My grandmother Narasamma, who was my last surviving ancestor before she passed away earlier this year, used to make roasted red peanuts. I don’t know the exact process for making them but it basically consists of applying a mix of salt and chilli powder to peanuts and roasting them (or the other way). If there is one thing I’m unlikely to forget about this grandmother, it’s the red roasted peanuts she would make.
I had never eaten these peanuts until when I was about eight years old when this grandmother moved in with us. I can’t really say that I ever got along particularly well with her, but these peanuts more than made up for all of that. Interestingly it was after she moved out a few years later that the supplies of these peanuts started going up. Anyway, in due course of time I had come up with the phrase “ajji kaDlekai” (grandmother’s peanuts) to refer to these peanuts.
As she grew older the supplies of these peanuts started drying up and I had to look for other sources. I soon settled upon Srinivasa Condiment Stores (more popularly known as “Subbamma stores”) in Gandhi Bazaar for my supplies. On my first few visits I would just point at it and be told a price and would buy without bothering what the name was. It was less than a decade ago that I discovered that these “ajji kaDlekai” actually had a name.
It was at Subbamma stores that I once went to procure such peanuts and couldn’t find them on display. I asked the shopkeeper if he had “red peanuts” (kemp kaDlekai) and he shouted to his associate deep into the store “one communist!”. It was then that I realised that the popular name of these red peanuts is “communist”.
The etymology is not hard to guess – the yellow “split” peanuts are called Congress (thanks to the congress split around 1970), and they wanted to come up with a political name for other varieties of peanuts also. Thus, being red in colour these peanuts came to be called “communist” (some disambiguation was required here – for there is another variety of red peanuts which are fried rather than roasted. They’ve been named “Oil King”). I don’t know how popular the name is but in Subbamma stores at least these peanuts are called “Communist”. Similar peanuts roasted with green masala are called “green revolution” (unlikely the name ever caught on! ).
When I moved to North Bangalore two years back I no longer had access to Subbamma Stores for my Communist fix. And I had to find stores close to my home there that would supply it. It was hard enough to find so I cultivated several sources (somehow Communist is not as popular as Congress in condiment stores – perhaps reflecting political parallels). Sometimes it would be from Ganesh Condiments in Rajajinagar first block. On other occasions it was the Iyengar’s bakery at the end of my road (but he never got the difference between communist and oil king and so I stopped buying from him). And sometimes as far away as the Ace Iyengar store in Malleswaram.
There was one thing common to the communists procured from these sources though – the label. Each of them were manufactured by a different small scale industry named after a different god. But the place of manufacture was the same – Chintamani town in Chickballapur district. It was after I had seen similar labels several times that it all started coming together.
I remembered that my father was born in Chintamani, which means that Chintamani is my grandmother’s hometown (given how births were conducted back in the 1950s one could infer this). And this explained how she had picked up this skill for making these Communist peanuts – something most of my other relatives (none of whom were from Chintamani) lacked.
I was reminded of all this a while back when I was eating Communists, procured from Gayathri Stores in Jayanagar 4th block (incidentally run by actor Kashinath’s brother). This one came without a label, and when I had asked the shopkeeper (Kashinath’s brother) for the source, he had replied “naave maaDstivi” (we get them made). Maybe the communists I had for a snack a while back weren’t made in Chintamani, but they were crisp and perfectly spiced!
The communists have moved beyond Chintamani!