Kids on a School Bus

When I asked folks at the Shanbhag School the best way to travel to Kodkani (about 15 kms from Kumta) to see Shilpa’s parents, they recommended that I ride the School bus. On Saturdays, school ends at noon and the bus drops off students in Kodkani. Riding the bus would thus bring me in Kodkani in time for lunch. And another experience to notch!

Leaving the school, the bus was packed! I felt guilty as a seat was saved for me. But gave me a chance to take a few pics.

Little kids from the adjacent primary school got the pride of place next to the driver. At each stop, the conductor would literally carry a little one and hand them over to one of their parents waiting at the stop. Then joyously they would scamper away.

Continue reading “Kids on a School Bus”

Meeting Aayi of Aayis Recipes

Looking for new recipes, you have likely browsed Aayi’s Recipes the uber popular food blog hosted by Shilpa. This is M’s favorite “go-to” site anytime she needs inspiration for her cooking.

During my travels to India, I look forward to visiting our ancestral town of Kumta – Jewel of the Konkan in coastal Karnataka. And when I read that Shilpa’s Aayi (mother) actually lives in Kodkani, a village near Kumta, I had to make the pilgrimage and take darshan of this Devi – the inspiration behind Aayi’s Recipe. I contacted Shilpa and asked to visit her parents. She readily agreed and gave me their contact details.

And on a beautiful Saturday, I hitched a ride on a school bus dropping kids off to kodkani. Now, that in itself needs a separate post.

As the bus pulled up at the designated place, Shilpa’s father was waiting and brought me to their beautiful home! Wow! A traditional style bungalow, which immediately transported me back to the home of my grandparents in Bhatkal. Terracotta tiled roof; an open ‘jagli’ and a tulsi vrindavan in the front yard. The magnificently blossoming tulsi gave me great vibes of the place (see pic later).

And what a joy it was to finally meet Shilpa’s Aayi! Yes, Aayi of “Aayi’s Recipes.” Hundreds of thousands have salivated at her dishes, as shared by Shilpa. Legions have been inspired to try her creations for their loved ones. And so many look forward each day to new posts to titillate the palate. And I was invited to a beautiful konkani lunch made by her! 😀

Look at the spread. I hurriedly captured it before wolfing everything down. By the time I was through, not a morsel was left. What is more beautiful than all those recipes Shilpa posts on AayisRecipes? Eating dishes lovingly made by her Aayi! … and I got to eat it! nyean, nyean, nyean, nyean!

Continue reading “Meeting Aayi of Aayis Recipes”

Portuguese Inquisition and Revisionism

Due to my heritage and interest in Konkani Temples in Goa, and particularly our Kuldevata Ramnathi Devasthan I have been researching books on the Portuguese occupation in Goa. During the Portuguese Inquisition lasting more than 150 years (1560 – 1812), the Jesuits made a systematic attempt at wiping out the Konkani heritage in Goa. Konkanis were either tortured and killed, forced to convert, or give up their lands and migrate. In a desperate attempt at genocide, all Konkani temples in older Goa were ransacked, wealth stolen and destroyed. It was the men-of-the cloth, who spread the horrors of the Inquisition, and later Anglicans who put political pressure on the Portuguese forcing it to end the Inquisition.

I have tracked scores of such books from the 18th and 19th century which shed a grim light on the atrocities of the Portuguese, all in the name of their God. In the midst of an enormous amount of historical literature, there are always the revisionists, trying to cast a softer glow on the Portuguese Inquisition. This one by an ordained priest takes the cake.

A few lines from his work and my related comments.
An Historical Sketch of Goa, Rev. Denis L. Cottineau de Kloguen (DK)
Gazette Press, Madras (1831), Reprinted pp 44-45
Also available digitized from the Library at Harvard College, Cambridge, MA; Pg 69 – 70.

Original text in italics is contiguous in one paragraph; my comments are in regular text. In this paragraph, the Kloguen is trying to defend the Archbishop D Alexins de Menezes.

DK – … Some acts of violence by the Portuguese agents may have been committed, both before and after him, but they are not to be imputed to him.
AS – Really! Everyone else is to blame, but not the Archbishop who actually had more power in Goa than the political appointee?

DK – It is equally false, that, followed by the officers of the Inquisition, he went armed with fire and sword, to compel the inhabitants of Salsette to embrace the Christian religion. The Jesuits converted a great part of them by the usual and most laudable means;
AS – Reminded me of the recent controversial remarks by Pope Benedict 16th: (from the NY Times) “… in Brazil, … native populations had been “silently longing” for the Christian faith brought to South America by colonizers.” The Rev is probably alluding to such an “innate longing” for torture and death.

DK – but in order as they thought, the better to detach the remainder of the inhabitants from worship of idols, they destroyed all the temples and pagodas.
AS – Much to the embarrassment of the Jesuits, many forced converts continued to visit temples and kept to their traditional Hindu ways. The only way to prevent this was to destroy the temples. How many is “all”? How many temples were destroyed in Goa?

DK – This however, had the contrary effect; and the Pagans, exasperated at this circumstance, rose up in arms, murdered five jesuits, and several Portuguese.
AS – Did the Jesuits really expect anything else? Note the choice of the word “murdered” when associated with the Jesuits and the Portuguese. BTW, when “all temples and pagodas” were destroyed, how many of the locals were killed? Smoothly overlooked. And really, when armed men go in and destroy peoples temples, wouldn’t you expect an equally violent response?

DK – The Governor then felt himself obliged to use arms likewise to reduce the rebels; and of course did not after wards permit the temples to be rebuilt.
AS – “reduce the rebels” here is an euphemism for “massacring the population”! And since when did the locals become the “rebels” in their own lands? Don’t the ‘rebels’ have the right to defend their lands, home and temples?

DK – But in all this, the Archbishop had nothing to do, and what is certainly better proved, are the good works and the pious establishments of Goa, of which he is the founder.
AS – Looks like he is an ideal candidate for sainthood, no?



My Posts Related to the Ramnathi Devasthan and other Konkani Temples:


Colva Beach – Serenely Beautiful

Colva Beach Goa sunset pics by Arun Shanbhag
On our visit to India in June, we paid a short visit to Goa. Starting on the early morning flight from Mumbai and after visiting the Ramnathi Devasthan, we arrived at the beach-front resort in Colva, early in the afternoon. We were so fatigued, both of us promptly fell asleep. The drumming of the heavy rains outside pushed us deeper in sleep. On waking up around 5 pm, and a leisurely coffee, we ambled onto the beach. The rains had stopped but the skies were still overcast.
Continue reading “Colva Beach – Serenely Beautiful”

Idli Sambar: Its whats for brunch!

Idli Sambar: Its whats for brunch!

Of late, I was craving idlis. First it was Lakshmi, who tormented us with her pati's excellent idli making skills. Then at the Konkani Sammelan we had idli sambar for breakfast, and I only got one serving! Considering the long lines, I felt guilty and did not go for seconds. *Yes sad!*

But the ever-vigilant M dearest noticed my silent suffering. She soaked the dal for two days, ground it, fermented if for a day and on Saturday morning made delicious idlis. She even made the perfect sambar, just the way I liked it – from scratch and by blending all the spices. And with lots of eggplant, peppers and potatoes. I like the gritty feed. No powders were used in the preparation of this sambar!

And yes! I went for seconds, … and thirds!

Back from the Konkani Sammelan

Just returned from the fascinating and utterly exhausting Konkani Sammelan held in Toronto, Canada. For three days we were immersed in all aspects of Konkani life amidst 1,700 others from North America. We ate delicious konkani foods served up by chefs brought from Bangalore, India and Pittsburgh, USA, specifically for this event. From eight in the morning to midnight, we were entertained by back to back plays, skits, music, dance, educational and cultural seminars, and a healthy dose of panchadika (gossip).

Like Konkanis historically, we lived a nomadic life here in the US, moving from city to city every few years (Boston is our longest stay). So this Sammelan gave us an opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with old friends, and make new ones. I even got to meet the talented . The play she acted in was “sold out,” and I could not see her perform. 😦

Sadly, we missed a few friends who are no longer with us. Meeting with their families was soothing; And only strengthened my resolve to squeeze every drop of happiness from this life. At the end of the Sammelan, I hurried through the good byes ~ ordinarily, I like to just sneak away ~ and we promised ourselves to meet more often.

On a personal note, my talk Konkani Temples in Goa was well received. In responding to the innumerable requests for copies of my talk (bibliography and pictures), I have prepared a separate post on , listing the Bibliography and other links.

Cashew Nuts: To Your Health

Factories play an important role in India's rural economy. They provide jobs for local men and women, which translates into money to buy food, send kids to school, buy medicines if needed, repair and maintain a house and save some money. Villages and towns in India (as elsewhere in the world) don't need an handout, they need a hand-up! People are willing to work hard, but they need jobs with good working conditions and a decent pay. And customers who are willing to pay a fair price for their products. On every visit to rural india my ears are alert for news of well run companies creating jobs for locals.

In the Konkan town of Kumta, I visited the Sahyadri Cashew Processing factory run by Mr Murlidhar Prabhu. He is a relative of a relative. I was particularly impressed that he hired a lot of women in his factory. Of the more than 250 people he employs, only 8 were men and more than 240 were women. WoW!

“But do they like working here,” I asked. “Most of our new workers are younger daughters, sisters, and relatives of those already working here,” he explained, implying that if the pay was not good, or work conditions onerous, workers would not be bringing other family members in to work. Within a few years of working the women are able to save a decent amount of money. They generally leave when they get married and move out of town. Their ability to earn a living also makes them more marriageable, to a better person and gives them the confidence to seek other jobs wherever they move.

We need more such social entrepreneurs in the villages and towns of India. No! We do not need more television sets, or dainty models selling shampoo, or fancy soaps. Certainly not coffee shops or liquor bars or 'menthol' cigarettes or posh grocery stores. So the next time you munch on the nuts, remember all the folks working in the factories in rural india and elsewhere whose job depends on your choices. Did I mention nuts are actually very good for you?

The hard, gray, raw cashew seeds, perched below the fruit are collected and dried. Seeds are first steamed and allowed to cool in large heaps on the factory floor. The quick heating and cooling causes the kernel to separate from the shell. Operating steam boilers and loading /unloading large bags of cashew seeds was the only tasks in this factory performed by men. Women handled all other jobs here.

After cooling, women on tables with rudimentary cutters expertly position each seed in a v-grip using the hand lever. Then a foot operated lever snips the outer shell longitudinally in half. Cut seeds tumble through a hopper to a basket on the floor.
pics of women working in a cashew nut factory in Kumta Karnataka by Arun Shanbhag

… where another woman separates the whole nut kernel from the shell. The gray shell has corrosive agents and women rub oil on their hands to protect from the corrosive effects. The shells are sold off to companies which extract oils, which are apparently an important ingredient in marine paint used on ships and docks. May explain why most ships are painted gray?
pics of women working in a cashew nut factory in Kumta Karnataka by Arun Shanbhag


Collected nuts are dried in an oven, making the skin brittle and easy to remove. While I suffer at this chore, the women fly through at a dizzying speed. They use a tiny knife to scrape and release the skin on the inner surface of the nut. Then the rest of the skin just falls off. Preliminary sorting of the nuts is also performed at this stage.
pics of women working in a cashew nut factory in Kumta Karnataka by Arun Shanbhag


On these tables the cashew nuts are sorted depending on their size, colour and if they are chipped. Halfs and pieces of nuts are also sorted by size. This grading determines the ultimate price of the cashew nuts.
pics of women working in a cashew nut factory in Kumta Karnataka by Arun Shanbhag


The sorting tables were in a large well-lit area.
pics of women working in a cashew nut factory in Kumta Karnataka by Arun Shanbhag


The cashew nuts undergo extensive quality control before packaging. Nuts are placed on a conveyor belt and inspected. Over a sieve, dust and other contaminants are sucked. Over a magnetic table, metallic contaminants are removed. Cashew nuts are then packaged in vacuum in large packs (greater than 10kg). Most of the cashew nuts from this factory are exported through bulk dealers. They do have their own private label that you saw above. Depending upon the needs of the customer, the factory also does some post processing such as roasting cashew nuts with spices.
pics of women working in a cashew nut factory in Kumta Karnataka by Arun Shanbhag


Note on photographs: All factory pics were shot in Sept 2004 using my Olympus C4040, 4MP point and shoot digital camera, confirming you don't need fancy cameras to take good pics. I do have a dSLR which I have been using more recently. The opening cashew fruit pic was from an indian cashew trade association website.

Dhanya in Honavar

My cousin brother is a bhat-maam (priest) in the small konkan town of Honavar, 15 miles south of Kumta. His parents had insisted he get a college degree – so after his BA in Economics he still decided to follow their priestly traditions. They live in spartan accommodations beside the temple. I have fond memories of visiting them during my school summer vacations. Every morning we herded cows to a distant pasture. There we would bathe in a local stream! 🙂 O, what joys for a city brat. Now I only visit during my India trips and don't herd cows. Can't forget my roots, which need constant nourishing!

His daughter, Dhanya is the cutest girl I have seen. Here I had to interrupt her doodling on the kitchen floor. The beam of light is from a makeshift skylight. A couple of terracotta tiles in the roof are replaced with a sheet of glass. Wisps of smoke are from the burning wood embers used for cooking. They have a gas cooking range, but my aunt grew up using a wood fire and rarely uses the range. The old-style door has a sliding latch and the open pantry is lined with steel dabbas.

What do you need to be happy? You'd be right if you guessed – a divine daughter and a row of mithai-filled dabbas! I am currently batting zero for a million!

Is Steve Jobs a Konkani?

He certainly sounds like a Konkani in this article in The Economist.


Mr Jobs, a pescatarian (ie, a vegetarian who eats fish) … . (you want more?)

… he proclaims his belief in karma and in love. … love of one's ideals. Always do only what you love, and never settle, he advised … . His brush with cancer, in particular, seems to have focused his mind. “Death is very likely the single best invention in life,” Mr Jobs told his young audience. “All external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

Overall, an excellent article!

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