Rice in Literature: Lullaby

Dr Joya Mitra sent us an old Bengali lullaby: it calls the sleep-bringing aunties (ghoom-paarani maashi-pishi), promising them all the delicious foods in the house if they will come and sit on the baby’s eyes. In four lines, it mentions three varieties of rice–and three different ways of preparing them!

আম কাঁঠালের বাগান দেব ছায়ায় ছায়ায় যেতে,
উড়কি ধানের মুড়কি দেব পথে বসে খেতে ।
শালি ধানের চিঁড়ে দেব বিন্নি ধানের খই,
মোটা মোটা শবরী কলা গামছা বাঁধা দই ।।

I’ll give you orchards of mango and jackfruit —
Take a walk in their shade —
And a fistful of sweet, soft murki,
From the kernels of the Urki,
To munch on your way,
Parched rice made with Shali kernels,
Puffed rice from the Binni kernels,
Nice, plump Shabari bananas,
And rich yoghurt I have strained.

When we talk about the thousands of varieties of indigenous rice that were available, we have to remember that food culture revolved around rice. It was not only eaten as part of a meal, but permeated the day, showing up in snacks, sweets and even drinks. And of course, different varieties of rice were best suited to different foods. So much of this knowledge has been lost, but this lullaby tells us that puffed rice (khoi in Bengali, kheel in Hindi) made from the Binni paddy was better than that made from the Urki variety — but the Urki one could be coated in sugar or jaggery to make murki. Parched rice (chire in Bengali, chivda/poha in Hindi) would have been made from the Shali rice. And visions of all these delicacies would have danced in the heads of the babies, as they drowsed to this lullaby.

Photo credit

Rice in Literature: Andal’s ‘Tiruppavai’

When Andal wrote her famous Tiruppavai, a collection of thirty stanzas in praise of Vishnu, she used rice to describe both the prosperity and the joy that the worship brings.

She begins with a description of richly alive rice fields, the bounty that the rains will bring:

ஓங்கி உலகளந்த உத்தமன் பேர்பாடி
நாங்கள் நம் பாவைக்குச் சாற்றிநீர் ஆடினால்,
தீங்கின்றி நாடெல்லாம் திங்கள்மும் மாரிபெய்து
ஓங்கு பெருஞ்செந்நெ லூடு கயல் உகளப்
பூங்குவளைப் போதில் பொறிவண்டு கண்படுப்ப,
தேங்காதே புக்கிருந்து சீர்த்த முலைபற்றி
வாங்கக் குடம் நிறைக்கும் வள்ளல் பெரும்பசுக்கள்
நீங்காத செல்வம் நிறைந்தேலோ ரெம்பாவாய்.

If we sing the Great One’s name,
Who grew big and measured the world,
Thrice a month will the rains fall and no drought come,
And the thickly thronged red paddy will swell,
The kayil fish among its roots swim and play,
And the spotted bees, after sipping honey,
Will drowse in the blue lily flowers,
And the cows with full udders will yield milk at a touch,
Filling the milk pots to the brim,
And never diminishing wealth,
Will fill the land.

And at the end, she describes the rewards the devotees will gain after singing the god’s praises, with the climax of their union with Vishnu being the moment when they eat rice and milk:

கூடாரை வெல்லும் சீர் கோவிந்தா உந்தன்னைப்
பாடிப் பறை கொண்டு யாம் பெறும் சம்மானம்
நாடு புகழும் பரிசினால் நன்றாகச்
சூடகமே தோள் வளையே தோடே செவிப் பூவே
பாடகமே என்றனைய பலகலனும் யாம் அணிவோம்
ஆடை உடுப்போம் அதன் பின்னே பாற் சோறு
மூட நெய் பெய்து முழங்கை வழி வாரக்
கூடி இருந்து குளிர்ந்தேலோர் எம்பாவாய்

Drums, gifts, being praised by all the people,
Many ornaments we shall wear,
bracelets and armlets,
rings for the lower ear
and flower-like ornaments for the upper,
Lovely robes we shall wear,
and then partake of rice mixed with milk
and with the ghee dripping down our elbows
Thus shall we be in bliss, cool and united with You.

Photo credit

Concept: Edible Archive

BY POORVA RAJARAM

All of us retain experiences of food; they become part of our being and body — our inner archives. But we can never hope to repeat the exact same taste or texture again. We each have a catalogue of our inner edible archives with a shadowy presence that resists full retrieval. An edible archive is an invitation to imagine archiving afresh, outside of the pairings of preservation and destruction, presence and absence, history and memory, mind and body. In such an archive, cataloguing can be sensory, transient and capricious, leaving clues and hiding meanings; an archive, in other words, of a process not a product.

Yet, the edible archive of high consumerism seeks to reverse the fading of our experiences through food memories fed to us via the screen. Through TV shows, social networking sites or mobile apps targeting the moneyed, our personal catalogues of taste suddenly fuse with group-led ratings and reviews and create a new inescapable gold standard of taste and aspiration. This is echoed all the way up the food chain, from fields of rigidly disciplined mono-crops to the mono-experiential non-variety of a food court. The pace of all archiving and retrieval is also sped up — another gambit against edible multiplicity. 

Each edible archive has a social story to tell us.  At their best, carefully assembled edible archives can be a provocation to consumers like us, by slowing us down. They can highlight traditional knowledges, historical deprivations, systemic erasures and indigenous biodiversity.  They can inform us about the alarming and growing distance in economic prosperity between the growers and consumers of food. The structural imposition of the monopolistic edible archive of capital on our everyday lives can only be countered with a desire for regeneration, rather than mediatized hyper-experience: a desire to trace our inner bodily senses back toward the path of societal and personal vitality and renewal.