where were able to trace everyone's family's roots on a map of India...then the Middle East...and finally way over in the Western Hemisphere when I had my turn. The students enjoyed seeing the variety of places we brought into the group and chimed in to explain all the different elements that we each carry: food, humor, livelihoods...the list developed on and on. Suddenly we noticed the time and scurried down to the train tracks to try and catch one passing with no success. But soon we were too excited for our sunset boat ride to bother and we skipped down to the Sharavathi where the students met the river for the first time. After plenty of exploration and a mystical sunset on a small mangrove island, we waited and watched eagerly as the full moon rose. Our boat ride back was nothing short of a dream.

Arvand & Saransh at the bow of the boat
With the drum of the motor, the pastel sky wained and we passed under a bridge just as a train whizzed by, getting a view of flashing lights from below. The final stretch of our ride, the motor was switched off and silence seized the boat, the sound of ripples in the river joining the moonlit path across the water. With a happy goodnight circle of reflections and anticipation for our camping to begin, the full moon cradled us to sleep.

~ Day 2: We woke up with the stars still up and sleepily piled ourselves in the truck. I sat in the trunk with the Peepal Grove crew and we bumped along as the sun rose. We followed the Sharavathi on the road, up about an hour where we reached a boat-launch. Against rough water, we pushed up the river on the boat, pausing for currents too strong, and reached the first island of our journey Gersoppe. After a rickety bridge crossing that left some in giggles and others a bit stiff with fear, we found our way to our host. There, after some tea, we set straight away to exploration. The eyes of the students weary, but gleaming at the Jain temple on this seeming middle-of-nowhere place. Savitha told us of the Pepper Queen who reined this island and fought against the Portuguese, English and other invaders seeking the wealth of spice. We uncovered broken statues in the brambles behind the temple and contemplated meanings behind carvings. The students took particular interest in a carving of a fish who's eye is said symbolize something...could it be pointing to treasure, hunted for in centuries past? We left questions dangling, our stomachs distracting us with grumbles.

Kaveri & Abhirami discovering ruins
After breakfast and a round of trash pick up for our hosts, we scampered off back through the woods to a refreshing swimming spot and laid our bodies to let the Sharavathi wash over us. After lunch we attempted a nap to recover from our early morning rise, but were surprised by a long, loud ringing of bells which we found our own friend Faiza participating in. We faced the afternoon heat and set out for another round of exploration of the temple ruins. The groups divided and conquered the area, taking notes of observations and questions they had along the way. We had a final meeting where we were able to get a fuller history from Nagrag, our host. Finally we got going on our journey to the next island where we'd be staying the night. On our way to the boat, we came to a temple that Savitha lead us into. There we saw a unique, historical art form called Kaavi that was covering walls which were semi-destroyed and being marked for full demolition. Inquisitive, we remained and engaged with the proprietor about why he was not trying to save these precious works. Engaging dialogue ensued and it was decided that Faiza and Poornima would return the next day to document the demolition and conduct full interviews.

Temple walls with traditional Kaavi art
Piling into the boat for our evening ride to our camping spot, the group rode in silence, letting the sun leave our skin and breeze sweep our brows. The glow of the horizon lead to the eruption of a large orange moon that had all of us gasping and even a few crying out in awe of its beauty. Eyes brimming with beauty we lugged ourselves up to the top of the hill at the island we reached. There we set up camp at an old British bungalow with an outstanding view which further filled us. We had a much needed dinner and relaxed by the a bonfire cooked up by myself and the students. Songs rotated around the circle and once we'd tired our repertoires, we attempted ghost stories. After a very silly story we all contributed to, Savitha unexpectedly scared us with a story of her own and left us with goose bumps. Weary eyed and on the edge of our seats, we settled on going to bed when she refused to tell us the ending to her spooky tale.

Savitha plotting her horror story
~ Day 3: We woke and set off soon after breakfast to explore the new island. Weaving through pathways, we encountered friendly islanders welcoming us to see their homes, patty fields and near-by relics. We reached a coconut grove and with the guidance of a local climber, the students and Arvind attempted to get us something to drink. After bumping and scraping themselves enough, they moved on to joining me in learning how to weave the palm leaves from our ever-smiling friend Manju Gowda. Next we walked, balanced on pipes, to see a few particularly special religious statues and hear about the stories that have evolved with these relics on the island. The students took notes and asked questions, uncovering the mysteries of another lost set of symbols and gods.

Manju Gowda teaching Kaveri palm weaving
Once we'd exhausted our explorations and saved the rest of our questions for another day, we came to the river once more. The current was pulling fiercely and I put on my symbolic lifeguard hat and set some rules for the group, some of whom were new swimmers. We took a boat up the river to float down it and to my delight, everyone stayed safe while having a blast. After our floating sessions, the Peepal Grove crew initiated a jumping contest that had us laughing all the way to lunch. The sun took every ounce of energy out of us and we gratefully ate our lunches and napped. In a flurry we awoke and climbed down from the bungalow to pile into the boat once more. On the way to our next island stop we picked up our weary friends Faiza and Poornima who had spent the day documenting at the Kaavi art site. We reached Balkur and send the boat with our documenters to meet us at the rice mill where we would be camping. Once the boat was around the corner the challenge was laid out: the students had to lead us to the mill. With no Kannada and no sense for where we were headed, the group was gitty at the prospect of leading an adventure. Savitha only asked that we did not take the main road and that the river remain in sight. Twisting through patty fields, balancing on piped and leading us through a red-ant nest (I was the most devoured victim of course), the sun started setting and there was no end in sight. 

Students leading us through Balker
The students began to get a bit anxious but pushed on. Finally when the dark set on fully and we only had a little ways to go, so we took the road for convenience. The students even got us some baji to make us all happy after our trek through the island. We had dinner in an old style rice mill and wearily told the stories of our day before falling fast asleep.

Day 4: Come morning, we took our final boat ride on the Sharavathi. Our longest journey and one pushed along by the rising sun and mist moving off the water. We reached Honnavar after about an hour and climbed out, set our things down and dove right into learning how to make a rope from a coconut. The students picked up the process quickly and when they had finished their ropes, attempting climbing the coconut trees once more, this time with more success because the trees had rungs dug out specifically for climbing.

Saransh up the coconut tree
As the morning sun heated up, we took the trek along the train tracks and up the hill back to the center. There we gobbled up dosas with enthusiasm and even had a bit of an eating contest take place. After our three days of adventure we all needed to rest, catch up on journaling and think about what to do for our affirmations of each-other. After lunch, more rest and letting the sun pass its hottest point, we packed up once more and headed for the beach for our final night of camping. It was upsetting for those returning to the beach-site and first timers alike, to see that a road had been made that lead directly to the beach in an attempt to develop the remote beachfront. Despite this sour feeling, all were gleeful with our meeting of the sea. We splashed through the afternoon, tirelessly fighting the current and letting the waves take throw us against the shore. We climbed the near by rocks and watched the sunset, letting the rocks' warmth dry us off. After making a cozy fire, we feasted and started again into our rotation of songs around the circle. Salty and sun-kissed, we climbed into our tents and slept soundly.

Beach camp for the final night
Day 5: On our final day together, we returned to Honnavar for breakfast and soon received a call from the forest department. They wanted BuDa to run some programs for a government school group that was visiting their one hour. We hopped to the opportunity to interact with local students and the Peepal Grove crew was equally on board. Magnificently, we pulled together a wonderful program in no time at all. Once we reached, the government students were shocked to see such a large group and wide variety of individuals coming to engage with them. We split the group up into two nature oriented observational activities and came back together to reflect on the meaning of all we'd seen. The Peepal Grove students each took a turn speaking about their experience on our five days together and we were grinning at the reflections. The government students were in awe of these kids who had come from all over to see what was in Honnavar's backyard. The Peepal students stressed the significance and beauty of all they'd experienced, emphasizing the folk craft-work they had learned from Hanmi Akka. The BuDa team and friends could not have been more proud. We ended our time together with lovely individual affirmations. We exchanged kind words and bid each other a bittersweet farewell.  
The whole gang

New Intern Sara

Hello! My name is Sara Taylor and I'm interning with BuDa for the next few months. I hail from the Blue Ridge Mountains in Charlottesville, Virginia and go to school at Brandeis University outside of Boston. So far I've spent seven months in India for my third academic year of my liberal arts degree (Anthropology and Environmental Studies) and I can't imagine leaving come May. I've been lucky enough to be involved with BuDa for the past month and a half as part of the internship potion of my program, run through the Enviornmental Support Group in Banglaore (you may have seen me standing, gawkily tall, in some of the quilting worship photos). Though I'm primarily involved with workshops and student groups that BuDa hosts, I'm also doing a research project creating a book on forgotten recipes. If you're interested in seeing some of my experiences in India, check out my blog.
Arpita, Sara, Swathi and Savitha
serving chai to the busy quilters 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Aalemane.....A taste of the Jaggery Festival

A taste of the Jaggery Festival | Kabbin Habba

Arpita Gaidhane

You walk into a limbo of sorts, where time doesn’t quite match up. You know that you have come from the busy lands of urban living, where efficiency and precision are the highest values. You work hard, make yourself a part of the world around you and adjust to modernity but something doesn’t feel right. Now, in this limbo, your heart sings to a tune that you seem to have forgotten, but you recognize deep within yourself.

There is a freshly built centre in the middle of a forest. It is nestled in a valley, surrounded on all sides by hills where birds sing and insects chirp. The red brick of the centre is reminiscent of local architecture, melding into the land, and the eons that have evolved these two levels of sloping roof and spread out design. Water springs naturally behind the centre and irrigates the land around you without any need for electricity. As you enter, like-minded people express their fascination, waking from a slow slumber and remembering something that connects them to this land and the nature that surrounds it.

You are here for the jaggery festival with BuDa folklore. You have heard that they want to celebrate the harvest season once more in a region where land-based celebrations are dying out in favour of modern universal ones. They want to bring back the Aalemane Habba. You have heard that there will be delicacies and a carnival and it has you intrigued. How many delicacies could one ingredient possibly produce?

You experience the modern process first. A motor-run machine presses sugarcane juice into a container that can concentrate 30 tins of jaggery. You are warmly welcomed onto the land and shown all the details of the process, followed by delicious food. The hospitality of the land enchants you, the urban stinginess and possessiveness melting away into the warmth of people’s invitations for you to eat more… innu swalpa! Just a little bit more!

You return to the centre with the chirping of crickets, the stars spreading a magical canopy of jewels overhead. The city almost made you forget your childhood memories of creating your own constellations among millions of glinting lights. The fragrance of local flowers and plants gently pervades the crisp cool air around you and contentment seeps into your bones.

When you finally get to experience the traditional process of jaggery making, nothing that the invitations said has you prepared. On one side, you watch fascinated, as bulls walk in circles around the gana to extract sugarcane juice. Where the modern process could extract 30 tins, this one merely produces three, but the romance of the experience is unmistakable.

You want to try pulling the gana too, so you dance your way to the growing line of fellow celebrators, and try your hand at pressing sugarcane. Elsewhere, what could loosely be called a carnival is at play. This is not like any mela you have seen.

Timmanna Nayak in his sugarcane farm

A small, intimate gathering of people converse and laugh together in a space outside Timmanna Nayak’s home. He is a small farmer, one of the dying breed that still produces jaggery traditionally. He nods quietly and smiles serenely, and it is easy for him to meld into the background and softly hold the space that is before you.

Somewhere, people are learning shedi art from a Hanmi akka  and somewhere they learn to weave baskets from river reeds. Sometimes dancers come along to share the ancient dances of their tribes, and all along, the mouth-watering smell of jaggery wafts in the air. You see expert cooks make Todadevu - unbelievably made only of two ingredients - sugarcane juice and rice atta, on the backs of tilted pots, and marvel at their skill to prepare this crisp, golden, almost transparent pancake.
Sugarcane juice, and a myriad of foods you have never heard of – Huriakki Hunde, Kadabu, Airavata, make their presence felt with their fast disappearance as people rush to sample every exotic taste.

This is not a mela, you realise, but an experience of something extremely rare, a culture that is rooted in its land. Where every element – from food and agriculture, to architecture, art, music, religion and dance, have evolved naturally from the needs of the earth, and belong completely to that region. You miss your roots and wonder what they might have looked like before the urban sprawl took over to make everything the same. You soak in the ambience, breathing a little deeper as if that breath can help you take back all that you are experiencing with your senses and your heart.

You want to take back every piece of art and craft, every delicious food as a memory and an experience to share with the world that you have to invariably return to. Maybe you’ll come back and maybe you won’t, but this experience imprints itself somewhere deep within you, to energise and refresh in the daily grind of city living. When frustration and deadlines, conflicts and disconnect erode your being, you will think back to this limbo – this time away from time, when you went to a centre deep within the forest and experienced what it means to truly belong to the land and to the earth. And when you glance over every once in a while at the artwork on your mantle or the basket on your table, you will sigh content, knowing that somewhere, somehow, that connection lives and thrives.

Traditional Baskets and other weaving crafts with natural fibers in Uttara Kannada-western Ghat region

  While  weaving craft with natural fibers  is one of the widest spread crafts in the history of any human civilization, it is hard to say j...