by Kaveri Ponnapa
If Coorg were a season, she would be the monsoon. The land sparkles and welcomes –for most of the year –but when the rains come up from the coast, she draws grey clouds over herself and bares her tempestuous soul. The outlines of the indigo hills grow nebulous, indistinct and an air of hushed uncertainty hangs over everyday life as the whole world dissolves into mud and mire, puddles, pools, streams, water and the steady roar of rain. Brief interludes bring the steady dripping of collected water, and a sighing wind.
Well-trodden paths disappear abruptly in swirls of mist and you can barely see a foot ahead. Undergrowth creeps forward overnight, stealthy, crowding the boundaries of field and home. The few flowers left in rain battered gardens seized by Nature grow on unnaturally tall, contorted stalks waiting to be bent and swayed in a wild dance by cold winds. Violent little streams, the colour of milky coffee flow everywhere, carrying away quantities of earth, leaving sharp, ivory toned stones exposed on un-tarred roads, like ancient bones dug up at an archaeological site.
Fires take forever to kindle; all that your coaxing draws out is a sibilant hissing and a defiant flurry of spit bubbles from the sodden firewood. Homes smell damp, masked with the fragrance of sambrani, incense burned on coals. Heaps of wet clothes lie spread on domed wicker frames over a tin of burning coals, steam rising heavily from them into the moisture-laden air. Under dark grey skies, the past seems more alive than ever, the old stories and myths of the land more real as we hunch over cups of hot coffee in our rain battered homes,and try and catch leaks and drips in basins.
Nature rampages untamed; ferocious tangles of vines, creepers and leaves threaten to possess houses; moisture leaves footprints of moss and black fungus on tiles and walls. It’s a cold, wet, melancholy season; a season of harsh and profound beauty. Under dripping canopies are secret, exquisite, miniature worlds: of sudden clear pools of water, fallen leaves, moss and lichen. The teasing, moody land tosses up precious seasonal luxuries: tender bamboo shoots; colocasia; the ripe fruit of Garcinia gummi-gutta to make a year’s supply of kachampuli and the tattered leaves of Justicia wynaadensis, known simply as the ‘medicinal leaf’.
The soaked leaves and stems of this plant stain water an extraordinary shade of indigo, releasing a potent combination of 18 different medicinal properties that come into full strength while the rain pounds the earth during this season. Vessels bubble with dark blue waters in every home, and we eat quantities of madde puttu; madde kool; madde payasa–all fragrant, with a powerful, herbal flavour, all stained that deep, mysterious monsoon blue –and fortify ourselves to resist the weather.
Cold, wet, always damp, we wait out the season, feasting, warming ourselves. But we are never certain if we are truly happy, truly relieved when the skies finally clear, and the first rays of sunshine announce that the monsoon has gone.
Cook's Note : The mixture needs constant stirring to prevent sticking. It will take approximately 20 minutes to cook. Press out any lumps that may form while cooking with the back of a spoon. You can use a stainless steel plate if you don’t have an enamel dish. I use a dish that measures 8 ½ inches across X 1 ½ inches deep.
Image Credits: Nithin Sagi
All Food Styling: Kaveri Ponnapa
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