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


Music of a Sunday

If there is any one art that could wrench your heart right out, what would it be? 
For me it's easy...music. Nothing - not film, not theatre, not visual art - can match music for me. I'm admittedly a pop music junkie and somewhat addicted to Youtube. Born in 1966, I was ripe for the sounds of the  ‘70’s. Led Zepellin’s Immigrant Song to this day can turn my head right round, right round, make me go down, down. But the ‘80s were also fantastic – Oh, Prince! Or T.A.F.K.A.P, why have you disallowed your songs from being played on Youtube? Besides pop, I will listen to most anything that answers for me all those vague karmic longings - MS Subbalakshmi’s Shuprabhatam, Dexter Gordon playing ‘Round Midnight, Billie Holiday singing God Bless the Child, Abida Parveen, Bhimsen Joshi, Daude, Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma…

Here’s what went down one week in October.

A team of German theatre-makers from the Schnawwl Theatre were in Bangalore to meet musicians, experience sounds and instruments and jam on certain ideas for theatre. I roped Kuki in because I knew he’d have some funky places up his sleeve. Sure enough, he first took us to the old music shops in Balepet. Through narrow corridors and between pawn brokers, he led the way, telling us that all the old shops that had previously specialized in veenas and mridangas were now beginning to make guitars. Bingo! As we entered the first shop, dusty and interesting, a young family, mother and two sons, walked in and asked to buy a guitar.

We looked in on a khanjeera maker and bought beautifully crafted goat skin khanjeeras (lizard skin khanjeeras can only be purchased by traditional khanjeera players) for the remarkably low price of Rs 150 a piece.

And then on a Sunday, a bevy of musicians brought their loveliness to Infinite Souls. 

Vidushi Shanthi Rao & C.N.Anand. 

Ambi Subramaniam, incredibly talented son of Dr.L.Subramaniam.


Coordt was on hand with his cajon and Kuki with his guitar.

And Shrunga, the young actor playing Naz in Boy with a Suitcase, all ready to improvise with his script.

In the soft October light and with a wind coming through the banana field, we listened to them. Painting pictures in sound, Carnatic making way for Hindustani, Kuki always solicitous of others, listening to the intention behind Shrunga’s words, trying to create through silence and sound the experience of travel, danger, strange lands, longing.

Then Pallavi’s vachanas ringing true through open space and reaching the ears of Neighbour Huchappa and his goats. This unusual combination of Kannada words in the Hindustani style... Indina dina Aananda

Bob Dylan once wrote of Joan Baez’s voice
“When all at once the silent air
Split open from her soundin’ voice
Without no warnin’ from her lips
An’ by instinct my blood reversed
An’ I shook and started reachin’ for
That wall that was supposed t’ fall”

Pallavi has that sort of voice; a “soundin’ voice”.

Shanthi and Ambi playing a tillaana together. The one so experienced, playing her veena, Goddess Sarasvathi’s instrument. The other so young, playing his violin. My heart, floating elsewhere.

Just as Shrunga speaks about goats or cattle, Huchappa’s goats being meh-mehing.

Actor/director Josefina Baez often uses the word “gladly”.
Gladly, I lived that Sunday.
Gladly, I heard this music.