A Baker from Goa
This is a pen-portrait of a traditional Goan village baker who still
has an important place in his society.
OUR elders are often heard reminiscing nostalgically
about those good old Portuguese days, the Portuguese
and their famous loaves of bread. Those eaters of loaves
might have vanished but the makers are still there.
We still have amongst us the mixers, the moulders
and those who bake the loaves. Those age-old, timetested
furnaces still exist. The fire in the furnaces
has not yet been extinguished. The thud and jingle of
the traditional baker’s bamboo, heralding his arrival
in the morning, can still be heard in some places.
Maybe the father is not alive but the son still carries
on the family profession. These bakers are, even today,
known as pader in Goa.
During our childhood in Goa, the baker used to
be our friend, companion and guide. He used to
come at least twice a day. Once, when he set out in
the morning on his selling round, and then again,
when he returned after emptying his huge basket.
The jingling thud of his bamboo woke us up from
sleep and we ran to meet and greet him. Why was
it so? Was it for the love of the loaf? Not at all. The
loaves were bought by some Paskine or Bastine,
the maid-servant of the house! What we longed for
were those bread-bangles which we chose carefully.
Sometimes it was sweet bread of special make.
The baker made his musical entry on the scene
with the ‘jhang, jhang’ sound of his specially made
bamboo staff. One hand supported the basket on
his head and the other banged the bamboo on the
ground. He would greet the lady of the house with
“Good morning” and then place his basket on the
vertical bamboo. We kids would be pushed aside
with a mild rebuke and the loaves would be delivered
to the servant. But we would not give up. We would
climb a bench or the parapet and peep into the
basket, somehow. I can still recall the typical
fragrance of those loaves. Loaves for the elders and
the bangles for the children. Then we did not even
care to brush our teeth or wash our mouths
properly. And why should we? Who would take the
trouble of plucking the mango-leaf for the
toothbrush? And why was it necessary at all? The
tiger never brushed his teeth. Hot tea could wash
and clean up everything so nicely, after all!
Coorg is coffee country, famous for its rainforests and spices.
MIDWAY between Mysore and the coastal town of
Mangalore sits a piece of heaven that must have
drifted from the kingdom of god. This land of rolling
hills is inhabited by a proud race of martial men,
beautiful women and wild creatures.
Coorg, or Kodagu, the smallest district of
Karnataka, is home to evergreen rainforests, spices
and coffee plantations. Evergreen rainforests cover
thirty per cent of this district. During the monsoons,
it pours enough to keep many visitors away. The
season of joy commences from September and
continues till March. The weather is perfect, with
some showers thrown in for
good measure. The air
breathes of invigorating
coffee. Coffee estates and
colonial bungalows stand
tucked under tree canopies
in prime corners.
The fiercely independent
people of Coorg are possibly
of Greek or Arabic descent.
As one story goes, a part of
Alexander’s army moved
south along the coast and
settled here when return
became impractical. These
people married amongst the
locals and their culture is
apparent in the martial
traditions, marriage and
religious rites, which are
distinct from the Hindu
mainstream. The theory of
Arab origin draws support
from the long, black coat
with an embroidered waist-belt worn by the Kodavus.
Known as kuppia, it resembles the kuffia worn by
the Arabs and the Kurds.
with an embroidered waist-belt worn by the Kodavus.
Coorgi homes have a tradition of hospitality, and
they are more than willing to recount numerous
tales of valour related to their sons and fathers.
The Coorg Regiment is one of the most decorated in
the Indian Army, and the first Chief of the Indian
Army, General Cariappa, was a Coorgi. Even now,
Kodavus are the only people in India permitted to
carry firearms without a licence.
The river, Kaveri, obtains its water from the hills
and forests of Coorg. Mahaseer — a large freshwater
fish — abound in these waters. Kingfishers dive for
their catch, while squirrels and langurs drop
partially eaten fruit for the mischief of enjoying the
splash and the ripple effect in the clear water.
Elephants enjoy being bathed and scrubbed in the
river by their mahouts.
The most laidback individuals become converts
to the life of high-energy adventure with river rafting,
canoeing, rappelling, rock climbing and mountain
biking. Numerous walking trails in this region are
a favourite with trekkers.
Birds, bees and butterflies are there to give you
company. Macaques, Malabar squirrels, langurs and
slender loris keep a watchful eye from the tree canopy.
I do, however, prefer to step aside for wild elephants.
The climb to the Brahmagiri hills brings you
into a panoramic view of the entire misty landscape
of Coorg. A walk across the rope bridge leads to the
sixty-four-acre island of Nisargadhama. Running
into Buddhist monks from India’s largest Tibetan
settlement, at nearby Bylakuppe, is a bonus. The
monks, in red, ochre and yellow robes, are amongst
the many surprises that wait to be discovered by
visitors searching for the heart and soul of India,
right here in Coorg.
Tea from Assam Pranjol, a youngster from Assam, is Rajvir’s classmate at school
in Delhi. Pranjol’s father is the manager of a tea-garden in Upper
Assam and Pranjol has invited Rajvir to visit his home during the
“CHAI-GARAM... garam-chai,” a vendor called out in a
He came up to their window and asked,”Chai, sa’ab?”
“Give us two cups,” Pranjol said.
They sipped the steaming hot liquid. Almost
everyone in their compartment was drinking tea too.
“Do you know that over eighty crore cups of tea
are drunk every day throughout the world?” Rajvir said.
“Whew!” exclaimed Pranjol. “Tea really is very
The train pulled out of the station. Pranjol buried
his nose in his detective book again. Rajvir too was
an ardent fan of detective stories, but at the moment
he was keener on looking at the beautiful scenery.
It was green, green everywhere. Rajvir had never
seen so much greenery before. Then the soft green
paddy fields gave way to tea bushes.
It was a magnificent view. Against the backdrop
of densely wooded hills a sea of tea bushes stretched
as far as the eye could see. Dwarfing the tiny tea
plants were tall sturdy shade-trees and amidst the
orderly rows of bushes busily moved doll-like figures.
In the distance was an ugly building with smoke
billowing out of tall chimneys.
Hey, a tea garden!” Rajvir cried excitedly.
Pranjol, who had been born and brought up on
a plantation, didn’t share Rajvir’s excitement.
Oh, this is tea country now,” he said. Assam has
the largest concentration of plantations in the world.
You will see enough gardens to last you a lifetime!
I have been reading as much as I could about
tea,” Rajvir said. No one really knows who
discovered tea but there are many legends.
Well, there’s the one about the Chinese emperor
who always boiled water before drinking it. One
day a few leaves of the twigs burning under the pot
fell into the water giving it a delicious flavour. It is
said they were tea leaves.
Tell me another! scoffed Pranjol.
We have an Indian legend too. Bodhidharma, an
ancient Buddhist ascetic, cut off his eyelids because
he felt sleepy during meditations. Ten tea plants
grew out of the eyelids. The leaves of these plants
when put in hot water and drunk banished sleep.
Tea was first drunk in China, Rajvir added,
as far back as 2700 B.C.! In fact words such as
tea, ‘chai’ and ‘chini’ are from Chinese. Tea came to
Europe only in the sixteenth century and was drunk
more as medicine than as beverage.
The train clattered into Mariani junction. The
boys collected their luggage and pushed their way
to the crowded platform.
Pranjol’s parents were waiting for them.
Soon they were driving towards Dhekiabari, the
tea-garden managed by Pranjol’s father.
An hour later the car veered sharply off the main
road. They crossed a cattle-bridge and entered
Dhekiabari Tea Estate.
On both sides of the gravel-road were acre upon
acre of tea bushes, all neatly pruned to the same
height. Groups of tea-pluckers, with bamboo baskets
on their backs, wearing plastic aprons, were
plucking the newly sprouted leaves.
Pranjol’s father slowed down to allow a tractor,
pulling a trailer-load of tea leaves, to pass.
“This is the second-flush or sprouting period,
isn’t it, Mr Barua?” Rajvir asked. “It lasts from May
to July and yields the best tea.”
“You seem to have done your homework before
coming,” Pranjol’s father said in surprise.
“Yes, Mr Barua,” Rajvir admitted. “But I hope to
learn much more while I’m here.”
Can there be a forest without trees? Where are the trees in this
poem, and where do they go?
The trees inside are moving out into the forest,
the forest that was empty all these days
where no bird could sit
no insect hide
no sun bury its feet in shadow
the forest that was empty all these nights
will be full of trees by morning..
All night the roots work
to disengage themselves from the cracks
in the veranda floor.
The leaves strain toward the glass
small twigs stiff with exertion
long-cramped boughs shuffling under the roof
like newly discharged patients
to the clinic doors.
I sit inside, doors open to the veranda
writing long letters
in which I scarcely mention the departure
of the forest from the house.
The night is fresh, the whole moon shines
in a sky still open
the smell of leaves and lichen
still reaches like a voice into the rooms.
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