Monday, 23 July 2012

Paradise revisited

Back in London for my usual holiday, I was revved off my jet-lag this morning, with phone calls from friends confirming that I was indeed in town. Talk went from the Kodava Koota coming up in September to the coveted World Heritage Site tag that some want for Coorg and others oppose, to the miserable situation of connectivity and why we all, in spite of being intrinsically in love with our homeland, cannot see sense in returning to it the way it is now. We spoke of the many resorts and home-stays that have come up and, how, while they are very convenient to visitors like us, rampant developments like these, would impact the future of our homeland some years from now. And how all forest cover might be wiped out soon, in the name of indiscriminate 'progress'.

I was instantly reminded of a recent visit to my Grandmum's estate in Coorg where my little son hoppity hopped along the narrow pathways between paddy fields and rubbed his face on the bright red bunches of fresh coffee berries. While we leaned on the gate revisiting old memories, he stood staring at the plot of land right across the steep driveway to the house.

"Where is that dense forest you keep talking about, mum?" he asked, suddenly, in that thoughtful voice, usually followed by a forlorn mood that takes days to leave . "It's gone, baby", I replied in quiet contemplation.  "So sad", he mumbled, looking down, walking quietly back to the lushness on the other side of the house.

The quietness lingered on the phone too for a moment, before the caller brought up an article I had written many years back ... apparently many still relate to it. So here is a re-post, just because two days away from the country  and my true bearings, I have got all nostalgic, all over again.

"Importance of being earnest

I walked into my parents-in-laws’ house one day, to find the kitchen and part of the dining room under siege.

Warm and sweet-smelling, the vapours of steaming rice filled my senses, as I stood in the familiar aroma of my favourite dish. For a quick moment, I tranced back to a life I was married away from, just months earlier.

As my husband pushed past to get the car ready for the long drive, my mother-in-law was already onto her second round of kadambutté.

The sekala simmered away on the hob and the pandi curry came to a boil. As I tucked into the putté - my first involvement with a community I was yet to meet, my father-in-law wore a beam on his face and proudly educated me on what was to come.

We were getting ready for the annual gathering of the Coorgs in the UK- an eagerly awaited event at home. For six long years, my father-in-law oversaw these re-unions, with my mother-in-law in the background, constantly encouraging the cause. And as a family, our commitment to Coorg will only continue.

Since my first koota as puthangarthi, I have watched the UK Coorgs, each one valiant in their efforts, championing the endeavour to retain the affinity to their roots and propagate the pride of their race down the line.

The full significance of an initiative such as this came home to me along the years that followed, as I, guided by the exacting precision of my father-in-law, mulled over drafts and re-drafts of the newsletters that chronicled all the gatherings he had presided over.

Pre and post these meets, the many stories told during our frequent family dinners in front of warm gas fires, made me realise, afresh, how fragile the sustenance of our community really is- and how earnestly we need to address the truth.

Far away from a land that gives us our identity and strong sense of self, there is always a longing, unfulfilled.

Somewhere, in the contention between homeland and home, roots and fruit, and head and heart, intentionally or on impulse, we tend to flock together and seek out our kind.

Somewhere, a common bond keeps us tethered to what we know as our own. Call it strength of blood or even a well-wrought web cast by the veterans of our cosy community, the confluence of thoughts, variously modified beliefs and an incessantly evolving culture, ramifies a lineage well alive and holding ground.

While our genes dictate who we are and our aspirations define our lives, an institution brings us back together. At least once every year, we remember what makes us proud. We re-connect with what makes us one. And we awaken to what will keep us going.

The elders have, with experience and foresight, nurtured a quiet movement. Now, I find the current generation taking on the onus with pride, and making their own difference come alive.

Looking from the other side today, I see even more clearly, how distinct we are as a people. How progressive we are of tradition. And how indomitable we are in spirit."

Setting aside individual gain at the cost of a larger good, if only the richness of our terrain and heritage somehow melted into our psyches the strength of her nature, the versatility of her promise, the potential of her bounty, the openness with which she embraces us every time we drive up her pristine hills and the magic we can create by coming together in our vision for her sustenance, Coorg will be truly be that homeland of dreams we all hold dear.

The winding roads, the misty hills, the shimmering silver oaks, the fortress-like forests, the silvery mountain streams and gushing falls, the burst of red berries amidst the dense green of coffee bushes and the crisp, crisp air that can breathe new life into any weary traveller ... that is the essence of Coorg.

And that's why, in spite of all the inexplicable inconveniences that we love to hate about it, we keep going back. Home.

Let's just hope that in the decades to come, Coorg will remain that heaven even for my little son. And he won't have to look at photographs to remind him of a memory that 'used to be', Coorg.