Being Kodava – “No Thank you”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going against the theme of this blog by saying “no thanks” to being a Kodava. That’t not what this is about. Often I get asked where I’m from and more often than not people haven’t heard about Coorg. I also sometimes explain to people how and why the culture is so different from those that surround us.  There’s a lot of hype about our origins, including that we’re somehow connected with the Greeks of Alexander’s time. “Being Kodava” is my take on what it is to be a Kodava, and some of the things we should be proud of.

Someone once asked me how do you say thank you in your language. I told them in my language, we do not have words for “Thank you, Please, or Sorry”. We have never been taught it, and as far as I know, these words don’t exist. Did they once exist but were got rid of once the brits took  over our educational system? We’ll never know. But what I was told was the reason for this paucity of “Golden words” is because for kodava’s,  it’s our duties as family, community and friends to help each other out at all times, to always be there for anything, without having to ask please if you want something, say thank you when you have been helped, or say sorry if you have hurt.

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This is quite deep if you think about it. Western education is steeped in the use of golden and kind words almost mechanically, sometimes without really meaning it. Making helping others a duty is really unique in our culture, and it really has to do  with the unique clan setups we have in Coorg: Clans typically helped each other with everything from planting crops, defending them against wild animals, celebrations, festivals, weddings, wars, etc. Every traditional wedding begins with the close family members getting together to cook for the entire wedding. It is our duty to help.

See there is more to being Kodava than coffee, Greeks and our weddings!

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Krishna Kamala or Passion of Christ… did I fall from heaven??  

While walking around Kukkanalli pond in Mysore, I saw these wild fruits hanging from the vine on a fence which looked like a small wild passion fruit but was hairy like ramubtan. I was very sure it’s the cousin of passion fruit as the flower & the leaves looked same but I was not sure if the fruit is edible & as usual my husband would not let me pluck it to avoid me eating it. Known as Kukkiballi in Kannada is also called clock flower, love-in-a-mist and stinking*.

I have seen & tasted passion fruit all my life & simply love the amazing taste &, flavour of the juice which is hard to find on shelves even though its presence is felt strongly in most the cocktail juices. It’s a popular fruit in Kodagu & every one, young & old alike loves it. The pulp is used in juices, wines, ice creams, cakes (my mouth is watering, honestly), etc. Some of my relatives make amazing concentrates. There are more than 400 species in passion flower family passifloraceae & the flower is usually white & purple or mauve. Depending upon the variety & climatic conditions, there are many types of passion fruits & comes in different sizes, shapes & colours like purple/maroon, green, yellow etc & the taste could be sweet to sour to somewhere in in-between. Usually the purple/maroon ones are sweeter!!

When we were young we also used to eat a wild variety just like the passion fruit but with slightly elongated fruit with supple outer cover & white flower (I think), which is hardly seen these days. It said to have possessed many medicinal properties.

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Those who have not seen or eaten a passion fruit, the globose fruit have a white sack (which resembles dressed goat tripe – the Turkish towel like stomach cover) inside the smooth, hard outer shell/cover. The sack is filled with numerous black seeds with a very thin coating of orangish-yellow, pulpy-juicy flesh. Even when the fruit is wrinkled outside with aging, the sack inside remains fresh for some time.

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Coming back to the flower, it also comes in exotic colours such as dark purple, red, fuchsia, etc. But they are mostly ornamental & do not seems to be bearing fruits. The flower stays for a day only but blooms practically every day & butterflies are attracted to these flowers. The wild, cultivated & the hybrid flower formation looks the same at the first glance. But if you look closely it differs from one another. It looks as if so many different parts from different flowers are put together to form an unusual master piece. Human globalization is happening now but this species seems to be far ahead of us. The flowers usually have pleasant smell (at least the ones which are known to me).

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The amazing thing is that the uniquely beautiful flower & the vine is linked to scriptures & believes in different religion. The name passion flower was given by the 15th century Spanish Christian missionaries who thought that the flower depicted the crucifixion (passion) of Christ (Crown of Thorns (corona), & other parts as the instrument – 3-nails, 5-wounds, sponge of Gall & vinegar, Pillar of scourging, sacrificing blood, Centurion’s spear (leaf), lashing (tendrils) & the fruit (as globe). Some people also link it to sexual passion, after all a man sees in the world what he/her carries in his/her heart….

In India it is called both as Krishna Kamala (particularly the large purple one) & Paanch Paandav (Mahabharata). The unique formation of the perennial flower is supposed to symbolize or represent: The waxy-white Petals (5) alternating with sepals (5) with their green hook (awn) at the tip for ten Avtars of Vishnu, five 5 filaments with anther in the center for five well-armed Pandavas, the single ovary (bulb in the center) for Pandava queen Draupadi & the three styles with stigma for the holy trinity of Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva. And the corona filaments are the Sudarshana-chakra of Lord Krishna. I was told that the filaments are hundred in number representing the Kauravas. I had to hire a pro-bono investigator to count the number… & luckily my husband’s niece who also has a degree in criminology fitted the bill & she reported back with a picture: I counted the filaments with a tweezers and there are exactly one hundred!!

To top it, the 3-lobed leaves which are alternately arranged along the stems & borne on stalks, shaped in trident (Lord Shiva’s weapon) form. Whatever one may perceive it as, one thing is certain that it is amazingly beautiful. Don’t believe me take a break & look in the neighborhood you might find one or go to a botanical garden!!

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I am sure besides being beautiful, there is something special about this flower as thousands of miles apart two different believers associated their belief in it!! After all the life spark/energy in me is the life spark/energy everywhere & everything comes from God almighty. If beauty lies in the eye of the beholder – Faith lies in the very being itself. When you are in love with God you can see God everywhere & in everything. This unusually beautiful flower looks out of this world… as if someone stole her from the heavenly garden & brought her to earth or perhaps she was so proud of herself & her significance, the weight of the pride brought her down to earth!!

The vine can be reproduced by seeds easily but it’s a very slow process. So commonly it is propagated by mature cuttings. This hardy long lasting vine loves sun but not scorching though & water, & unless groomed can grow uncontrollable yielding plenty of fruits under healthy conditions. So you have to provide a strong support. I vaguely remember seeing large bees & humming bird buzzing around. All the unopened buds from different species are light green in colour. The flower looks strong but it is delicate. The petals & sepals have the same finish & can be passed as petals. But if you look closely the sepals have green hook (awn) at the tip. It is said that each & every part of the flower has specific role which they play religiously!!

Among the flowers I have seen only the wild one on the bank of the pond had bracts, which are supposed to trap insects but if as merely as defensive mechanism to protect its flowers (think it was white) & fruits or is it carnivorous (digest & gain nourishment from its catch) is not known. Leaves & stems of this particular variety is said to be poisonous. Wondering if I should eat & test it??

The whole vine has medicinal properties & is used in treating digestive problems including dyspepsia & diarrhea, an astringent & expectorant for nervous conditions & spasms. Tea from the flower is an antioxidant & used to calm the mind (depressant) as well as sleeping aid, used to contain diarrhea/dysentery, neuralgia, etc.

Colostrum: Is it the ultimate gift to new born from the God Almighty?? New Mothers PLEASE make sure to feed it to your babies.

When I wrote about ‘Ginnu’ (colostrum) in my previous blog, a colleague of mine from Kerala showed distaste for the ginnu & also said that they don’t eat it because of hygienic reason…they considered it unhygienic!! It touched a chord in me, because when I was growing up, we were encouraged to eat it as much as possible. In those days almost all the households in Kodagu had their own herd of cattle. Since I have a sweet tooth, I would eat till there is no space left in my tummy & would joke that if I put my finger through my throat, I could touch it!! My mother said it was very good for health & every drop of it was worth more than its weight in gold!! Also, I firmly believe that God almighty is both the cause & effect of everything, & that everything created by God has a purpose. Just because we don’t know does not mean that things don’t have a purpose!! So to substantiate myself, I asked around, and surprisingly none of my other Keralite friends knew about it either.

In the bargain I managed to ask people from different states & religions and hear their responses. Generally the quick response from those who are used to eating Ginnu: “oh I love ginnu” or “it’s my favourite”. Almost all (Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra & Pakistan) seem to prepare*** it the same way. When I spoke to a sweet old lady from the Lingaygat community (from North Karnataka) about ginnu, she smiled and said: oh I love it & mentioned an age old proverb: “Honna kottaru ginna sigodilla”… which means even if you give gold you can’t get ginnu. She also added that the orthodox from her community especially from the Karvar (Mangalore) side & the Brahmins will not eat ginnu & instead, they pour the colostrum under trees (due to madi.. something like suddam in Malayalam.. sorry I have no idea what is the English word). My elder daughter, born & raised outside India, finds the colostrum not up to her taste (feels the same way about country eggs too). So if she finds me eating (happens once in a blue moon), she ends up arguing with me because I over eat & sugar is bad! So overall it’s a mixed perception, either according to an individual’s palate or passed on in the culture.

So what is colostrum? Colostrum is the slightly yellowish coloured pre-milk fluid produced from the mammary glands of female mammals during the first 2 to 3 days after birth before true milk appears. Most often, this fluid is taken in the first twelve hours of a newborn’s life. It is a rich mixture of natural source of antibodies (immunoglobulins* designed to fight disease-causing agents like bacteria & viruses) & essential nutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, & minerals for a young one to grow & develop. It confers immune protection to the newborn from infections. In simple words, it is produced naturally in the new mothers’ breasts to help the helpless young ones to kick-start their lives & surely a perfect testimony for the sophistication of the Creator himself.

Colostrum seems to be the natural weapon that equips & prepares the young ones in the wild to stand up & face the world against all the odds in every terrain. It is mind blowing to imagine how potent it must be in order to offer such multitude of benefits & sustain a new born. Next time you see a new born Wildebeest (gnus) calf following the mother (herd) in the long arduous journey, or a Polar Bear cub following the mother on the ice or a Camel calf on the desert, close your eyes for a minute & learn to appreciate the glorious creations of God almighty.

Neonatal care varies from communities to communities for both the new baby & the mother; the baby will breast-feed only on the 2nd or 3rd day. Although breast-feeding in India is traditional, colostrum rejection is also equally traditional. Colostrum is produced by every female mammal since the dawn of creation yet not much is known about it. If some communities were particular in giving the colostrum to babies, most shun it. Many give boiled & cooled water to babies or give a raisin tied in a mull cloth to suck till the milk appears. Some say that the babies are very alert at this stage & eye contact with the mother is needed for lactation, while others believe that the babies do not understand anything!! New mothers are often encouraged to feed the babies & insist that the child to be brought to the mother & be placed on her bosom.. others say that the mother needs to rest…

Colostrum is relatively new as a nutritional supplement and gained grounds only after the resurgence of breastfeeding in the Seventies. The powdered supplement known as Pedimune is administered to boost the immunity & is mostly produced from the cows. This is known as the Bovine (related to animals) colostrum..guess there are no human donors!!

Lately colostrum has caught up with the mass as highly nutritious (for both infants & adults) & a must for the immunity of a child. With the modern ideology kicking over, many mothers are willing to give colostrum to their offspring. After all, anything pricey should be good right? This also makes me wonder how many really know what colostrum is? Do they really know the true value of colostrum or are blindly administering it because their pediatrician or friends told them it’s good for their child? Or simply the old medicines look good in a new package?

Since the bovine colostrum is tailored to the needs of calves in particular, it is hard to say how much it (the antibodies) can help humans**. However, colostrum also contains substances that might offer general benefits, such as growth factors (which stimulates the growth & development of cells in the digestive tract & perhaps elsewhere) & transfer factor (which may have general immune-activating properties). Then again, humans have been drinking milk through the millennium & our systems are adapted to it. Similarly the cow’s colostrum might vibe well with human system.

Colostrum is even becoming popular with athletes. It has been used as a dietary supplement to treat diarrhea, infections, colitis, & to improve athletic performance. Studies say that it possesses anti-inflammatory & chemo-preventive properties. Regular consumption is said to play a protective role for infantile gastrointestinal immunity due to its direct effect of promoting & developing infantile gut-associated lymphoid tissues which are responsible mainly for pronouncing infantile gut immunity. It is also being considered for prophylactic treatment of recurrent upper respiratory tract infection (URTIs).

I am glad that my colleague squirmed… so that I could write this & encourage the young mothers to feed colostrum to their new born… including my future grand children!! Until now I was under the impression that in India, Keralites are the pioneers of using the natural resources & slowly I realized that there are no masters of anything in this world!! I wish & hope one day maybe scientists will decode the amazing full value of colostrum & in the mean time all the New Mothers will make sure to feed their newborns. There is so much to learn from the experiences & knowledge from our fore-parents

*Immunoglobulins, also known as antibodies, are glycoprotein molecules produced by plasma cells (white blood cells). They act as a critical part of the immune response by specifically recognizing & binding to particular antigens, such as bacteria or viruses & aiding in their destruction.

 **I read that efforts have been made to create a special form of infection-fighting colostrum (agent) called hyper-immune colostrum by inoculating cows with bacteria & viruses that affect humans. The cow in turn makes antibodies to these bacteria and virus, & secretes those antibodies into its colostrum. How effective it is, well we have to wait & see… I am always apprehensive of hybrid products!! Also, commercializing this makes one wonder how much will the new born calves get to drink what is rightfully theirs…

 ***Ginnu (Colostrum pudding) is the easiest pudding to prepare. Mix 1 cup colostrum, 3/4 cup (or as per taste) powdered jaggery or sugar in the vessel. Stir until the powder dissolves completely. Strain through the strainer to remove if there are any impurities. In the steaming vessel pour (preferably in a plate) the colostrum & steam for 20 minutes. Once it is steamed it sets like pudding. Let it cool completely. After steaming it oozes out very little water which is absolutely normal. You can collect & drink the water. When it is completely cooled, cut it to neat squares. Refrigerate & enjoy. Sprinkling a pinch of cardamom powder or nutmeg powder or saffron is absolutely optional but personally recommended. Mostly every one prefers it plain. Water-buffalo colostrum is very thick so the pudding turns very hard. In that case you can add 1/8th of a cup normal milk to make is soft.

 

How the Kroda Desa got thier name! (Kodagu)

The confusion about the origin of name “Kodagu” itself is as colourful as the origin of the Kodavas & draws lot of curiosity… The name Kodagu is anglicized as Coorg… and I am sure the Britishers must have found it difficult to pronounce Kodagu… Between the confusion people refer to us as Coorgis… to make it clear we are not Coorgis or murgis, we are “Kodavas from Kodagu & speak Kodava takk” blessed children of our dear Mother Kaveramme.

Origin of the name Kodagu is brushed with different strokes & hues by different individuals. As the Indian culture is based on Guru-Shishya Parampara & the legends are passed orally, somewhere it must have got twisted. Many quote the reference in Kaveri Purana as the source & unfortunately my knowledge of Sanskrit is very limited. Hence I really don’t know which version is right which make me support the Kodava Culture & Legends which I am a part of. The only common thread is that Prince Chandravarma & his celestial wife were Kodava ancestors.. To quote few:

The Saga begins with the arrival of Chandravarma, the pious & brave Prince of Mastya Desha, in ancient Kodagu (supposed to be known as Brahma-Kshetra), seeking adventure & solace. After the marriage he settled down in South permanently with his queen of celestial origin. As the family grew larger the need for food grains increased & with that the requirement of cultivable land. So the brave grandchildren of Chandravarma leveled the hills for cultivation with their bare hands, like the wild boars dig up mounds for their sustenance. Hence the land came to be known as Kroda Desa (Sanskrit word Kroda means hog) & eventually Kodagu.

Some go one step further… all the grandchildren were mighty men of valour, strong of arm & foot. Their nails resembled the fangs of boars. WOW Celestial Mother & a Royal Father & children had fangs… how cool is that!! Running short of basic food supply & sleeping quarters, with the nails of their strong hands & feet, they tore up the ground & levelled the slopes of the hills with the valleys in a circumference of five-yojanas (60 miles). So much accuracy!! Then they settled themselves anew in the country, the face of which they had changed by the strength of their own arms. What a sight it must have made…

Another version … When Lord Vishnu returned to Vaikuntha (abode of Lord Vishnu) after killing Hiranyaksha in Varaha (boar) form, on the way Lord Vishnu tore out the fangs & threw it which fell in Kodagu thus getting the name Kroda-Desa.

It is also said that the word Kodagu is derived from the word Kudu, which means Hilly place but not sure in which language though!!

The most interesting aspect of my years of personal observation is that one too many people who comes to Kodagu or hears about the culture wants a piece of the pie & want to be part of the distinctive Kodava culture. And on the way they want to leave a mark & start to come up with their own version of certain things… for example Kachumpuli is the vinegar prepared from the fruit extract of Panapuli (a species of garcinia), indigenous to Western Ghats. But someone with half knowledge of Kodava culture writes Kachumpuli as the fruit. Similarly karik-muripa* (cutting the vegetables) is a part of oorukuduva ceremony but someone writes it as a first day of the wedding ceremony!

But what surprised me most was my experience in Kuwait. More than two decades ago I happened to see a booklet in Indian embassy regarding Coorg, when I went for some official work. In that there was a couple’s picture with their back towards the viewer where the bride was wearing the usual style saree & the groom was wearing white dhoti, white shirt & a Mysore style Peta (turban). I am sure a copy is available in their achieve!!

But Mrs. Amabssador (I don’t remember which year though) took the cake. One day Mrs.Rangaswamy (her husband Mr. H.V. Rangaswamy was the MD of Kuwait India Exchange in mid 90s), an acquaintance of ours called me & said if you don’t mind can I ask you something? I said go ahead.. hesitantly she asked me don’t you all wear blouses back home when you wear Kodava saree? I laughed & said what made you ask such a strange question? In fact my grandmother’s generation even wore jacket (long sleeved relatively longer bodied blouses) & even wore close collared to go with it too. These days only brides wear jacket as part of culture. For that she said she went for a fashion show at the embassy & Kodava saree was part of it. They wore the saree so awkwardly & also the so called model did not wear a blouse. It was rather poor tasted & really looked bad. Since I have seen you wearing the saree at the functions & I know how elegant it is, I asked why they wore like that? For that I was told that Mrs. Ambassador had done research & that’s what she found… Oh boy… God knows where she did her research in Timbuktu or Sahara Desert!! It was the worst case scenario.. I was angry & sorry for that half-knowledge lady at the same time. But what could I do? After all she was Mrs. Ambassador & represents our beloved country… hope she did not do any more fashion shows in other parts of the world!! In a decade or so with the help from Google-mama, future generation sadly will start believing in such quotes including the Kodava kids raised outside Kodagu.

* It is the gathering of women folks – close relatives & from the village – around round tables to assist the cooks by cutting vegetable & rolling kadumbuttu. It guarantees the quality of chopped vegetable as well as the kadambuttu. A gathering looked forward by women as it gave the chance to meet the cousins, exchange recipe & news, talk about latest fashion, & catch up on gossips, etc. sadly now everyone uses the catering services. Thanks to Kodava men, at Kodava weddings, women usually dress up well, meet everyone, be happy, look good & do not cook or chop meat. You can read more about it when I write about the Kodava wedding.

An amazing romantic experience……Coffee (1/9)

Since I’m a Kodavati from Kodagu, many people I know around the office or outside ask me a recurring question “Does coffee flower smell like coffee?” I always give them a big smile and say…. Well the answer is a BIG “NO”. It has one of the most amazing smells and an eye catching, beyond comprehensible beauty, and they usually end up listening to me blabbering about the beauty and the heavenly smell of the COFFEE BLOSSOM.

index(From: http://www.deepakg.com/blog/2009/04/yet-another-short-trip-to-coorg/)

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Almost every Kodava has seen and smelt it, but do they all feel the way I do? The feeling one gets can come from only the perfectly conducive setting. Coffee blossom is one of the most beautiful sights in the world and has an amazing, mind shattering smell to it. I have seen it all my life yet my mind craves for the sight and smell. Even now when I see the flowers, I pause… have a second look, smell it, smile, nod and go my way. When we were young, during the blossom season I would go to the coffee estate, and roam around aimlessly with the childhood belief of being able to have the fragrance and essence of the flowers become a part of me. My mother who did not like the idea of me wandering in the estate would scare me by saying snakes would come out for the smell.  I was and am so scared of snakes, and I would hesitate, but still end up heading out for my douse of perfume! The heady intoxication feeling… the nostalgic feeling always brings a smile on my lips and a feeling of intense joy fills me. Just like how the animals eating fermented Marula fruits in Africa and get hooked instantly, making more trips back for more, if possible I would like to go back to it before I kick the bucket!!

Someone I know even made an attempt to extract perfume from it, but the problem is you have to get the extract from the fresh flowers, flower life is fleeting, and if you pluck the flowers then u destroy the plants ability to make coffee… a real catch twenty two situation for a coffee planter yeah?

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If rainfall is even, all the plants across Coorg will bloom at the same time. It’s so romantic… the beautiful weather… milky white flowers filling the entire branches and nodes of the stem along with the dark green leaves (even the buds are beautiful – by itself a sight to behold), the strong aroma from the thousands of flowers and equal number of bees on the flower with their ritualistic dance producing so much “bzzzzzz” (with so many bees it sounds more like a “Guieeee” to me) sound has a strange effect on our brain. (Sometimes even Cicadas join the chorus). All the three senses attacked at the same time with so much pleasure have a heady influence on the mind. After a while you will start walking dazed, almost intoxicated!! It may sound little odd but one must really experience it atleast once in their life time as it is close to the experience mentioned about the “valley of flower in Himalayas” in the book Autobiography of a YOGI. When I read the book, coffee blossom is the closest thing which came to my mind. I am not very sure how many have experienced it but I have surely done it many a times as I love Nature. When the flowers start to dry, the sight turns more somber, and the bees will be gone, but the smell is strangely still heady. Unfortunately now the total effect which I used to experience is eroding as unseasonal rains brings flowers at different times (often you can see flowers plus both young and ripe berries at the same time) and there are not enough bees around as pesticides have had bad effect on them.

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The best thing is we don’t have to worry which coffee flower smells the best in the world… all the flowers looks and smells the same!! If you really want to experience the three sensual effects, I would rather advise you visit Robusta coffee plantation than the Arabica plantation. Arabica plantation is also good but Robusta has that romantic touch!! If you do please think of me… thank you in advance. (Part 1 of 9)

Please note that after the part 9 of 9, I will be posting a picture of real romance on coffee drying yard, a once in life time picture…. It is so unique…. Hair raising picture… you have to see it to believe. Unfortunately I never had the privilege of clicking the picture. It was taken by a Kodava unknown to me and was sent by somebody years ago… and if the real owner of the picture happens to see the picture please mail me.