Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together – Vincent Van Gogh

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Sankranti in Keeramanda

Sankranti in Keeramanda

ScenerySankranti the harvest festival is celebrated all over India under various names, Lohri in the North, Makaharra Sankranti in the North West, Bihu in Assam, Pongal in Tamil Nadu and so on.

As most of you would know, India is largely agrarian and the heart of this country still beats among the rich and vast variety of grain and cash crops that are grown in the country. Sankranti is celebrated when the first crop is harvested, it is a time of thanks giving to the Gods, to the mother earth and gusto in the celebrations is determined by the plentifulness of the crop.

This year, as part of the Adobe project, five of my colleagues and me found ourselves in Keeramanda. Keeramanda is a tiny clutch of mud huts on the Karnataka-Andhra Pradesh border and actually falls in AP. We were there on a three day film shoot as we planned to make a short film on how Keeramanda celebrates Sankranti, the much awaited harvest festival.

We had heard that on Sankranti this village held a competition, in which hundreds of bulls from the village and neighboring ones would gather and to the sound of much hollering and screaming there would be a race. A small crowded 100 yard stretch where the bulls would have to run, and the one who managed to complete the race fastest, and this year the time set was 8 seconds, would win a fairly large prize. But wait, I’m moving too fast.

reservoir_2We arrived in the village of Keeramanda two days earlier and set up camp in the thatched extension of the house of a distant relative. Spending most of my days in the dirt, dust, noise and hurry of Bangalore, Keeramanda was the ideal get away. A four hour bumpy ride away from forgettable Bangalore and we were in the lap of nature, green verdant hills, the sound of bulbuls and parakeets filling our ears, the little village pond waited invitingly and we needed no invitation. I and the guys plunged in head long, swimming from one end of shallow pond to the other in long languid strides. The air much much cleaner, cooler. The pace of life so much slower, time to smell the flower and watch the birds fly by, we pulled out our camera and shot away, footage and stills, we just couldn’t get enough.

sun-riseOn the day of Sankranti the village wakes up at 3 in the morning to make large fires, where they sit around and warm themselves and at the first cock crow which signals eminent dawn the women of the house get bustling, making pots of hot water for all to bath in. They then head into the courtyard to do the traditional Rangoli.

rangoliThe Rangoli is a decoration on the floor, done in various coloured powered; The Rangoli is usually done everyday in the courtyard, but for Sankranti and such other festivals it’s done in an elaborate manner. Besides numerous other things the Rangoli for Sankranti must include the relief of two large sugarcane stocks made in brown powder, with green foliage on top, and a pot in the centre.

Sugarcane is another central part of Sankranti and since in Keeramanda they grew it, people just went to their fields and lopped off a few cane. With so much of cane, my colleagues spend hours exercising their jaws and stocking up on as much sugar as they could get out of the cane.

animal_flowers1Later in the morning, the family goes on to bedeck their cows and goats with flowers and a small puja is performed. Sankranti is when the domestic animals who worked just as hard as their masters to realize the crop are honoured. In preparation for the puja the animals have their horns sharpened and oil painted! sometimes they are also bathed, lovingly groomed and fed with specially made sweets.

cock-fightA central part of Sankranti is the entertainment, more for men then women. Cock fights are a great source of entertainment, thought they are banned and so….., no the cock fights have not stopped, camera persons like us are strictly supervised and prohibited from taking any pictures for publication. Grooming, feeding and watching the cocks grow into sturdy birds just for a day like this is what a lot of men in the village live for, and our host was kind enough to let two of his home grown favourites launch at each with all their flaming red plumage on display. But I can’t go into the fine art of cock fighting or cock rearing here, however I did smuggle out a few pictures of some of those brave busters going for each other. Thankfully they didn’t have their killer spurs on J

cock-fight_actionBesides the cock fights organized on the sly, is the bull racing. The bull racing attracts much crowds and frenzy in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and it too raised the courts ire and was banned for a short while, of course without success. Recently they have been allowed again and can be held under a strict set of rules framed by the Chief Justice himself.

One of the main reasons for banning these bull racing events was not just because of the way the animals were handled but because of the way in which a large number of people seriously endangered their lives. I think some of those seriously injured also succumbed to them later on and therefore the ban.

bull-race_crowdTo the small village of Keeramanda this Sankranti came over 260 bulls, of all shades and colour, sizes and age. With all kinds of temperaments, some kicking the dirt and all riled up, other timid, having to be dragged through the venue even while the large crowds smacked their flanks and screamed.

The little lane in which the race was to be held was packed, narrowing the race track to a sliver. The roofs, terraces, walls and mud path had all the assembly it could carry, the air thick with dust and full of excited hollering. It’s an all men’s show. It’s just not safe for a woman to be in the path of a raging bull, who often is so confused and terrified, and so simply ploughs through the crowd, thereby injuring many in the crowd.

bull_chargeIf I somehow gave you the idea that bull racing is a huge fun sport, I’m sorry; this sport is more than fun. The winner of that race can walk away with a hefty cash prize and also a few grams of gold and so it’s a hotly contested race. Thanks to some of those very skittish bulls Keeramanda saw four injuries this year; thankfully none of them were serious. All in all, we came away exhausted but with some warm memories not forgetting some excellent footage of a very heady sport indeed.

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Adventure camp

Adventure camp at Kondaji

nag_shivuWhen one is wheelchair bound and accessibility limited in a country like India, going on an adventure trip is no minor event. But that’s exactly what I was on, as I struggled to make myself comfortable in my hard seat at 11.00 p.m of December 19th 2008.

groupThe Association of People with Disabilities (APD) is an organization based in Bangalore and works, obviously on disability. Once a year, all its 200 odd employees are taken on a trip and so the fact that we were on a 5 hour rid to Kondaji in Davangere- Karnataka, after a hard days work was a minor fact to be ignored. Piled up in 4 buses, one could actually hear the excitement crackle in the air.

Most of us at the APD don’t really come from economically well off backgrounds and so can hardly afford a break like this. For many, this will be their one and only outing they will take, to have some fun.

greeneryIn Kondaji we are headed to an adventure camp called the Scouts and Guides Campus, and for the jaded eyes, that see little other than buildings and people in crowded Bangalore, we were greeted in Kondaji by the unobstructed warm rays of the sun, the green of the forest and the azure of the lake shimmering in the morning glow and as if all this wasn’t enough, peacocks, wild and free strutted around the acres of campus.

The little camp we were to live in was built on a slope, overlooking the lake, a set of 10 large tents that could house a group of 15 each. After a typical South Indian breakfast of hot Upma, we were set of on a treasure hunt, which took the motley excited group around trees and stones, and messages in books. On my wheelchair I was able to find the treasure first.

rope-walkingWe then did some rope walking, which unfortunately me with my calipers could not participate in and some scaling, which thankfully I could participate in. So me into a harness and then hooked to a line and I had fun scaling it from end to end.

group_life_jacketspeople_waterA lunch of rice and sambar, and we could contain ourselves no further. Strapped tight into bright yellow life jackets and with carefully instructions from the trainers, our group dashed over to the row boats waiting on the water fringes. By the time, I wheeled over to the boats unfortunately, they were all loaded and with no place for me to push through, I balefully watched them set off for the other end of the huge lake.

nag_waterNot one to give up that easily I decided to head into the lake. I was really excited because this was about the first time in a few years that I was actually able to frolic around in the water. During my brief visit to Goa, the sand had proved my nemesis and much to my dismay I could only watch the tantalizing sea from a distance. Determined to make up for that lost opportunity, I wheeled in and plonked into the shallow water, heavy plastic calipers and all. After I’d got used to the pleasurable weightlessness, I decided to push on a little further until I suddenly found myself floating! My first reaction was fear, but then I remembered the instructor saying that the life jacket could float with up to 300 kilograms and I was no where near that. Using my hands as paddles, I floated around for quiet a while, looking up at the blue sky and spying the occasional crow scurrying by. The water soothingly lapping away into my ears, the distant laughter of the frolicking crowd.

After hours in the water and fairly tired for want of sleep and rest, I headed back to shore only to notice a kayak idling nearby, unable to restrain myself I headed for it and along with a colleague paddled our way to the other end, keeping the rows at the 90 degrees as instructed by the trainers, paddling furiously. Oh how I loved the water.

That evening we had a camp fire and everyone was instructed to spontaneously sing a song or stage a little act and show off their talent. I had been practicing some jokes for a little over a month, but the natural showmanship still eluded me, so I made everybody laugh just trying to tell my jokes, hah, hah ha J

The next morning, I went back for yet another hour into the water, before I could stuff my wet clothes into a bag and head home.

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