It’s one of those coincidences where a stranger talks or does something that sears your heart without his knowledge. What Mohan says is so apt for what’s happened in my personal life: my divorce was messy and my petition for partial custody of my little girl is still pending in the family court. India’s legal system is slower than a sated snail.
An elderly man walks past, clutching a pair of turmeric plants as if they are trophies. “Turmeric symbolises purity”, Mohan goes on enthusiastically. “It has antiseptic properties. We tie it along with banana plants to the front of the house. We also boil peanuts, avarekaalu (hyacinth beans) and sweet potato. We offer them to relatives and friends who come visiting. Then there is the yelu that we exchange with relatives and friends.”
Yelu is a mix of sesame seeds and split chickpeas, roasted peanuts and bits of copra, jaggery and candy. The raw snack is also commercially made and available in most shops during the festival. Mohan asks whether I have been to Halli Manne in Malleshwaram, one of the oldest suburbs in Bangalore. “They celebrate every Hindu festival with pomp. Speak to Sanjeeva Rao. He is the owner. I am sure he will invite you.”
He does and I am there three hours later. Halli Manne, which in the regional language of Kannada means farm house or village home, is decked up like a rustic bride: banana and mango leaves tied to the entrance, awnings made of intertwined coconut leaves, floral garlands in ingenious motifs, and a tall brass lamp near the staircase inside. There are three dining halls, and waiters in silk shirts and dhotis move nimbly carrying steel buckets of food. One after the other they ladle out the preparations on to waiting banana leaves – two kosumbris – salads made with soaked chickpea and green gram; a sweet made of ginger that I have never tasted before; panch amrutham – a dessert of banana, milk, sugar, cardamom, and coconut; appla and sandige – Indian crispies; a bean curry and a potato curry; three different sauces, two are sour and one is a trifle bitter; some boiled and salted peanuts; holige – a thin wheat bread enclosing a paste of jaggery and soaked Bengal Gram and braised in ghee; puliogre – spicy rice mixed with tamarind sauce; then the all important pungent and sweet pongals. This is followed by a succession of soups and broths to be eaten with rice. One is the lentil heavy sambar, another is the clear but spicy rasam, and a third is majjige huli made of curds and white pumpkin. Finally, rice again with curds. A banana and a paan – betel leaves smeared with lime and packed with nut and other condiments – given at the doorway make a fitting adieu. The cost of the meal is Rs 90 ($ 2) for an adult and Rs 45 for ‘children below ten years’. How I wish that my little one were here by my side, asking me to help her negotiate the massive meal.
“How I wish my husband were here”, says the charming Vandana, an MBA based in Chicago for the last two and a half years. “He went back only yesterday.”
Does she cook such meals in Chicago?
“No, none of this. We have been conditioned to eat only low calorie foods. Also, much of my time is taken away by studies and commuting. I am studying interior designing. But we do have Hindu temples that organise festival meals. Also, there are plenty of stores that sell Indian condiments. If you have the time and the inclination, you can cook such meals at home. But all the celebrations – festivals, birthdays, anniversaries – get postponed to weekends. That’s when we are relatively free.”
Vandana’s mother, Vatsala Iyengar, who writes for Deccan Herald and other local papers and is the author of four books on Indian temples, says that she visits Halli Manne frequently. “These guys excel in festival food, although at times it tends to become too spicy.”
Ramesh continues his revelation on the spirit of this Indian summer festival in the November issue of LivingNow – Ed
Ramesh Avadhani lives in Bangalore and writes for a few magazines in Australia, USA, and Europe. He loves wild life and long walks
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