Jaggery Festival – By Sara Taylor

Originally published at buda-honnavar.blogspot.com

Dawn hit the Angadibail forest center, freshly dressed after its final construction, and stirred a frenzy of excitement for the day. Ashish began what would become his 24 hours as a chauffeur and went to pick up our participants. We all peeled back our layers of jungle which had built up in our previous days of preparation and took hold of the celebratory mood. We heard squeals of delight sound from the jeep, barreling down the red-dirt road. Our eccentric group poured out, wide-eyed at the landscape which they’d just been thrown into. Bharat’s flute hung over the place, the most fitting and soothing soundtrack you could imagine to first discover the beauty of the jungle. We greeted everyone warmly, arming them with our homemade soap-nut pouches and bamboo shoots of charcoal tooth-powder in our effort to keep the stream water clean which flows through the forest center.

Charcoal toothpowder in bamboo shoots & re-fillable scrub bags of soap-nut

After a brief exploration of the new center, we fed out hungry travelers (with plenty of jaggery for idly on their banana leaves) and challenged them to our first task of cutting down sugarcane. Just as the sun started its blistering effect on the forest, we set out to give pooja to the earth and began our harvest. We handled machetes and tried our best to cut and clean the sugar cane as well as Eshwarana had demonstrated. Meanwhile the four youngsters went back to the center to create their own statues of Ganasha for our final pooja after harvest. Our most experienced and enthusiastic participant in the harvest was Savita’s Appa by far. He held a wide grin and laughed joyously, reliving childhood memories of sugarcane harvests past.

Appa gleefully demonstrating sugarcane harvest technique

Krissy & Luci hauling back some of our harvest

After our sweaty efforts, we hauled what sugarcane we harvested back to the center and cooled off with a glass of kokum juice. We had a beautiful (thanks to those artistic Ganesha figures) harvest pooja where we thanked the earth for letting us take her fruits. Everyone enjoyed a cool stream water bath and we settled into lunch, again filling our banana leaves with jaggery-flavored dishes. After a nap and some quiet time, I headed out to the house where we’d be camping/watching jaggery production with Poornima to put some last minute touches on our festival area. Meanwhile everyone at the center revved up for the site-visit by watching a cooking demonstration of Bangli Rotti, a local cake-like jaggery treat.

Bangli-Roti, traditional jaggery recipe that uses burning coals to bake

Ashish managed to get everyone in the truck and the participants arrived at the campsite with anticipation and eagerness to participate. We fed them the traditional roasted peanut and jaggery snack to welcome them to the house and quickly made our way down the road to see the traditional style jaggery production before dusk. There, many local friends and villagers joined us in the celebration of traditional jaggery processes. The bulls that pulled the gaana were calm but monstrous in size. The farmers guided us on how to push the other side of the gaana and quickly the children and a few brave participants (shout out to my fellow students) joined in on the work. All the while we sipped fresh sugarcane juice which our hosts poured for us abundantly.

Traditional GaaNa, pulled by bulls, to extract sugarcane juice

More ‘bulls’ to help the process

We were just in time to see the farmers take the sugarcane juice which had been cooking in an enormous vat over a large fire and filter it through cloth. We could smell the caramel-like aroma of the finished jaggery and soon we were served a healthy dose of the stuff which we hesitantly slurped down, trying ignore our bodies cry of: enough sweets! But the local treat was just too good for any sane sweet-tooth to turn down. As the sunset left us with a pink sky, we walked back to our campsite to continue the festivities. There at the house, we ran three stalls: 1) a bottle rope-wrapping station where participants decorated recycled bottles to fill with jaggery 2) a cow/bull bell beading station and 3) a cooking demonstration of a crispy crepe-like jaggery treat, todedevu. As the crickets began their symphony, we quieted down from our bustling day and enjoyed sitting still, working with our hands. Soon everyone had crafts to show each other proudly. We leisurely had our dinners and the strongest among us even ate more jaggery treats. A bonfire crackled by the tents and once by one we trickled down to sit by its warmth and hear stories and songs from each other until sleep took us over.

Sugarcane finished cooking down to liquid jaggery, about to be filtered

A dewey morning came and we had everyone russle up their belongings to head to the location of a house that did mechanized jaggery processing. Sleepily, we somehow piled even more people and items in the truck and bounced along the back roads through the sweet-smelling jungle. Our new hosts welcomed us and led us to their processing site where we learned how the modern, mechanic technique works. More sugarcane juice and the caramel-like taste of the jaggery ‘cream’, filled our mouths with sweetness again. We sat down to a breakfast of jaggery dosa and green chutney as the sun began to heat up. After a farewell, we piled back in the truck and headed toward a near-by water fall. Our short trek to the falls was full of wonderment as we stared up at the beauty of ancient trees and playful, vibrant flowers. At the sight of the falls we were elated, a few of us unable to contain our excitement and jumping in right away. The water was cold, even by Luci’s Minnesotan standards, but it came as a relief to the sun, humidity and layer of camping we’d acquired.

Everyone piled up in the truck!

The waterfall

Smiling and soggy, we came back for our final meal together at the forest center. We chatted, napped and reflected on our journey. We came together to share our favorite moments and everyone got to try the bangli-roti they’d learned to make the afternoon before. As a parting gift, we gave out jaggery recipe booklets filled with traditional delicacies our friends could try to make at home. A successful first annul jaggery festival had us already planning for next year. The weekend finished as it had begun, with smiles and sweetness flowing between BuDa friends in the forest.

Recipe booklet binding, one of the preparations for the festival, enjoyed by the BuDa team

Post One – By Marlharrissa Lagardere

Disclaimer: I am not a profound scholar or novelist. My biggest goal in life is to simply live and luckily not make any enemies along the way. I have traveled to India in order to fulfill the mandated international experience required for all International and Global Studies majors at my respected university. I chose India on a whim, simply because it was one of the countries that I knew the least about and would possibly give me the greatest cultural experience. And that is what has lead me here: writing a blog about being a brown-skinned woman in a country living in a country once colonized by the imperial strong arm of England and is currently combating systematic hierarchies, deeply rooted with hints of racial separation, such as the caste system that has plagued their country for centuries.

I have never experienced racism. Actually I am lying; in kindergarten, I had accused three white girls of being racist towards me because they did not sit next to me at the lunch table. My teacher’s attempt to address my accusation was to have me to point out all of the people who were my friends and as I single-handedly pointed out people one by one, I was taken back at the end of her exercise when I noticed I had pointed out an astonishing number of white classmates. Even at six years old I had been bested by my own ignorance, an ignorance that would follow me for years to come, believing that racism was simply a white and black issue. It would not be until my second year of college that I would have another run-in with covert racism. One of my professors had taken the liberty to count the number of African American students out loud to illustrate his point of the percentage of students who were not closely related to Neanderthals in contrast to white students, who are the closest related descendants of Neanderthals. As if clearly stating the researched fact was not enough for college educated students to comprehend, counting out the number of brown-skinned individuals had to be added to add a slight flair to his point. Was it even fair for me to count this incident as my professor being racist, I am unsure; but I know that in that moment I had never felt so singled out before. Yet, even then I still believed that racism was a black and white issue because of how the incident presented itself.

I have been in India for over forty days. And within those forty days I have been asked what my “mother tongue” is, if I really was a student studying abroad from America, and generally ignored on a daily basis. I am studying in India with sixteen other students from America and who all happen to be white, expect one Asian student. I am not here to pass judgment on any of my fellow peers but I am here to properly paint a picture of my experience. I have lost count the amount of time that I have subtlety and overtly been overlooked in order to get near my white peers or have the opportunity to have a picture taken with the “white Americans”. I know that this sort of behavior is not specific to just India but in a city who has one of the largest foreigner populations in India, my ignorance of racism and of the heritage of this country made me assume that I would be as widely accepted as my fellow Americans. Instead, I am attempting to understand the still paralyzing effects of the caste system and how it has left me as brown as a common Indian and as African as my very distant ancestors. How I once believed that people saw me is no longer because that would imply that people actually see me. In a country with over one billion residents, it would be futile for me to think that I would be received with open arms and sought after like a rare gem, yet when I have seen almost three white-skin foreigners to my black-skin ones, one cannot help but wonder why the minority is not favored?

Post 1 – By Vasavi Nigam

As I boarded the plane at London Heathrow airport, several different thoughts and questions came running to my mind. I was nostalgic looking back on the beautiful 6 months I had spent studying abroad in London, and as usual excited about going home and being able to see my family in New Delhi. One thing that definitely made me chuckle was the contrast between being back in the scorching Indian heat after about 6 months of dealing with gloomy English weather. Surprisingly, the sky as I flew out of London was actually clearing out and there were beautiful rays of sunshine falling through the clouds on London while upon landing in New Delhi the next morning and heading to work on permits for work, it was in fact raining.

Beautiful Delhi sky.

I looked forward to the heat, I looked forward to the summer in New Delhi and most importantly somewhere, looked forward to reuniting with the beautiful girls I had met last summer during the Phase 1 of my Brandeis India Fellowship in the summer of 2014. Since this was a project where I was working with the Indian government at the largest Government girl child shelter home of the country (which was located inside one of the most secure prison facilities of the country in New Delhi), it took a lot to get past the bureaucratic layers of the system in order to obtain permissions and get verified. Definitely, a more harrowing experience than the Summer of 2014 where the rules were relatively more lapse. Due to having established relations with the Residing Officer/Superintendent of the shelter during my first summer there, the process was a little faster but it did not help that she was getting transferred to a different post the month I was about to start. This meant having to convince the new Superintendent about the benefits of the program and working on establishing a fresh and effective relation with her.

After jumping through the many hoops like a circus animal, I finally had all the permissions and verifications in place to see my girls and start my work for the summer. The only unfortunate thing in this situation was, by the time all this came through, they barely had 15 days left for their summer vacation to end which resulted in me having to reschedule and rework my program plan.

I remember standing outside staring at the half broken rusty dusty board that said Nirmal Chhaya – Girl Shelter, Tihar Jail Complex for a couple of minutes. I had all these apprehensions; I was anxious as to whether the girls would remember me, did they want me back, would anyone come to class or will I be able to make a difference this summer given the limited time I had. But I knew I had to go in to find out, so I quickly gave myself a pep talk and entered through the big grilled doors of the home. After doing my entry in the visitor’s log as was routine, going through a physical check and submitting my phone, as soon as I entered the premises I saw almost all of the girls were standing there in anticipation, waiting! It felt like a typical dramatic Bollywood movie where you see characters reuniting after ages. We ran towards each other and they all flooded me together resulting in a big hug. That feeling of meeting the girls after a year can not be described in words. It was such a happy moment for me and them. In that moment, all my apprehensions were gone, I knew this summer would definitely be fruitful. We chatted for a few hours till their lunch time and with a promise to come back the next day, I left with so much hope and happiness in my heart. Seeing the girls so happy to see me definitely boosted my confidence and made me feel like I somewhere did make a difference. I was all charged to return back the next day and begin phase 2 of my project!!