(excerpt from 'Not For You: Family Narratives of Denial & Comfort Foods', 2017)
1920, Kolhapur & Panjim, Maharashtra
Ratanlal and Shanta rode for many days, stopping along the way to find food and resting at a temple here or a shelter there, or sometimes at the base of a tree. At first, Ratanlal had thought they would stop in Pune, but it did not seem safe enough. If they rode without stopping, it would take them two weeks. The ocean air might do them good. They rode through Nashik, Pune to Kolhapur, heading towards Goa, at the edge of the western coast of India.
Shanta had not once asked when they would stop and settle, but they were both a little restless and tired, wanting to find a place to start their lives anew. Each night they had stopped at a new temple, they sought the refuge of divine powers, hoping the blessing would carry them safely along until they found a place to stop for good.
Once past Pune, they rode through fields of jowar, bajra, and ragi, the spicy green chilies, sweet sugarcane, and peanuts. Some crops were about ready for the harvest; it was only September. This was a fertile land, not like the dry interiors of Indore. The winds felt cooler and there were many mountains around them covered lush green following the monsoons. And at the foothills of those mountains were fields carpeted with lush crops. The tall fields gave them respite from the curious glances of strangers and Shanta was a little excited this far away from home to be a rebel. Whenever they would stop, she would wander into the fields and return with a fistful of the farmer’s crop. A missing sugarcane stick here or there would be alright she thought and at one stop she asked Ratanlal for stick or two so she could enjoy its sweet juices.
Ratanlal was enjoying learning about his bride, the once shy girl was blossoming into a little renegade, she was a good match to his feisty nature indeed. He chuckled and headed into the fields, his feet sinking in the porous soft soil. But sugarcane proved to be a difficult one to simply break away, it was much harder than he thought.
The sound of Shanta’s giggles challenged Ratanlal and he tried increasingly tender stalks without any luck. He was annoyed. On his fourth try, he decided to yank it out from the soil, roots and all. While he held up his conquest in pride, shaking the stem at her, the mud clods began to disintegrate and showered him in black dust, Shanta giggled some more.
This section is taken midway through the early part of an endearing love-story between Ratanlal and Shanta, two renegades in the sugarcane fields of Kolhapur. Just like the sugar that turns into jaggery over a slow and tedious process, so did their love affair that lasted until they passed away.
I had a chance to see these fields first hand about four years ago when we first went to Kolhapur.
The lush green crop dances and waves even in the slightest breeze, despite its strong and fibrous stem, and the sight an endless ocean of emerald green in every direction is refreshing, calming and unforgettable.
And yes, we stole some sugarcane from the fields and enjoyed chewing on its sweet stems right away and then again in the comfort of our hotel room. They are positively addictive, the original gum.
Weaving personal experiences into my next book has been a joy, because in some ways it is reliving some of those through my own lens. Sugar and jaggery are important sweeteners in the Indian cuisine, and form a vital part of commerce in the country.
Modern conveniences also let us access the sugarcane easily, as I discovered these, from Melissa's Produce - sugarcane swizzle stix! They are peeled and ready to eat, I would not have the patience to wait on them for a BBQ skewer because we will be eating them right away!
I am grateful, that our modern lives still provide us opportunities to relive the simple joys of childhood, of a rustic life and let us pass along some of these essential life experiences and joys to our children. And just like Rantanlal and Shanta, who received blessings of a different form, isn't this also another kind of blessing?
Read more about Shanta and her life, by pre-ordering your copy of
"Not For You: Family Narratives of Denial & Comfort Foods" through this link: http://bit.ly/CC_NFY