Setting Up

  • What is more enjoyable? The process of creation, planning, rehearsing, building sets or the actual performance itself with the inherent anxiety and applause that the word implies? It's moot, isn't it? I love both (proc. & perf.) and that’s sort of a mission with Theatre Lab. To take the onus off performance; being on stage, the limelight, the sparkly stuff. There’s a dark glamour about backstage and production that is enchanting if only one gets into it.

    Here at the farm we've been setting up for Christmas 2010. Madan and Anna loaded up their car with provisions, wine, the kids, Feather...we loaded up with tart trays, wineglasses, fairy lights and tinsel....and onward ho!


    After the Heap Debacle, I ventured into Cookie Dough Ornament territory. Fortunately this one is a no-brainer and besides the fact that I couldn’t find my Christmas cookie cutters (angel, bell, star) and so had to make do with a single, round shape, I’m pleased to report that all went well. Here’s a recipe:

    The Cookie Dough Ornaments
    4 cups all-purpose flour
    1 cup salt
    1 1/2 cups warm water

    Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
    Mix flour and salt well. Gradually add water, stirring with a large spoon. Finish mixing with hands. Knead until soft and pliable. Roll out on floured surface about 1/8 inch thick. Cut shapes with cookie cutters. Place on cookie sheets. With a knitting needle or skewer make a hole in the top of the ornament for threading string. Bake at 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) until hard, about 1 hour. Decorate with poster colours and a layer varnish to preserve. Run ribbon through the holes and make a bow.

    We have 40 family and friends + 4 dogs staying over Christmas. Brinda, Pat & Yann + 20 friends and 3 of their dogs + 3 of our dogs are staying over the new year.


    The weather is crisp and wintry. The togri, huruli and avarekkai are doing well (although the fields look really weedy) and await a winter reaping. I made some Limoncello (with limes) and Christmas Cakes a couple weeks ago. The Limoncello is gorgeous, a light lemon colour and really fragrant, a recipe worth trying. I totally trust Nigel Slater’s recipes and so made his Christmas Cake. But I messed up on the quantity of fruit (too much) as I’m hopeless with conversions. So my cake is having a hard time holding together but tastes lovely. I offer you both recipes:


    ·         15 lemons (I used limes)
    ·         2 bottles (750 ml) 100-proof vodka or grain alcohol
    ·         4 cups sugar
    ·         5 cups water

    Step 1:
    Wash and dry the lemons.
    Zest lemons, making sure not to get the pith.
    Add one bottle of vodka and the zest to a 1-gallon glass jar.
    Let sit 10 to 45 days.
    Store the jar in a cool, dry place and don't leave near sunlight.
    The longer the zest sits in the vodka, the more vibrant the color of the liquid.

    Step 2 (After 10 to 45 days):
    Combine sugar and water in a pan and cook until thickened to make a simple syrup. Let this mixture cool and add to the limoncello mixture.
    Add the additional bottle of vodka in and leave it alone for 10 to 45 days.

    Step 3 (After an additional 10 to 45 days):
    When done aging, strain out the lemon zest and bottle the limoncello. It's easiest to save old glass liquor bottles and clean them thoroughly before bottling.
    Keep the limoncello in the freezer and serve icy cold.

    See this link for Nigel Slater’s Christmas Cake
    For our tree at the farm, we all trudged off looking for a dried branch. Zui had this idea that the farm tree should be minimalist, adorned with just red baubles and the cookie dough ornaments. Kuki finally spotted the perfect one near the rocks at the north end. Zui cut it for us and then the kids painted it white.

     This was followed by the usual argument about the perfect spot for the tree and the manger.  

    And finally, as the sun set, the lights went on.

    Only to discover that the star was so close to the roof that it was invisible from anywhere but the spot just beneath the tree. “The three wise men saw the star from the east and we can’t even see it from the verandah” griped Madan. So tomorrow, we change that, for the star must be visible to all.

    Its Christmas time folks, why does this make us so happy? Is it the year end or is it because it frees us to simply love? No Cartesian confusion about intelligence versus emotions. And if you get far enough from the duplicity of capitalism disguised as festivity, you can rest into your family and loved ones, no stress about how much, how big, how important, how known, how seen...and have yourself a really sweet Christmas.
    This is my Christmas wish for me. And for you.

    In the spirit of the love we bear and the love we ought to bear, I leave you with this…

    Tat Tvam Asi

    And this…

    Abiding in the Shadow of the Almighty 
    (Psalm 91. From The Holy Bible: King James version)
    He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High
    shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
    I will say of the LORD,
    He is my refuge and my fortress:
    my God; in him will I trust.
    Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler,
    and from the noisome pestilence.
    He shall cover thee with his feathers,
    and under his wings shalt thou trust:
    his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
    Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night;
    nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
    nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness;
    nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
    A thousand shall fall at thy side,
    and ten thousand at thy right hand;
    but it shall not come nigh thee.
    Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold
    and see the reward of the wicked.
    Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge,
    even the Most High, thy habitation;
    there shall no evil befall thee,
    neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
    For he shall give his angels charge over thee, 
    to keep thee in all thy ways.
    They shall bear thee up in their hands,
    lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. 
    Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder:
    the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet. 
    Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him:
    I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
    He shall call upon me, and I will answer him:
    I will be with him in trouble;
    I will deliver him, and honor him.
    With long life will I satisfy him,
    and show him my salvation.

    Merry Christmas...much togetherness, much laughter, much peace!


My Gingerbread Heap


This is what comes from thinking you’re the cat’s bloody whiskers.

Come December and I feel compelled to bake and make and generally pursue Super Mom status. But the thing is I am rubbish at it. I need help folding when I attempt paper snowflakes and I have started (with maximum love) embroidering two towels that ended as wash cloths or something equally low because chain stitch is not my forte and good intentions are not enough when trying to sew an elegant K.

So it was with much patience and some foreboding that Kuki watched me start a Gingerbread House. It looked adorable and easy in the online Interactive Christmas Guide. The writer spoke coyly of how she made it with her tiny daughter and how they glued together broken bits with caramel and it was all very “Deck the Halls” and snow drifts. So I started with much misplaced bravado.

Admittedly, the dough was divine. It had enough ground almonds, root ginger and orange zest to take anyone down.

The first road block was the various shapes I needed to roll out, place on butter paper and bake. Kuki cut me lovely templates (he’s Virgo) and said “Follow these and you’ll be set.” But the angles befuddled me (I’m Pisces) so I rolled them templates in a ball and threw them away. Said road block can be broken down as follows:
1.       No large flat baking trays
2.       Oven not big enough
3.       How do you roll these extraordinary shapes on a 8” diameter ….(what do you call the marble companion of a rolling pin that we roll chapattis on?)

Reader, my style is usually slosh in some wine, splash in some extra virgin. You know what I’m saying? But, I am hugely intrepid if somewhat undomesticated.

1.      I rolled out roughly (very roughly) the sort of shapes that I would require
2.      I placed them on butter paper (acquired from a recently purchased baguette)
3.      Got Kuki to hold the oven open for me as I gingerly placed the sheets, tray-less, in the oven.

Oh, the fragrance of cinnamon and clove that filled the house gave me a Martha Stewart moment for about 6 seconds. That is, until I had to take the sheets out and place them somewhere flat where neither cat nor human would sit on them. All the while Kuki kept up a stream of barbs about  “Kirtu’s ruins….Mohenjo Daro…the heap from Harappa…Stonehenge…”

Dear Reader, I ignored all the above because the writer of the recipe had said she “patched up everything with caramel and a showering of icing sugar” so I knew I had a few weapons left in my arsenal.

Assembling my pile was another story. But again, Kuki to the rescue. Muttering beneath his breath because I threw away his perfect template, he held panels (‘tis true, they sadly resembled Harappan ruins) as I tried to glue uneven surfaces together with caramel. Finally! We had a barn like structure with a high ceiling and gaping hopes between wall and roof.

Then the bliss of pouring snowy white royal icing on the roof and sieving icing sugar over everything. Reader, the recipe was right! It looked magical. Zui got into it at this point and a strategically placed wreath and Santa lolling on the chimney just completed the picture. Then we added fairy lights and ….My Martha Stewart Moment came home to roost.


By this time I was puffed up with…what is the word for “so self-satisfied and gleeful that others want to scratch your eyes out”? A sort of… “Ooooh, stick that Good Housekeeping, feminists can make gingerbread houses too.” I took about 700 pictures of my adorable little Hansel & Gretel style confectionary and went to bed smiling with Stepfordian confidence.
I woke up to the scent of Christmas in the house. And then I saw it. My trophy, my beauty, my gingerbread house was now a crestfallen and defeated pile on the ground. The fairy lights left on through the night had melted the caramel and the whole precious structure came a-tumbling down…
That’s it. That’s my Christmas Moral: Don’t be imagining you’re Martha Stewart ya'll! Stick with the plebs and buy plumcake from All Saints. Have a happy December everyone!

The colourful round things on newspaper? Part of my new project - Cookie Dough Christmas Ornaments!


Waiting for the Arecanuts

Not to be confused with Argonauts. Argonauts were Greek and the stuff of myth. They hung with Jason as he hunted for his Golden Fleece. Mine are Areca catechu; adikke as we call them in Karnataka. In Meghalaya, while shooting Guhya, we heard it called kwai.

Fields of arecanut always brings to mind Malnad; Sagar, Heggodu, Ninasam. First time I met the extraordinary K.V.Subanna was during the Royal National Theatre - Project Nadya (circa 1994). 8 young girls from Bangalore and 8 girls of Indian origin from London and us facilitators - Soumya Varma and myself. We went to Ninasam, and Ninasam cast her spell. In the mornings we danced kollaata, then took Yakshagana lessons. Evenings we watched rehearsals for Ashwathama. A faint drizzle in the afternoons and fragrant coffee and conversation in the canteen. The pinnacle - listening to K.V.Subbanna speak of the genesis of Ninasam, all of us sitting on the floor of the little library. This is really the stuff that dreams are made of. Other Malnad veterans (and adikke chewers) would include UR Ananthmurthy, family friend and literateur par excellence, author of Suryana Kudhare, Samskara, Avasthe and so much more. Akshara, son of KV Subbanna and present director of Ninasam, Chidanand Jambe, ex-director of both Ninasam and Rangayana. And my best girl - Radha Sullur, Chithaara artist extraordinaire.

                                                           Photo Credit: KS Rajaram 

                                                        Rain from the Canteen at Ninasam

                                                                                                                                                                                                           Shivrama Karanth Ranga Mandira, Ninasam

Long and the short of it, Kuki and I were thinking about what to grow on our third field, when Hanumanthappa swept in with both his nati cows and a couple goats and via Nagaraj, his spokesman, communicated to us that the best plan would be to grow banana and adikke in the same field. OK, we said, succumbing once again to his alleged superior knowledge of farming. Also, we had illusions of swaying areca palms, Malnad-style, and us drinking coffee and watching the light fall through their lovely slenderness.

It's been three years now and the areca, let me tell you, do not oblige. They take their own bloody time. Every week, we make our ritualistic walk through the field to measure growth. For two years - absolutely nothing. Year 3, there was some slight effort. But I swear it's like pulling teeth. While the bananas are all leaf and flamboyance, the areca are reluctant and prissy. Late growers, is what they would be called in school.

But the other day while searching for a pumpkin on the floor of the banana-adikke field, I noticed that the trees that are planted inside have had a sudden growth spurt. Hmmmm....so this is must be adolescence.


Tell me,
you who know of poetry –
I know nothing of it
but I know what rasam is.

Do you think it’s a mere nothing?
It calls for a blend
of the principles of water,
aroma and essence –
a tempered state reached after simmering . . .
Thus . . .

There it was in the corner,
a container with rasam,
on a seemingly dead and ash-covered
coalfire, waiting and waiting . . .
Does it matter that it waits?

In the great durbar of meat dishes
seasoned with spices that sparkled,
of servers who danced as they walked,
of laughter and chatter,
it had waited, since morning,
the clear rasam on a seemingly dead
coalfire, simmering,
still fresh even at night.

You who know all about poetry,
tell me,
do you know what rasam is?

Forgive me,
I don’t know any poetry.
By Vaidehi
Translated from Kannada by Dr.Ramchandra Sharma