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.

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