It’s not often that one gets to feel like Indiana Jones or Captain Kirk – going where no man has gone before. But this bright and early morning, as I navigate my way through the quiet streets of Sampangiram Nagar, I feel quite like an adventurer on the brink of a great and exciting discovery. I am on a critical mission to uncover a well kept secret tucked away in a corner of this urban sprawl – some of the best Idli’s and Dosas in town! For me that’s a pretty big deal.
The sounds of Sampangiram Nagar waking up are all around me as I walk past Ranganna’s Refreshments. I don’t stop because I have a loftier goal in sight. Since the area is also inhabited by the weaver Devanga communities (along with a smattering of Vokkaligas and Tamil origin urban migrants, I also hear the clickety-clack of power looms nearby. I turn left and … run straight into a street packed with fruit, flower and vegetable sellers.
This is a street market with a difference, or so Suresh Jayaram, the Founder -Director of the artist’s initiative, 1, Shanthi Road tells me later because this rural mindscape in the heart of the urban sprawl is driven by a quaint ownership pattern. The market belongs to everyone because it runs quite happily onto pavements and into houses every morning. The homeowners are happy partners in this unique community event.
En route we walk past a lovely old Kalyani, fairly large but not very deep. Carved stone Yali’s flank the steps while Draupadi and her five Pandavas oversee this space from a niche in the wall. On either side of the steps are rotund little men and women clutching onto their nether regions. But speculations about these little fertility symbols and propriety in public spaces are irrelevant when combating an empty stomach. Besides, the boys playing cricket in this water body are oblivious to both improper little people and extensive debates about impropriety.
Just as my mind plays games with my stomach, I reach the Panchaligeshwara Temple and the Mutt! But before you wonder what dosas and idlis have to do with Mutts, let me guide you past the Mutt and the Naga Kallus towards the queue. We can talk while we wait.
The queue is indeed a great leveller. Everyone stands in line patiently in front of a modest, no fuss shed with an asbestos roof and blue walls. No one complains or tries to gatecrash. Quite civil if you ask me. No matter who you are, or what you drive up in, you have to wait. For some of the finest Dosas and Idlis in town served amidst the Serpent Stones.
The turmeric smeared, Serpent Stones scattered around are potent fertility symbols usually found on stone platforms under two Pipal trees (or a Pipal and a Neem) growing together (representing a male and female) with a Neem and Bael tree (sacred to Shiva) growing nearby as witnesses to their union or formal marriage. Many stones are placed by women anxious for a child or those who might have to atone (the Nagaprathisthana ) for killing a snake in their previous birth which is why they were cursed (Sarpa Dosham) with infertility in this current one. I love the intricate carving and sinuous lines of the stones.
The stones often depict the seven headed serpent (symbol of a high degree of psychic initiation), a woman with the lower body of a snake, or two intertwined serpents. Like the two serpents coiled around each other, sacred trees and serpent worship are closely connected in India with both often found side by side, like in the mysterious Sarpa Kavus, the sacred serpent groves of Kerala. Though snakes are symbols of fertility and immortality the world over, in India, they play a prominent role in our mythology, rituals (the Nagamandala, Nagaradhane) , ritual performances (Sarpa Tullal in Kerala, Dakkebali in Karnataka) and sacred practises
While we chat, the line has inched its way into the mess. Siddappa’s son tells me that Siddappa had a cataract operation that morning. But this doesn’t affect the number of dosas or idli’s being dished out or the pungency of the lipsmacking chutney that accompanies them.It doesn’t affect Siddappa’s spirit either !
The Mess serves only Divine Dosas (Rs.25 ), Idlis (Rs.4 ) and a Rice Bhath. No coffee. You wait (again) with a square section of banana leaf in hand and a newspaper underneath. The manufacturing section is in the corner and the consumption is…well…on benches in his personal space with pictures of Siddappa’s family staring down at you disapprovingly from the walls if you overeat.I’m sure they heartily disapprove of me.
Dosas are thumped into your hands, chutney is poured with quick efficiency (no plates or bowls to wash here) and the serious business of eating begins without any pleasantries. The divine Thuppa Dosas ensure that conversations are kept to the bare minimum- ” Chutney hakiree” or ” Innondu dosa kodi “ and finally, when you’ve totally had it, ” Saaku ! Saaku ! “
The crisp Masala Dosas are given in halves just in case we can’t eat it all, but I do know many who most definitely can! I suddenly think of that wonderful man, the botanist Benjamin Heynes. He was responsible for the first crop of potatoes grown in Bangalore at Nandi Hills, under the strict eye of a certain Colonel Cuppage. Thanks to them, the Masala Dosa will never want for `potato palya ‘ .
The Dosas and featherweight Idli’s live up to their reputation of excellence. Not surprising considering Siddappa served only Idli’s for many years. The temptation to attempt another round is iresistible, but not advisable. It won’t go down too well with the establishment as there’s a long line waiting outside. Time to wash your hands, pay up (there’s no cash counter, Siddapppa sits under a Peepal Tree for collections ) and wander through the secular Mutt with its Jesus photos for a bit.
At Siddappa’s Mess it ‘s not an Idli or a Dosa you pay for, but an experience. But then this is what life is all about. Moments like this, snatched from a busy schedule, go beyond our transactional living and the passive motions of our existence to add richness to our lives.
On the way back stop at Chamundeshwari Coffee Works for strong South Indian coffee. No expresso-shepresso, please! This outstanding breakfast deserves better. Cup in hand, I often sit on the pavement or linger under the tree at the corner for a bit. We’ve forgotten how to linger, no ?
Getting there :
Drive down Mission Road near the Corporation Circle and turn left at Geo Hotel. Head straight down till the Panchalingeshwara Temple. # 38, 7th Main, 5th Cross, Sampangiram Nagar, Bangalore. Open from 8:00 am – 11:00 am.Cash only.To be paid under the Peepul Tree.