There are just a few tables free but I am informed that the crowd at Halli Mane is less than usual. You can excuse my disbelief because there are people as far as the eye can see all standing elbow to elbow while I wonder if we should we go in and have the Rs.250/- Sankranti Sadya on a sprightly green banana leaf or stand at a stainless steel table outside and eat sparingly. Since none of us are really hungry the matter is settled without mediation. The Bisibele Bhath arrives in a generous quantity and is delicious.
Thus fortified, we walk down Sampige Road to buy the traditional Ellu-Bella ( a jaggery, coconut, sesame and peanut mix ) which is sold separately in packets but is also pre-mixed for busy householders. Malleswaram, one of the oldest localities in Bangalore is humming and buzzing with festive anticipation. We pass the Janatha Hotel but have no space for its famous dosas today. We turn into the market near the Kannika Parameshwari Temple. The 8th Cross Malleswaram Market has lured us here with a promise of fresh grains, fruit and seasonal vegetables that have just come in for Sankranti. The intention is to just loiter with no fixed agenda, a rare opportunity in today’s times. But we are also on a hunt for the special `Sakare Achhu’ ( sweet candy) moulds. Tall stacks of sugarcane are everywhere. I bite into one and there is an instant connect with the soil.
I can almost feel the warm winter sun and hear harvest songs in the fields as the sickle chops it in big sweeps. It’s the same when I split open the muddy peanuts, crisp avarekai beans and hold pink sweet potato in my hand. Fresh, turmeric with green leaves intact spills out of baskets. Childhood memories of family gatherings to enjoy fresh seasonal produce filter in and I am grateful to be reminded about the joys of eating local.
But visiting the market with its castes, communities, colours, shapes, sounds, smells and textures was in itself an adventure as was the pre-ordained haggling and sense of community that came from shared experiences. Everything looked and smelt sharper. The local supermarket pales in comparison with polished vegetables lying limp in little boxes.
The 8th Cross market in Malleswaram is small, crowded and intimate. Today, quantities are being deliberated over as the traditional Sankranti menu is planned right at the push cart. In a short while, people across India will pray for a good harvest and prosperity while giving thanks for the bounty received.
While Makara Sankranti marks the passage of the sun into the sign of Makara ( Capricorn ) and the beginning of the new harvest season, it is also a celebration of the eternal cycles that nourish and nurture us. After the bleak days of winter, Sankranti is a joyous affirmation of the inevitable passage from darkness to light. A celebration of the sun.
Songs will be sung as girls in bright colours fly through the air on flower draped swings. Slender kites will flutter across the sky and head towards the Sun God. Milk and jaggery will boil over in Tamil homes at dawn for Pongal, cattle will be decorated and Ellu-Bella will be distributed to friends and family across Karnataka. Homes and souls will be washed clean as the old gives way to the new.
But life is already joyous for those who have acquired jewellery, bangles, blouse pieces and bindi’s here at special prices. As we walk down the long, narrow market lane past the Ganesha Temple, we slow down to admire green pepper corns and ripe, luscious berries. There is nothing more pleasurable than wandering aimlessly through a market without a fixed route or destination. It makes succumbing to life’s small pleasures so much easier.
Malleswaram is a curious blend of the old and new as yoga and cultural centres sit beside coffee franchises and ancient temples. The Kadu ( forest) Mallesha Temple in this erstwhile village of Mallapura was built by Venkoji I, Shivaji’s brother, way before the plans for this new extension were laid down in 1898 by Diwan Sheshadri Iyer after the Great Plague of Bangalore claimed over 12,000 ( ( TP Issar, The City Beautiful) lives in congested Shivajinagar.
As we approach the 13th Cross market, the air is slowly scented with the fragrance of roses and jasmine. We linger for a while, admire the massive flower garlands and stop for some sugarcane juice before walking onto Veena Stores for `chowchow bhaath‘ and coffee. I am told no one can ever go hungry in Malleswaram and I agree.
Laden with sweet potato, sugar cane, Ellu-Bella and a book on Karnataka from the second hand Surya book store on 10th Cross, I leave this land of plenty without the Sakare Achhu moulds, but not before planning to return and lay seige to the Iyer Mess on 7th Cross.
It seems impossible to not think of food when in Malleswaram ! But then what is a harvest for ?
– First post of 2012 ! Wishing you all a year of peace and plenty !