Communists and Chintamani

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.

Source: Flickr

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!

History and Mythology

Yesterday, on yet another reasonably routine visit to the Shankara MaTha in Shankarpuram (where else?), I happened to notice this series of illustrations which sought to tell the story of Adi Shankaracharya’s life. The story starts out with Hinduism being in trouble in the 8th and 9th century AD, which leads to a bunch of Gods and Angels to lead a delegation to Shiva asking him to “do something” about it.

Since I was in the rather calm precincts of the temple, I prevented myself from laughing loudly, but this whole idea of mixing mythology with history intrigued me. The story got even more interesting later, since there was a panel that depicted Shankaracharya getting lessons from Veda Vyasa (the author of the Mahabharata, for the uninitiated). “Was he still alive in the 9th century”, the wife thought aloud politely. I made some random comments about not remembering if he was one of the Chiranjeevis.

A long time back, maybe when I was in school, my grandmother had wanted to see this movie on Shirdi Sai Baba (*ing Shashikumar). There again, there was a mixture of history and mythology, with one of the Gods (Shiva, I think) planting himself in some mango lady’s womb (not sure of the accuracy of this, close to 20 years since I watched it). In that case, however, it being a part of a popular movie, I thought there was enough poetic license to do that. But as part of the panels inside a temple, which is supposed to give out the authentic story? I’m not sure providing entertainment is a stated objective of that temple.

Now I begin to wonder how devout some of the devout could be, if they could actually believe that in the 9th century AD, there was a delegation of Gods who appealed to Shiva to rescue the religion! There are also other implications of this. One, that the Gods closely watch over what was happening on earth (well, I guess the omniscient model of God does permit this). Two, the admission that there might be religions apart from the Sanatana Dharma – which is something that is not made in any of our ancient texts. The Vedas, Upanishads and other texts were all written in India so long ago that no other organized religion existed back then. If you look at the myths, you will observe that all characters are religious, and they all worship parts or the whole of the Hindu pantheon.

My guess is that the series of illustrations in the Shankara MaTha and the associated commentary are the results of the efforts of some particularly over-zealous “devotee”, and the rest of the managing committee hasn’t had the heart or mind to call out this absurdity and get rid of the ambiguous illustrations. Or maybe the entire maTha has lost it, and actually believes that there was a delegation of gods only 1100 years back.

Coffee

I have been drinking coffee for as long as I can remember. Maybe I started drinking at the age of  three. Maybe even earlier, maybe later. But I clearly remember that back when I still had half-day school (i.e. kindergarten), after my afternoon siesta, I would sit down with my grandmother (another major coffee drinker) and we would sip coffee together. My father had been pissed off that my mother never drank coffee, and he had told my grandparents (with whom I spent the day while both my parents went to work) that they should bring me up differently. And so my grandmother had initiated me to coffee fairly early in life.

When I was in high school, I remember being one of the few people in my class who drank coffee. Back then, it was before the coffee days of the world came up, and coffee was still seen as downmarket. Something that you would invariably order at the end of “tiffin” at the neighbourhood Sagar, or Darshini. Coffee was uncool, and had an “uncle” feel to it. It was what you got when you went visiting relatives, or when guests came home. In my family, a visit to a relative’s house would not be complete without at least four rounds of coffee, one as soon as you arrived, one just before “tiffin”/lunch, one after food and another one “for the road”. And my poor mother would miss out on all this.

For a strange reason I can’t fathom now, for a long time I used to prefer the coffee that my father made, a nasty “decanted” brew, made from finely ground coffee powder we got from “modren coffee works” in the Jayanagar Shopping Complex. Despite my grandmother’s exhortations that the coffee she made – from a steel filter using “pure” (i.e. without chicory) coffee beans sourced from India Coffee Works – was superior, I would tell her that it never measured up to my father’s coffee. It was only later on in life (maybe when I got to high school) that I started finding my father’s coffee disgusting (interestingly back then, his mother (i.e. my “other” grandmother) and siblings also made coffee the same horrible decanted way), and I convinced him that we should also start making coffee using a filter.

During the last few years that I lived with my parents (ok I didn’t really live with them, only visited them during (substantial) vacations), coffee had the aura of a “special dish” in our house. We would make coffee only if we had guests. My mother anyway hated the drink, and my father would have had his daily fix at work, so instead they made ┬átea at home, some four times a day, with plenty of sugar. If I protested, I would be asked to visit the nearest darshini (one abominable place called Anna Kuteera). I would grudgingly sip my tea.

So coming back to high school, it was uncool to drink coffee. It was “uncle” to do so, and with friends you only had pepsi (or coke or thums up or whatever). So I was mildly shocked when I found that some classmates in my “new” school (which I switched to in 11th standard, and which was decidedly upmarket compared to my earlier school) had gone out “for coffee”. And a few days later, I ended up accompanying some of them, once again “for coffee”. We all had the relatively inexpensive espresso (Rs. 10; cappuccino was Rs. 20) that day at Cafe Coffee Day (#youremember?) on Brigade Road. It was the first time in my life I had felt “cool” drinking coffee (yeah, back then I was a wannabe and all that).

Six years later, when I got admission into IIMB, my father decided that along with me he too should “go upmarket”. The day I got my admit, we went for coffee (!!) to the Jayanagar Cafe Coffee Day (my mother refused to accompany us since she found that they made chicken samosas there). Soon, I found that my father had started having some official meetings also in coffee shops, rather than in his office (where “office boys” would source coffee in flasks from Adigas a few doors away).

Another level up was when Kalmane Koffee opened an outlet at the forum, and another in Jayanagar. Now, we could sit in a coffee shop and have “real coffee” (I never took a fancy for the taste of cappuccino). It is indeed unfortunate that they haven’t managed to scale up the way CCD has. Though I must mention here that the only time I had a “personal interview” back when I was in the arranged marriage market, it took place at a Kalmane Koffee outlet. And I don’t know why just about everyone I go to that coffee shop with ends up ordering this coffee called Nelyani Gold (I stick to plain vanilla Filter Kaapi).

Some three years back, I had bought a Moka pot from a Coffee Day outlet (they have coffee powder stores apart from their cafes). For the last six months or so, I have abandoned my filter and have been exclusively using this pot to make my coffee. For a long time, I didn’t get good results, but this time I read up and instructed the person manning the counter at Annapurna Coffee Works close to my house to grind my beans extremely finely. Awesome coffee I get, now. Now, if only I can figure out how to froth the milk at home like those Cappuccino machines in Rome do…