This world is full of people. I am just one among these innumerable.
However each individual human being has a story to narrate in his own style. We live our own lives, have our own experiences,
and end up having our own ideas about life as such. I am a villager out and out. I have liked the village and continue to
do so till the last of my breath. World has become an advanced place where simplicity has no place. We villagers are too very
na´ve. We are perhaps wayward according to today’s standards. We are only too happy to be so. People who are of the
present age can never even imagine how life was a score of years back. I am not too old when I am writing this piece. But
it looks like I have been here on this earth for ever and got bored with the changes that took place here around. I am in
the thick of the modernity and feel absolutely out of place. All this glitz and pomp only scares me away. I can not go away
from this at least for sometime because I am caught in it without being aware of it.
We used listen to stories and wonder about the good old days. The stories
belonged to a period, which was long long ago. If I now start narrating how things were and people were when I was a child,
and was growing, it may sound more remote than the epics. I know my story is not an epic. I will be happy if somebody some
day reads it and says, ‘here was a man who did not like the way he lived.’
Well I loved the way I lived
when I really lived. You pass through the crowd and nobody notices you. I feel that is not the way it should be! Each one
should have a smile for every other! At least that is the way we used to be when we were among people. Where I am living now
is a city which a friend of mine in the child hood called a jungle, a jungle where not trees but humans live without growing
except in age.. Not like the animals but like trees! I don’t know if trees greet each other. Happy if they do! But I
feel they don’t!
A person who always complains is a moron. I don’t want to complain
but tell the world that not long ago there used to be a man who was more human.
Those were the days when I was a kid .The village also was still a village.
Now just like I am no longer a villager the village is also is not a village any more. I think that is the reason I long for
the village life. Have you ever been to a village recently and watched the sky there? We find more people in the city and
less stars in the sky. The reverse is the fact in a village. There are fewer people and the sky is full of stars! How I wish
to sleep under that star filled sky? You would understand my feelings only if you have spent a little time in the countryside
with only starlight for company and nothing else. City man has thoroughly spoiled the atmosphere and always talks about protecting
the environment. Has this thing called environment come before are after the man? Is it there because we the greedy creatures
,the humans are here? Certainly it is not. It is more permanent than us . We have to save ourselves as long as we want to
live the way we are doing now. Otherwise we will have to follow the great dinosaurs which perhaps just like us thought that
they were the masters of the universe.
To talk about the entire history of human race is a long story. We are
so chicken hearted and are unable to assimilate the changes that took place in our own very short life span which is but a
fraction of a second compared to the history of the environment. That is exactly the reason I always felt like looking back
at my village and try to recollect the way we lived those happy years of the fraction of a second.
It is a tiny village in Telangana area of the state called Andhra Pradesh.
Perhaps there were seven hundred houses in my village. Was it seven hundred or more? It could even be less! Who has the count? At least I never bothered about the number of people or their houses in the village.
I have a distinct feeling that I knew each and every one in the village. Perhaps I also knew their houses.
Mine was a small family by the standards of that time. I have two brothers
and two sisters an elder and a younger each. I am lucky in that matter. I am told my parents lost five children after my elder
sister. When I was born I was given away to a beggar belonging to the type called Balasantu Which literally means child progeny.
It was a custom those days to throw the newly born on to a waste heap and pick him up from there. It says that the child is
not an important being but equivalent to a waste material. Some how people thought that the child would survive out of such
a feeling. Similarly I was given to a beggar and was bought back from him paying an anna or two. An anna is six paise of the
present rupee. I remember the same being done in case of my younger brother also who was bought for two annas. Interestingly
me and my brother are alive and kicking till this day. Even my younger sister is there in spite of not following any of these
In this country people are named after great men , gods, places and in
many cases some pleasant meaning word would do as a name. But how about garbage as a name? Children who are thrown on to the
dust bin and collected back are usually named garbage. A tag which would mean a beggar was prefixed to my name. Later it was
changed into a almost similar sounding word which more are less means small.
We were not rich people. Perhaps in those days and in that village we
were not even poor people. By the time I was born my father took up the profession of a school teacher. I have not seen any
certificate regarding my fathers educational qualifications. I only knew and know even today that my father had some traditional
education and even knows good Urdu apart from Telugu and a bit of Sanskrit. That was enough for him to corner a job and feed
his family respectfully.
Our family owned a little bit of land in the same village where we lived.
The land belonged originally to my fathers maternal grand mother and so to his mother. Since his grand mother did not have
any male children she gave the land to the grandson who looked after her in the twilight of her life. However this land was
not exactly the source of livelihood for the family. Father used to practice agriculture only as a spare time activity and
agriculture without whole time participation was
impractical . This land did give us some support in the shape of rice for most part of the year and mangos in the season.
This perhaps made us join the ‘not poor’ class of the village. Material wealth not being very important, mental
wealth was plenty in the family. Nobody who came home went without eating belly full.
May it be the coveted inspector of schools or the unknown traveler stranded in the village, he was directed to our
home for the meal that is never denied. I remember a couple of people of the village always eating in our place in spite of having their homes nearby. This was not for a day or two but for years on. My family
never was alone in the meaning that there used to be a permanent guest who stayed with us for years together. I remember we
never felt uncomfortable with all these outsiders and rather felt alone when nobody was there to share the meal.
Meal was never elaborate. Rice and roti would do for the day. Villagers
never eat much of vegetables. We were one family who ate vegetables. One has to say a lot about the vegetables of the time.
Not much of buying was needed. Mostly we pick up the green leafy vegetables from the wild. Particularly the period after the
advent of rains used to be that of plenty. Many kinds of vegetables were also picked up from the wild. Early in the morning
we used to embark on a trekking kind of expedition armed with sticks. Get on
to the passage to the forest on whose sides farmers used to raise a wall of rocks. All along the wall there would be wild
growth and that used to be the prime source of vegetables. Karela of the wild kind is a delicacy only to be enjoyed and not
to be explained. There is always the danger of a snake taking shelter in those bushes and the stick would come handy not only
to look for the booty but to find whether there is any such creature sleeping in the bushes. Farmers who grow vegetable gardens
used to invite our family to pick up the first installment of the crop. To donate things was the greatest kind of gesture
those days. They would not be happy if we pick up only a hand full. We had to take as much weight as we could carry. Mother
used to dry the extra amount of vegetables after soaking them in salt water. They used to be so delicious when fried and eaten
with dal or chutney.
In the season when mangoes or tamarind is in plenty they will serve half
the purpose of vegetables. Mangoes when raw are a delight for the people who like to eat sour. Its myriad forms in the shape
of any thing imaginable from uncooked pickle to a soup made with ripe fruit are
a delight for the taste buds. In fact on a certain day it used to so happen that half dozen dishes all made from fresh mangoes
used to be the fare. Only thing that used to be left was the butter milk which also is converted into a form where it is boiled
with pieces of raw mangoes and other vegetables. Such a situation is unimaginable to many . But it is fact more than the existence
of you and me.
Tamarind is another peculiar fruit if it could be called so. Later in
my life I found that not many people eat this fruit because it is no fruit at all and is sour to a level unimaginable for
I was once standing in a queue for a cinema ticket during my college
days. Apart from the regular ticket counter there was one other counter on which it was marked as emergency. There was a burly
Sardarji definitely a visitor to my place standing next to me in the queue. He curiously inquired why is an emergency counter
needed for buying as simple a thing as a cinema ticket. Even I didn’t know the need for such a counter. Those were the
days after the china war. Emergency must have meant a lot for the Sardarji who perhaps was from one of those border areas.
He said with all the contempt in the world that the south Indians knew nothing about emergency. He also very generously told
me that what south Indians knew was to eat Khatta, that is sour food and produce children! I never knew eating sour things
is looked so down upon till that day. Did I leave eating them? Certainly not. I eat them with all love and also pity the others
who don’t eat them but continue to make babies in hoards.
Tamarind is eaten all over south. In fact not a day passes without the
taste of it on the tongue. However most of them eat the fruit pulp added to various kinds of food items. Not many eat the
raw tamarind except in the form of a pickle. We are an exception to the case. We eat raw tamarind with anything from Dal to
boiled butter milk just as we do with raw mangoes. If food habits of people are so simple or so unique would you expect any
problem for them in finding something to eat?
Out of this plentiful situation
there was one more point to be remembered. If at all there was any family which spends a little on buying vegetables it was
only ours. Any body who would like to sell a few vegetables would approach our door first.
Rice was the staple food. All the people in the village were eating roti
made out of jowar flour. Even that was the poorest variety because only that was grown in our area. Wheat was not known to
many. We were once again one family which bought wheat for making poories for special occasions. Wheat was something to go
into the preparation of sweets and the like. Wheat flour fried with a bit of ghee and mixed with sugar was in itself a specialty
eaten on the days of fasting. Now after the PL480 scheme, and green revulution within the country we are getting more of wheat
than rice. Even the villagers who normally do not wheat are forced to buy the commodity if they expect the other goods.
I never ate a roti made of wheat with a curry or a chutney as I do it
today. It perhaps was a disgrace to the grain to do so. It was after all rich man’s food. I never knew till I grew old
enough the ways of the world that most of the world lives on this speciality and the rice that I dispice is after all a delicacy
for some. I still remember the hot wheat roti with sugar and ghee on them. A poorie was a symbol of celebration.
As for jowar there is a whitish variety which is more sweeter when compared
to the variety that we ate. This I realised much later in life when the variety was introduced to the village. The greener
variety that was grown abundantly in our area, though bitter is a specialty in its own right. Crisp pan cakes dried by the
embers in the hearth and later smeared with a dollop of ghee or butter would mean any thing to me even today inspite of all
the exposure to the five star stuff. The roti would double up as the plate. Hold it in the hand, lay a spoon full of curry
or whatever that is supposed to go with it, and start pinching off the sides into pieces like a worm eats the leaves. That
perhaps is the most natural way of eating. You are left with nothing after you finish eating. My son told me a joke recently
that a foreigner was served roti in this fashion and the poor man not knowing the true story ate only the curry and threw
the roti taking it for some kind of disposable plate!
All said and done food habits of each area are so unique and interesting that you can goon writing pages together.
The uniqueness of the mango pickle of our area is
worth mentioning. Andhras are particularly fond of this stuff and it is a legend. In eating hot chillies anybody would be
only second to my brethren in this land. I know of many people who mixed raw chilly powder with their rice and a pinch of salt would finish the preparation. The eat the stuff huffing and puffing and relish it so much
that not an iota of regret for abusing the stomach lining can be seen in them. The story of the pickle is an extension of
the same love for things hot. Usually the pickle is prepared with mustard powder and a lot of oil as the medium. This of course
is apart from the red powder which is most often dubbed as gun powder! My people somehow thought that the oil would spoil
the taste of the chilli powder and found out an alternative for it. They mix a bit of turmeric powder to lime water and use
it as the preservative. The heat of mustard mixed with that of chilli powder and compounded by the pungency of lime will make
that pickle so repugnant that the mere sight of it will make you weep, I mean shed tears of joy! The earthen pot in which
this pickle is treated separately to withstand the power of all these ingredients. It is first filled with fumes of incense
called dhoopam or sambrani and then is given a coat of an oily substance from the seeds of a particular tree called Jeedi
in Telugu. This substance if came into contact with skin would cause ulcers of the worst kind! Whoever has thought of this
process of treating an earthen vessel must be a scientist though not in the present sense of the word but in some practical
thinking kind! This pickle is mixed with cooked rice and a generous amount of gingelly oil is added to it either raw or boiled.
Whatever be the effect of this composition on the stomach, the reaction on the tongue and the palate is only an inch short
The story of raw chillies is another part of the
peculiar legacy of my Telugu brethren. The kind that is grown in this part of the country is perhaps the hottest of all. They
go into all kinds of preparations including a chutney made of only the chillies.
Curry is not exactly an English word even if it finds
place in all the dictionaries of the language. The world borrowed the art of eating the Tamil curry and the word only followed
the practice. We in Telugu have an equivalent for the word and it is Koora. Add
another letter r after the first k an it becomes a word which means cruel. No
doubt our curries a re cruel by the world standards.
What we eat may be cruel, but we are perhaps the
best peace loving people on the face of the earth.
Fruits of our region are unique. Particularly the
one called sitaphal. In north India this name is given to the jumbo sized vegetable, the pumpkin. We in the lower Telangana
districts of Andhra Pradesh have a special fruit with this name. In English they call it custard apple. They have not given
the fruit an Indian sounding name, That perhaps means that the western world knows this fruit. Interestingly in our own country
not many people know it. That makes it a rare and exotic fruit for our own countrymen. In a couple of districts around our
place it is in fact a poor man’s fruit. It grows in wild and not in any orchards is itself a strange thing. In our villages
people grow perhaps a guava tree in the court yard or a mango tree in their field. It is interesting to note that nobody thought
of growing this custard apple either at home or at the fields. It is a wild tree. The fact is that the love for the fruit
equally wild. In the season that is after the rains cease not a day used to grow without eating a Sitaphal. we never spent
nickel to buy this fruit. Only thing to be done is to venture out to the outskirts of the village with a basket and come back
with booty that suffices for the entire family for a day. If you are patient enough walk a little further towards the jungle
and look for the kind of fruit that is envy for the onlookers.
We had a bit of farmland and grew a few crops in
the family fields. That necessiated us to engage a farm hand. He looks after
the cattle through out the day and in the evening brings them home. At that time he goes out into the nearby fields and collects
a abasket full of unripe sitaphal. The routine continues every day. They take three days to ripen. It means on the third day
on we have a basket full of fruits at our disposal for the day. Believe it or not, the basket will be exhausted by the evening
and we would venture out looking for some fresh fruit. It was an experience unparelleled to eat fresh fruits that ripen on
the tree itself. The rind of the fruit causes ulcers and sticks to the skin of the cattle. So we were expected to collect
the stuff and also the seeds seperately for disposal. When I joined my post graduation one of my teachers told me that he
was working on a problem related to the seeds of sitaphal and disclosed to me that the seeds have a quality of pesticides.
Had we known this in our child hood perhaps the fruit on one hand would have become unavailable for the poor of the land but
the country would have a very effective pesticide that does not harm a soul.
Kashmir they say is a land of apples. My place is
home for custard apples which are more delicious and nutricious than the apples that I get in the market now. I raelly do
not know if apple eating kashmiris had a special day in their schools called apples day. We in mahabubnagar district of andhra
pradesh used to have a sitaphal day every year in the season. All the school children along with the teachers would set out
on an expedition into the forest for eating free fruits. The joy would be supplemented by song and dance and some eatables
preferably salty to balance the wonderful sweet taste of the fruit. Now a days it is seen that forets that were homes to the
sitaphal trees have disappeared and I am sure that the day celebrating the fruit also must have disappeard.
Mango is another fruit which deserves attention.
I am not atlking about the varities that are available any where in the country but those local varieties which perhaps are
extinct now like the much talked about wild life. There were hundreds of them each with it’s own peculir taste. No scientist
bothered to keep track of the treasure of this multitude of varieties.
While on food we should be talking about the roti
we ate throughout the village life. It si the Jawar of the coutrsest kind. It was the green Jawar. I recollect the meeting
which was called in my honour when I was transferedfrom Adilabad. For those who
do not know about the place it is perhaps the most back ward district of Andhra Pradesh and is devoid of any worldly pleasures.
I worked there thinking that since I come from a similsr place I could be serving my brethren in some way. I got totally disillusioned
and by a quirk of fate I wa stransfered from there to the national capital. In the meeting I mentioned my feelings regarding
poor people and poor places. During the course of the talk I mentioned that I reached the position that I was in only by eating
Jawar Roti. Immediately a junior colleague of mine rose and said he too ate but is yet to reach any place. I only laughed
on that day but safely express myself today that even that man has achieved much more that what was his due.