Culture in the Supermarket

The terrors of the future will not come from the drab repressions of an encroaching bureaucracy, but from the neon lights of a thousand supermarkets, the sounds of a million automobile accidents and from the public cremation of the dead astronauts as they return to earth.”
― Christopher Riche EvansMind In Chains

This was the opinion I walked around with until I went to Lulu’s Hypermart in Cochin, as I browsed the shelves I had an epiphany that this could be like the traditional open Kochi market with varieties of rice the red and white variety, dry fruits which Kochi was trading point for, pepper in sacks, I could be shopping in a clean air-conditioned local market.

Jogappa Shanbag our spice man.

1946 is apparently when the first supermarket appeared on American scene. Its not really very long ago. Though books by Agatha Christie do have a reference to grocery being packed in wrong sizes in bags, but until then where was the food? Well it was in homes, gardens, local fields and forests; it was grown in the kitchen garden they were cooked fresh and stored in the pantry, there was no branding.

Our rice came from our fields in the village, and vegetables were carried to us by women who grew them in the back yards so this entire concept of empowered working women is an old hat. Oh! Our spices came either from spice market during the Jatra… the village fair or bought from Jogappa Shanbag who doubled as the medicine man.

When we were young it was a given thing in among surgeons to go to England for a year do their MRCP or FRCS as it went return and talk about the travels as vividly as the narration of Sindabad the sailor, the existence of the supermarkets was one of the destinations to be addressed.

When the supermarket cult hit urban India, I kept thinking here it comes the “the Nth Aryan invasion” like Ms.Marple we will be buying our grocery in wrong volumes, the stocked would be homogenous without respecting the local food habits.

Ragi Hurihittu in the More. chains of highland Karnataka

Over the last three years, I have made it a point to observe the Big Bazaar in various towns, what I find interesting this also holds good for the retail chains like More… And Hyper-mart – the shelves are stacked with very ethno-specific goods. Like the Big Bazaar in Hyderabad has varieties of chutneys both wet and dry. The range of pickles is also amazing. They pack it up in small quantities like 100 gms  if you ask for it.  the vegetable section had banana stem on sale too. on the rack with masala along with usual Everest masala’s there were lot of local small scale industries with very specific Andhra masala like the Bagara Baingan masala. While the Bombay Big Bazaar was high on the Goda Masala, instant sabudhana khicidi and other Maharashtrian fare.

The super markets in Bangalore were high on Ragi and Ragi products.  While in Kochi we saw varieties of avalposi and banana in their breakfast and cereal section. The traditional masala mix for stew and avial and other coconut curries though the sales girl told me they were not as popular as the frozen masala’s. the vegetable section had local traditional vegetable cleaned, cut, sliced as per the cuisine’s need.

Maybe a visit to the local supermarket might be an eye opener to look into the food culture.

avalposi from Kochi Lulu’s Hypermart




Packing For a Road Trip

Am back from one road trip, and realized how much of unnecessary things I was carrying,  So to work things out here is what I did, I made a checklist.
A road trip is essentially a journey via automobiles, sometimes impromptu; it could involve some spiriting activity.
Before come into to the checklist of must have let me go through the stages of deciding what the must have’s are.
• Where are we going on the trip?
• When are we going?
• How long are we going?
• Who are our travel companions?
Very often travel instead of broadening the mind merely lengthens conversation!
A road trip needs to be planned well in advance. With at least a list of 10 places that we could like to see,
The next phase would be deciding the stop over’s, after which the travel breakers as a continuous journey might be difficult. These would depend on the travel companions.
The checklist would be then under the following titles.
• Essentials
• Safety
• Cleanups
• Boredom busters
• Extras
I would first put out the clothes and these would be decided on the availability of washing felicity during the trip. Things like:
• Tickets and bookings
• Automobile papers and coins for toll gates etc.
• Identification papers, emergency contact numbers
• Coins
• Cell phones with recharge vouchers.
• Water preferably cooler
• Medicine chest with prescription drugs, roadside first aid kit, general first aid kit, tablets for travel sickness.
• Toiletry, detergent for clothes.
• Flash light, emergency sewing kit. A nylon chord
• Wet wipes, paper towels, toilet papers.
• Trash bags
• Laundry bag, preferably a bucket which can double up if need arises
• Books for reading, and notebook for travelogue,
• Camera.
• CD with music of each traveller’s choice.
At the end of it all I would decide the size of the travel bag. Put in half the clothes I kept out and hopefully double the budget. 


This kind of works for me you may want to tweak this or create your own list.

A Lunch Break -On a Road Trip

Have a long weekend, then the place to go is Goa, people enter the state from the skies, through the trains, on the roads, my grouse with road trippers is whiny long blog for another day the way they piddle anywhere and everywhere, drink beer and dump the bottles where they drain the last drop etc. etc.

But these road trippers and their behavior is quite an entertainment when we are on our way to work.  I think a road trip is more about an adventure, its not like place to goa you just drive along. The other day on my way back from work I saw four gentlemen  squatting on the university lawn, cooking their lunch.

cooking in the open

I was quite curious so I decided to have a small conversation. The men happened to be road trippers form Shivamogga in Karnataka and this was an annual activity they did the days were fixed that is the last three days of Navaratri, as business is low people are busy with the Dushera celebrations these men took a men only holiday.

They traveled with few utensils their agenda was simple they would drive around, pick something to cook wherever they found anything interesting, cooked had lunch and drove around. In the evening they would go to the casino, spend time there and repeat the routine next day, on the third day they would drive back.

The whole idea as they explained to me was to go outside and switch off. They do not actually tell anyone where they are going, since they do these road trips twice a year, one is definitely Goa and the other is interesting, they turn their mobiles off, and just drive, taking turns where ever they felt like and they said they would soon land in roads that do not know. There is no definite destination, they just walk and sit down when they can, whenever they have to and this entire exercise they say is so refreshing and empowering. It is like the whole world is there right outside… it is the adventure…and not a place to go to.  They accidentally discovered that when they got lost they discovered beautiful terrain and great experiences.

I realized this was what drove people to go on a road trip, or plan a road trip or even those armchair travelers they are always talking about this, posting quotes and waging a war against organized travel. OMG! That sounds like I am saying wage a war against organized crime!!

When we go on a road trip we make it a point to carry one set of change of clothes, lots of water and then it is “yunhi chala..chala re.. yuhi chala”  we leave the house without targeting an destination and time of arrival.

It is about doing something, without actually doing anything yet doing a lot.

taking their road trip business men from shimoga.



Bright colours, punched out white dots that resemble a rhombus, some mirror work, some embroidery, the magic of Bhuj, the Bandhini.

When we went to Jamnagar, I was looking for the Kutch work, when our friend told us, that it is the Bandhini that you have to pick here more the Kutch work or the bead work. Well to be frank I would have still loved the bead work and I plan to go some day to pick it up the bead work.

However when I looked at those fabric a faint images of a friends garage, four preteen kids huddled trying out fabric colours, they were fads then, we had traced out some patterns though I cannot remember what, piercing a pencil securing the fabric with rubber bands, in a bucket we had poured in the dye, and I think immersed this fabric and totally forgot about it,

It is only now I recognize what we were trying our hand at, we were trying out Bandhini, a type of tie dye textile, decorated by plucking the cloth with fingernails into many tiny bindings that form a figurative design … this very apt definition is from Google and not mine.

However the tern Bandhini has its root in the Sanskrit word Banda or tie. Another very similar fabric art is the chungdi from Madurai, that’s for another day.

I was told by my guide, that the earliest evidence of Bandhini was in the Indus valley civilization, and dyeing was done even during the Indus valley days, there are 6th century painting depicting the cotton fabrics that were there. BanaBhatta’s Harshacharita talks of Bandhini being used in a royal wedding, and the paintings on the Ajanta walls holds evidence that Bandhini sari’s were considered auspicious.

Africa and south East Asia shows evidence of various natural dyes and manmade dyes being used. The Bandhini technique which is popularly called tie and dye was well developed in the china in 618-906 AD and Japan in the 552-794 AD

In India, the Khatri community started the Bandhini technique. They create turban fabric and shawls known as odni’s, the way the turban is draped and pattern on the fabric helps to identify which community the person belongs to.

My own commitment to my home looms, tell, me each and every piece of cloth embodies the spirit skill and personal history of an individual weaver…. it ties together with an endless thread the emotional life of the weaver, then comes the artisan with brush and dye, who adds the critical magic.

Bandhini Fabric with embroidary

For the followers of the loom I found this very interesting link …


The Spice Route culinary festival

My first memory of the Bolgatty palace was in the early eighties when I visited Kochi with my father, we had been to the ophthalmology conference, while papa was busy with the sessions my mother and I did what we loved the most not shopping, sightseeing.

We had been to fort Kochi, the Jewish settlement, there was a weaving place and finally the Bolgatty Palace, what had struck to me then and what struck to me this time was this was a very un-palace like palace. It was like two glass walls held by two brick walls, it is definitely not so, but that was the feel I got.

The first time when we went there we had to go by boat this time round there a bridge to cross over, and when had sailed the boat I imagined the era of the Muziri’s and the spice trade.

This time we were visiting the tourist event of culinary festival of the spice route, it was a Kerala tourism program co-hosted by UNESCO. Countries  like Lebanon, Italy, and many others taking part. There were international chefs participating.

The spice route cook out.

The events were understanding Kerala and its spice heritage, and the traditional cooking.

Going to the Local fish and vegetable markets where the chefs could pick up ingredients, and a Muziri’s tour for the delegates and

On the 25th, cooking and food presentation sessions took place and 26th was the day for the display, the Kerala chef contest of the professional category and the amateur category was on.

As we walked along, there were numerous fragrances wafting. There a great sense of excitement too.

Wish Kerala tourism would organize a spice route within the country it would really be an interesting thing to experience.

The endeavour was to recreate the ancient trade routes that Kerala was once the port of Muziris, which was known as Muyirikode, Kakotai, or Mahodayapuram, it was also an bustling urban centre. It is been mentioned in the bardic Sangama literature and number of classical European journals. Though the exact location is not known the literature refers to it at the mouth of the river periyar. The Kerala tourism is reviving the Muziris heritage.

The theme of the festival is the spice route that is the trade route between historic civilizations of Asia, northeast Africa and Europe, spices like cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, turmeric were traded. References to this is found in the early writing, stone age carvings of Neolithic age, and there are references to Muziris a port in Kerala, and it is referred to as land of spices or the spice garden of India. Interestingly the traders who and Chera kings who did the trade considered it is gifts exchanged rather than commerce.

The Sangama literature talks of the Pandya kings causing disruptions so the trade route got shifted from the Chera kingdom to the Pandya. Muziris lost its trade centre status with increasing pirate infestation and finally the great flood.



gokarna (1)
distance mangroves

Yesterday being  Ganesh Chaturthi, we decided to drive down to Gokarna.

I have no pictures of either temple or the surrounding, for I was lost in memories of the two which visited years ago.

The legend has it that Ravana the Lord of Lanka, carried the atma lingam of Shiva, fearing the consequences of this, the deva’s decided to take it back from him. When Shiva gave him the atmalinga the condition was it should not be placed on the earth, for the moment it was placed on the earth it would take root.

Enroute, Ravana needed to ease himself, but placing the Atmalinga on the earth was not an option. That was when Ganapati appeared as a young Brahmin boy and offered to hold the linga, just as Ravana began relieving himself, Ganapati called out him. The condition the boy Ganapati had placed was Ravana was to return by the time he called him thrice.

In quick succession Ganapati called out two more times, then placed the lingam down on the earth and vanished, Ravana tried his best, to uproot the linga, but his efforts were futile the only thing he achieved was distortion of the lingam to the shape of the ear of a cow. Hence Gokarna.

When we were working with Nagananda play, with dialogue ,”hey gokarnanatha” I placed my place geographically in southern peninsula, but interestingly Nepal has a town with the same name, on the banks of river Bagmati , the Gokarna Aunshi that falls on the new moon between August- September is the an important event when sons honour their father, and if the father is dead then the shraddha is performed.

Like I mentioned before my first visit to the town was years ago, it was a sleepy town, with the temple and the Kotitheerta pond at the center, people came down to perform the final rites of their departed ones. Particularly if the person who died was young.

One of the Brahmin houses would host the people till the rites were over.

This time round the time has changed with Goa getting flooded with tourists, the hippie and the Indian junkie crowd has moved down to Gokarna. Spiritual vendors have put up their spa’s with yoga, meditation, and massage thrown in. not to mention the availability of Marijuana and hemp.

The temple premises are still clean, unlike Udupi, or any temple up north. Most temples have the system where the money from the hundi goes to feed people, and for other social activities, while the sarvajanika annaprasada is handled by Venky’s—yes the chickenwallah.

Maybe we can now look at more relevant things to donate to the temple like that contraption that allows the recycle of plastic, or the contraption that uses bio-waste to create fuel. Those asbestos sheets used to keep the pradakshina path dry could be replaced by solar panels, though the very purpose of connecting to the nature is lost when we cover the walking path.

Anyway its interesting to see how we appease the gods on our terms without putting ourselves out of our comfort zone.

gokarna (2)


Indigenous Transport of Jamnagar

jamnagar (7)
first look Jamnagar


As we entered the reliance inspired town, our travel owes apart.

One thing I learnt from Neomi Duguid is not apologize for making conversation with the people on the street.

One interesting mode of transport I saw was the Chakda  It reminded me so much of the various mythological stories we hear about the Gods  like Ganesha who get their head chopped off and replaced by another animal. The vehicle looked really incongruous, as if someone had sliced the motorcycle in to half and attached a carrier to it, something in wanted to yell, “stop torturing the bike” like we respond to the tangawalla’s or Calcutta or the Victoria’s of Mumbai.

jamnagar (6)
Locally manufactured auto rickshaws which is a six-seater

These vehicles could transport up to eight people or if it was goods carrier then it functioned like a small truck. What the local’s told me was using these to transport small goods for definitely more economically, more over most of these vehicles were owned by the driver unlike trucks and tempo’s which were owned by someone else and the driver was just a paid employee. I do not know how that works in the economic ecology but that seems to be an import consideration.

Then there were auto rickshaw’s that are manufactured indigenous at Jamnagar, as a small industry.  The auto that we were in was a Bajaj, rear engine our auto driver pointed out these to us and told us, very proudly that those were locally made in Jamnagar and he was planning to buy one soon. Again here the attitude is using this vehicle instead of a Bajaj or the other one I forgotten the company name meant money stayed in Jamnagar instead of going out.

jamnagar (5)
the chakada– a motorcycle morphed as a goods transporter here.

Despite of the fact that the fares were not regulated and public transport swindled the visitors it was amazing to see to the sense of pride and innovation.