thursday may twenty-fifth. my first indian birthday i remember. it's raining and, comme toujours, j'ai trop mange. as it should be, mayhaps. i woke up to two hand made cards of dried leaves and peacock feathers. and a handmade ceramic leaf oil lamp. thank you.
at breakfast sajibrother asked me why we celebrate birthdays. language, pronoun, identity, and culture have me confused enough that i couldn't parse if he meant we as
the people at Kanavu,
or _me_, personally.
i said something lame about an excuse to celebrate, then immediately thought of republic days, army days, independence days, victory days that, for some reason, i don't take as an excuse to celebrate. amendment: a harmless excuse to celebrate, the elevation of the banal (and thus benign).
"so the people celebrate birthdays there?"
"and then they cry at funeral days?"
"every year on the funferal day?"
oh, no. or, well, yes. um. i don't know.
satisfaction. back to the rice.
later, shirleyauntie grates the coconut flesh, slowly, methodically, so it cutes into small pieces for the making of milk. if a large scrape emerges she feeds it to chupie, her dog. she explains:
"now is the season of plenty for coconuts. so we will use a lot. in a couple of months there will be none. here, when we have we enjoy and we don't we do without."
a flashback to gujarat, to the walk, to a country road of sugarcane and cows somewhere in bharuch jilla. i pass a man giving orders under a tree. his workers told, he turns to talk to me. he eventually explains, "these people [ the adivasi labor imported from maharastra who live in temporary but permanent blue plastic tent homes ] don't have any education, any understanding. if they have twenty kilos of rice in home, they will eat it all and only come to work when it's finished. they are only concerned with pleasure, with today". each town in bharuch district has one paved street lined with three storey houses which the landowners have built. half are empty and cleaned occassionally by (underhoused) servants, their proper "residents" residing in the usa, uk, australia, fiji, etc. a few minutes walk from that paved street -- where i was without exception graciously hosted and entertained on my pilgrimage -- the huge colonies of laborers sprawl into lakes of sewage.
shirleyauntie again registers my attention: "we are interested in enjoying the present; the other way doesn't make sense. you feel frustrated at limiting yourself and angry when someone else takes more than 'her share'." you are always counting, hoarding, examining, judging. you are never free to enjoy. i know, i remember, i live like that sometimes.
perhaps it's not the coconut that is so good, but the taste of freedom. the pure enjoyment of the moment that knows and has no expectation to know of tomorrow. the taste of detachment that has no worry of not owning the taste of a coconut tomorrow or the next month. it is the reckless taste, perhaps counterintuitively to some notion of "us", which understands its limits, has an idea of enough, feels no fear of privation. the detached do not experience privation.
a truth i feel but a poor example. coconuts are living proof of the Godhead. no wonder these people -- brown men, indians, natives of the tropics -- believe in so many gods; they are blessed with so many coconuts. and each coconut is _so damned good_. it is oil, fiber, rope, medicine, food, drink, meat, milk, wood, brooms, art, furniture, and everything else.
there is this contradiction about the academy, about my life in the west, about living outside of "nature", that i'm just beginning to make simple. we seek to avoid injury, pain, and death, seek to protect ourselves from the mercury of weather, chance, and even each other. and some of us, at some times, within that framework, seek an understanding of our relationship to death and planet, of meaning, of what might have once been called God (with pleasant abandon). to the extent that we succeed in the former we are excluded from the latter.
that's what i'm gathering, anyhow -- from india, brasil, el salvador. from the poor and the adventuresome and the reckless and the spontaneous i have met, everywhere. to understand life (ie, death), one must be close to it, one must have immediate intuition of it, be afraid of it, be present to it. one must have death in the room, as part of life. not to live, i am saying, but to understand life, to answer all these questions you start asking if you pay attention (to anything -- farming or philosophy).
in these tropical zones, living outside "the built environment", that's a given. if the rains come late or the river floods your whole life, your whole village's life, is Other. there are no vitamin tablets for the dry season. there are no fever vaccinations. there are no emergency rooms. there is no (mechanical) life support. it's exactly what suburban rock climbers are dreaming of. death. the damn thing about it is that it's very real. neilu has a foot infection and there's no doctor and it's conceivable shit could get very bad. the damn thing about understanding death by being close to death is that you end up close to death. all the time.
the point however, is that today is my birthday and we made dessert. i'll get to it (the point, the payasum, the dessert, the (finally!) recipe) but first a backtracking clarifiaction. by "nature", above, I don't mean nature or Nature or NATURE (for those ken wilber afficionados) but rather AMAZON. i mean the real immediate total presence of Love as Death as expressed by the symphony of Being all around us. and particularly flying biting stinging insects. that kind of closeness, that kind of intimacy. the AMAZON. to clarify.
the keralan rice pudding. i'd take a picture but the camera broke (fucking tropics!) so instead i'll tell you it's a freshwater brown and varies in consistency from milk to the last fifth of a turkish coffee.
ingredients include: rice, coconuts, jaggery, ghee, raisins (and other sundrieds), and spices.
as it's basically a rice pudding, one uses equal parts (by weight) rice, sugar, and coconut (which will be the cooking liquid, just you wait).
jaggery is unrefined sugar, the pure result of boiling sugarcane juice in the heat of the tropical sun. it comes as sweet brown rocks which we will heat with water to melt. use just enough water so the jaggery doesn't burn. when the jaggery has melted completely (if the mixture boils, take it off the heat and stir to accentuate the process) you can send it through a (tea) strainer to remove imperfections (it comes from india -- and countries with a billion people often impart their imperfections). set aside.
while your third eye is trained on shiva and your second on the jaggery, grate the coconnuts. you can use a robot north of the 23rd but down here it's all about the coconut grater (picture of sugatha using ones in the bangalore photos...). four or fives coconuts per kilo of rice (and kilo of jaggery). grate it small and feed mistakes to dogs and small children (children and small dogs). when the coconut is grated you can wrap it in a clean tshirt and squeeze the blood out.
they call this the 1st milk. mix the meat from the first milk with hot water (making a short tea of sorts) and, when cool enough to touch, strain the milk out again. theu call this the 2nd milk. mix the meat from the second milk with hot water (making anothr tea of sorts) and, when cool enough to touch, strain the milk out again. you can just grab large chunks of meat, wring them out with your hands, and colocate the meat in another pan. this is -- yes indeed -- the 3rd milk.
now. now. now. wash the rice and cook it in double it's quantity (by volume) of water. when the water has largely cooked off add the 2nd and 3rd milks. mix and cook. when the rice has cooked even more -- it should be very soft by end, it's rice pudding. remember. now. remember. future happening now -- add the cleaned jaggery syrupt. mix to unity. cook some more and reduce heat to lowest. at this point you can thicken as much as desired. when you're ready for the final touches, add the 1st milk and some of the following:
golden raisins fried in ghee until they baloon into beauty
thinly sliced coconut pieces fried in ghee until they brown
2.5:1 mixture of cumin and whole cardamom pods, roasted and ground to a fine powder.
other things fried in ghee (cashews, almonds, etc)
mix and let thicken to the desired consistency. serve to all your friends. it's your birthday. why the hell not. today to feed seventy people we used kilos of jaggery (100 points), 5 kilos of rice (we grew it), and 20 coconuts (they grew themselves).
and, as always, eat too much. maybe it's not worth saving.