No powder in the curry, really


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Category: Travel Date: 29 Jan 97

An imagination is very convenient. It is selective. It can leave out the discomfort and jet lag, the hassle of unpacking and packing and if you’re in India for the first time, a bad stomach. But we have followed all the rules - avoided milk-based foods and drinks, carried our supplies of mineral water, resisted the hot frying Gilebis, the tangy gol-gappas and the channa bhaturas.


In Kashmir and Punjab the people are tall, big boned, pale with green and blue eyes. In Goa we encounter what we might mistake for “Chinamen” but they are Indians, descendants of Tibetans. They are not the same as the large community of present generation Chinese immigrants. In Madras the Drividians are dark with shining black eyes and everyone else in-between.


The traditions, art forms, languages, religions of many ancient civilisations have taken root here. This reminds us of India’s history as a much conquered country  - today the world’s largest democracy. Ever since Alexander in the  sixth century, India has experienced military invasions. Armies from Turkey, Afghanistan, Eastern Europe, later the Portuguese and British have stayed here. Intermingling with the true Indians, the Drividians from the South, have helped create the India of variety and contrasts we find today.


They brought sheik kebabs, the lamb biriyani, the rich milky sweet ras malai, almonds, Persian poetry, elaborately courtly manners, etc. But despite the conquerors much of the original India survives. In Bangalore we find the delicious dosas - papery thin rice pancakes served with rassam and idli.


There is no such thing as curry powder, really. The curry leaf is only one condiment of hundreds in Indian cooking. All the spices are freshly ground .The cuisine (and language) varies vastly from state to state. But enough about our stomachs. The heart has taken over.


Yesterday’s visit to Lakshmanpur was charged with emotion. The village is named after the Lakshman, the brother of the prince Ram who was exiled from Ayodya for 14 years. Rama returned in triumph after 14 years to take over the kingdom and no doubt the metaphor is not lost on either the Trinidad contingent or the villagers of Lakshmanpur when the Prime Minister returned to his grandmother’s village as Prime Minister of a country.


Pleasant Climate


Since this journalist has never visited the area we can only guess at Mr Panday’s feelings and the excitement of the Trinidad contingent. Lakshmanpur is not be very different from many of India’s thousands of villages. It can’t have much sightseeing to offer. But we, like the Americans and the rest of Caricom, are children of the New World. We also understand that it is vital for all of us to understand our past, to know it as intimately as the shape of our hands before we can move on - to ignore our past is to remain incomplete.


Our transplant is relatively recent - we are still pliant and bend and twist here and there, look to bigger and older trees until we feel rooted enough not to look anymore. And that mutation will only come thousands of years from now.

So the PM’s link is now all of ours - a bit of the puzzle has been fitted and this, rather than tying us down to that faraway country, only liberates us and allows Trinidadians of Indian decent to move on.


Yes there were the celebrations and we imagine the traditional dances, the festivities, the garlands, dozens of them, jasmine and bright yellow flowers welcoming their own Lakshman after his long absence, the joy of the villagers at this unexpected honour being conferred on them. The grandson of one of their own women had returned as the Prime Minister.


Regional Radio


January 29

And so we are now ready for another spiritual experience. The audience with Bhagvan Sri Sathya As Baba. Many people pray to the Baba as he is affectionately known in India (hence Bhagvan which literally means God).


Again I draw on a memory which is imprinted on the mind of a child and has amazingly remained sharp for more than two decades. How did we get there? I remember a long trip by car from Bangalore, the city and capital of Karnataka (formally Mysore). Bangalore is characterised by wide streets, boulevards of huge trees, the Alsur lake and has the most pleasant climate in India - always cool, temperate.


Little did I know as a schoolgirl in Bangalore’s Sacred Girls High School (run by the ubiquitous Irish nuns) that I was in the midst of a centre for publishing (newspapers and periodicals) and the headquarters of the regional radio broadcasting station. But the last time I was in Bangalore in June ‘96, I witnessed  what can only be described as a hack job on the city, which was now as hot and almost as dusty as Delhi and Bangalore.


The once wide and leafy boulevards are all but gone, the gracious colonial homes are crumbling unprotected by Government, and being demolished by “developers” who build sardine-like flats and put them on sale for extortionate prices. Ironically everything which made the city “hot” property was now being destroyed.  Our childhood home was just one of many casualties in this race for property. The garden with the guava, mango and tamarind trees, the roses and Jamun tree, the swing and tree house had disappeared.


Golden Palace


In its place was a hideous cramped concrete structure. The main house now crumbling was inhabited by about 10 squatter families who were biding their time till the “developers” destroyed it.


But if the Prime Minister is staying at Windsor Palace Hotel or the Holiday Inn, reminiscent of a modern day palace, he may be taken to what in my childhood language I dubbed the golden palace - the Palace of the Maharaja of Mysore - now the legislative council, perhaps a walk through the Lal Bagh (a botanic garden laid out in the 18th century) or, security permitting, a boating expedition on Alsur Lake to its small islands, just large enough for a comfortable picnicking party. We have not had enough time here - but we have to move on to meet the Satya Sai Baba.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur