Tuesday, 24 March 2015

A village called Hudil.


Last week, Sonnu, the person who does our Arecanut harvest came over with another young man Porasu, who wanted to sell us some cane baskets.  These baskets locally called 'Mankirkee'  are not easily available and made only by certain tribals who live deep in the forest. On hearing that we are from Mumbai, Porasu surprised us by speaking in Marathi!  We were really astonished as Marathi is as alien as Greek to the locals.  He explained that his people are descendants of the Mavlas of Shivaji Maharaj.  They had migrated to these parts of the country more than 300 years ago and continued to live here, in the then densely forested hilly region, in a little village called Hudil.  We were very keen on seeing this place, but both Sonnu and Porasu tried to dissuade us saying that it is too far, there is no road,  you have to walk almost  7 kms after the road ends, you have to cross a small river.... and then finally ‘There is really nothing to see there!”  Manjunath, our farm-hand, was listening to the whole discussion with a smile, finally said, “These people don’t want to see anything special, they really like to see the forests and rivers and paths that go thru them”  This finally convinced them and we fixed up Tuesday morning at 7 am at Sonnu’s place which is about 8 kms from our farm.

So Tuesday morning, we drove over and picked Sonnu from his home and followed his directions, the road getting narrower and the forest getting denser as we left the smooth tar road and the last signs of civilisation.  A bumpy 4 km ride and we reached a kind of  a clearing beyond which we could see a gushing stream. 
The little clearing beyond which you can see the gushing stream.
 
We parked the car in the clearing and he led us to the shallowest part of the stream.  It was full of slippery stones and boulders and took us longer than expected to cross it. After reaching the other bank, I sat down to put on my shoes, and  a couple of curious farmers who had their homes on this side, came to ask Sonnu who we were and why were we going to this place.  “Just to see..”  evoked quite a few strange glances in our direction.

Now the actual trek began.  the path dipped and veered, climbed and curved, sometimes like a ledge sometimes like steps cut into rocks, sometimes along a swiftly flowing channel of water and sometimes along a thorny fence.  And all along it was narrow enough for just one person to walk. 







The first 2 kms took us past some really dense Arecanut farms located in a valley, nestling deep down, their rich green tops reaching almost to the ledge where we were walking. A couple of tiled roofs far below indicated the presence of the farm house, and a narrow sloping path in that direction – the pathway to the house.   How do these people live in such remote far-flung locations we wondered.  Our farm at Chitrapur seems almost urban in comparison to these!

 
A narrow steep pathway leads down to the house. 




Past thorny fences

After the 2 km walk thru the dense greenery, the forest ended and then we were walking thru sunny fields of rice all cut in terraced formations. No mechanisation here, everything is done manually.  And the people grow two crops of rice one after another.  no legumes, no peanuts.....surprising.  Guess the answer – It costs them more money to transport peanuts or beans to the market than what they would get in return, so they would rather grow rice which is their staple food.



Finally we reached the village. The entire village is built in a hilly area and the path winds up and down and the homes are quite scattered. 

The path took us high above this farm, where the farmer was preparing for the second crop of rice.
See the arecanuts laid out to dry neatly in the corner.


 What struck us most was the cleanliness and sparseness of the homes. The front yards of all the homes were smoothened  and layered with cowdung paste and there was no clutter anywhere, neither outside nor inside their homes. There were no ungainly plastic sachets or bottles piled up along the pathways, or in the backyards of the homes.

The clean courtyard and the Tulsi-katta adorned with red Hibiscus

The dialect that the people spoke was actually quite strange and we realised that apart from a few basic words, the rest was a mutated version which we could not follow and did not really sound like the Marathi that we know. The interiors of the homes were sparse enough to be austere. 







 Sonnu led us to a couple of homes where he spoke to the residents and then to his sister’s house.


She welcomed us into her home and then disappeared out of sight.  We waited wondering what made her run off like that, and after almost 15 mins, she returned with her husband in tow and a bunch of fresh tender coconuts. Her husband was working in his fields which were quite a distance away and she apparently made him climb a coconut tree to get fresh coconuts for us. He nodded his hello to us , expertly sliced off the tops of the coconuts and went back to his fields to continue his work. We sat out in the clean courtyard and had the refreshing drink, while Sonnu’s sister excused herself, saying that she had a bus to catch as she had to go to Bhatkal town for some work. Sonnu explained that the bus stop was 2 kms away and there was a single daily service to Bhatkal and back – 11 am and return at 6 pm. We glanced at our watches, it was almost 10.30 – could she make it in such  a short time? Sonnu shrugged his shoulders – probably the bus was always late. 

We then started our return trek. This time we walked a slightly different path that took us through a beautiful school. “Sarkari Kiriya Prathamik Shaale – Hudil” read the hand painted board.



 The school was cleaner than any I have seen, barefoot children in neat uniforms were running around, a group of boys were wielding spades and  digging the mud in a corner, probably planting something, small pretty girls with neatly oiled plaits huddled together on seeing us strangers walking thru the compound,  the classrooms were bright and airy and all the childrens’ footwear was kept neatly outside the entrance of each  room. There appeared to be just 3 classrooms in this little school.







We walked on and soon joined the same path that had led us into the village. As always the return seemed much shorter or rather we must have covered the distance a little faster since I did not stop to click as many photos as I did earlier. I recognised the houses that were close to the stream that we would soon have to cross, when suddenly I heard the patter of someone running behind us. I turned around and was surprised to see Sonnu’s sister.  She had missed the bus and knowing that we had a car that could drop her to someplace from where she could get a bus, she had run almost all the way from the bus-stop and the entire distance from her village to catch up with us!  We walked back together to the car. The last part – she crossed the stream as nimble footed as her brother, smiled and chatted with the farmers who had watched us go to Hudil in the morning, and  got into the car requesting that she be dropped off at the nearest bus-stop. 

The last bit .......the stones are slippery indeed....

 We dropped Sonnu off at his home and dropped her on the main highway as the frequency of buses there is much better than any other place.  As she got off, she smiled and dug into her bag and took out some dark green Citrus fruit –“Kanchikaayi” she said. “Kanchee” or Bitter Orange!  What a treasure.  She insisted that we should take it and then went off to wait for her bus.

We made our way back home awed into silence by the entire Hudil Experience!  What a village! What a lifestyle!  How much could we learn from those simple people! Could we even try to simplify our lives more and reduce our ‘wants’ and ‘needs’?

 Hmmmmmmm.... I wonder........

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Rice - Post Harvest Processing!


What goes into the conversion of the freshly harvested rice grains (paddy) into the fragrant rice that we consume daily, without probably a thought about this process?  We learnt a great deal in our search for a method to dehusk  our rice perfectly :

1.      The rice can either be just de-husked and polished OR “Boiled” and polished to create the boiled rice (Ukade Tandool as we know it)

2.      Once the rice is processed, unless you put some boric powder or some chemicals, it lasts only for a couple of months without getting weevils or the small black mites in them.  On the other hand, the paddy can last a whole year without any problems.

3.      Polishing the rice removes the nutrients from the bran layer, but ensures that the rice lasts longer.  

4.       The local mills – (there are at least 5 of them within a 3 km radius!!!!!) will accept your paddy, but will mill it with the all the other rice that is waiting to be milled on that day. Each mill has capacities in the range of 20 to 25 quintals. So if you want a miniscule quantity like 50 to 75 kgs milled, you have to watch your lovingly grown organic paddy being poured into the giant chutes along with all the other inorganically grown rice........(sob).   Besides, when such a huge quantity is being mass produced, you cannot have a wee bit of it unpolished........tch,  tch tch.......
 
Sun drying the paddy before taking it to the Rice Mill
 

So we were stuck in a strange situation. We even contemplated buying our own dehusking machine, but that wasn’t so easy either.  And after a lot of asking around,  we finally located a Rice mill whose owner agreed to dehusk our rice without polishing it. So 75 kgs of our paddy was loaded into the car and taken to the mill.  The mill owner was a very friendly guy who assured us that our rice would be done separately.  And indeed, only our paddy was poured into a huge pit and he switched on the giant  machinery. At the other end, the dehusked rice started falling into a channel with a sieve at the base.  The fragmented grains were separated and the whole grains were all collected into another bag.  The weight of this bag came to approximately 55 kgs.  The 20 odd kgs of husk and fragmented rice was packed separately  and we could use it for our bovine family.  As we walked out of the mill, the friendly owner warned us that this brown unpolished rice has a very short shelf life.  We assured him that we were aware of it and came back home with our precious booty. 



The Rice Dehusked and unpolished - just as we wanted it ! 

And what can I say about the taste of our own home grown, organic brown rice?  That the flavour as Wikipedia puts it is indeed mild, nutty with a chewy texture?  And it tastes heavenly with just salt and a generous dollop of ghee in it? Or that the very humble rice-gruel or conjee as some may call it , made with a sprinkling of freshly grated coconut  accompanied by some papad can hold its own against a gourmet meal?  And the dosas made with this rice have a crunch and flavour that sets it apart ...........

 

So now we have a neat stash of paddy that we can dehusk, as and when we want, and yes our harvest is much more than what we can consume so if any of you would like a taste of this rice, you can visit our online store on our website http://hulidevana.in/collections/all  or drop  a line on info@hulidevana.in.

Till then happy reading! 
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