LOVING INDIA-6 Konkan

Yesterday I sat in an internet cafe and tried to write a new post fior this blog. A cafe brimming with prepubescent and adolescent boys playing violent computer games and shouting profanities. I thought I should be zen and let myself experience this part of the social (cultural?) evolution hitting India. Either I am getting old or these boys need a life. My ear drums shattered, my concentration blown in the hot room, I gave up, went home and watched a mind-numbing Marathi soap on telly with my mother.

For those uninitiated in the diversity of India (or those who know only the Punjabis and Gujaratis), the Konkan is a strip along the west coast of India that extends from south Maharashtra through Goa into Karnataka. The language, food, customs, castes and communities are different though. We Samants are the fish eating brahmins from the Konkan in Maharashtra. (And not all of this community have the surname Samant…)

I remember snatches of my visits with my grandparents, parents and family friends to the Konkan as a child. Post cards and inland letters went back and forth confirming dates and times with our hosts and with the poojari (priest) for abhishek (a ritual in which the gods are bathed in milk/water). We left at 4 a.m. for the eight to ten hour drive with farsan, biscuits, bottles of water and tiffins packed with puri-bhaji. Through the Sahyadri mountains, past obscure villages and on potholed roads under the May sun. All precautions taken to avoid any kind of break down. This was before the Konkan Railway or any decent form of transport. The Konkan has (is) an underdeveloped and isolated region of Maharashtra. The people are mostly poor.

My great grandfather migrated from Bondyal Gaon (main village Tendoli, district Sindhudurg) to Bombay. All his progeny now live in and around Bombay. My grandfather was born in Bombay. We have no relatives in Tendoli, no land; no house. But my grandparents visited and my parents visit every two years to pay obeisance to the gods. The kul daivat, devi and gram daivat. (The family gods and village deity.)

This time we took the Jan Shatabdi Express from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (VT). My native tongue is Malwani, a dialect of Marathi. I cannot speak the dialect but I understand it very well. It is full of ‘terms of endearment’ spoken without rancour and consequently very funny and witty. So we were entertained through the train ride by the gappa-goshti (gossip) of our fellow passengers as went went across the landscape alternating between arid stretches and lush, pastoral green. The mango trees were laden with mohur, the mango blossom and pink bougainvillea splayed colour all over. The red soil of the Konkan produces cashewnuts, coconuts and mangoes.

During my earlier visits we stayed at Vengurla or out of the way places like Bhogwa. This time it was Kudal. From there we travelled. One day to see Sindhudurg qilla, the fort that Shivaji built on an island off Malwan port. Then to Tarkarli beach of virgin, white sands. Not a lot of Indians know about the Konkan in Maharashtra. At least not tourists. It is not a popular locale for films either although my mother remembers Dev Anand, the Indian actor/director/producer shooting his film JAAL at Malwan port. (My mother was born in Malwan town.) Once upon a time gold was smuggled into the port now it is RDX for bomb blasts 😀

The next day, Mahashivratri, we visited the gods in the morning. Our kul daivat is Shiva so my mother was mighty pleased at the co-incidence. That evening we went to the big Mahashivratri jatra in Nerur village. I enjoy village fairs. The Ferris Wheel, merry-go-round, stalls selling fake jewellery, cheap clothes, local produce, plastic toys…I bought glass bangles and a plastic flower for my hair. We ate hot bhajiya and drank hot chai. Some things always stay the same.

It was interesting to see how the jatra is used as a tool by political parties. Narayan Rane, once Chief Minister of Maharashtra in the Shiv Sena-BJP government is a Malwan man. He hopped parties, is now with the Congress and is prominently displayed on hoardings. Yet the Konkan was (is?) predominantly a Shiv Sena domain. So there were Sena hoardings and flags. Raj Thakeray broke away from the Shiv Sena to form the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. The MNS flag was all over the place too. All adding to the flavour.

I was entertained, reconnected to my memories and my ancestry, had the best Malwani food ever, the best fish in ages, lots of kokum kadhi (the Kokum is a fruit found in the region) and the first mangoes of the season. I let myself wallow in the charm of the red soil of the Konkan. Then we came back to Bombay.

I have finally written this post in peace. Now I think maybe those boys in the cafe do have a life? Maybe they will play cricket for India? Then Star Sports can showcase them as the new soldiers of the country?

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