No, this is not about cricket, although cricket is a constant presence. Some days I could be watching it, some days not. But it is there. Like music, like the smell of jasmine or ‘agarbathi’ in the bylanes of Bangalore. Or even the loud ‘soppu’ cry of the vegetable vendor pushing his cart in my city.
My mind goes back to a winter’s morning in the city. I remember waking up at 5 am to watch a test match between India and Australia. I had set the volume on the TV really low. There is a certain guilty pleasure in switching on the TV really early in the morning and listening to the commentary at a really low volume. It is intimate and conspiratorial, almost like the commentator is talking exclusively to you. I don’t remember much of that winter morning except that it was an India-Aus test series. But what I distinctly remember is the lunch hour of that test match, by which time my parents were up. And I remember drinking my mom’s trademark strong coffee. Then she took out the bowl of soaked ‘avarekaalu’ (shelled flat beans) to peel. She was planning to make ‘hithakida avarekaalu huli’, which is Kannada for a ‘sambar’ made of peeled Indian beans called hyacinth beans by some, flat beans by others and field beans by yet others. Sounds alien, peeled Indian beans, but ‘avarekaalu’ is home!
If it is winter in Bangalore, can ‘avarekaayi’ be far behind? No self-respecting Bangalore Kannadiga can ever escape the lure of the ‘avarekaayi’. A familiar ritual among my aunt, mother and grandmother is to call up each other every day and exchange notes on what they have cooked. No conversation can start without ‘yenu adige’? (what have you made for lunch?) or variations of it. And if it is ‘avarekaayi’, it is a matter of great pride. ‘Avarekaalu huli’, one aunt is bound to say, while someone else will say ‘avarekaalu rotti’ or ‘avarekaalu uppittu’. Someone else might quip that they haven’t yet found the time to cook ‘avarekaalu’ not once this season. Shame, really!
Cooking ‘avarekaalu’ takes pride of place in families like ours. Something like the Thanksgiving turkey. Our harvest festival, Sankranthi, which arrives in early January, would definitely mean a meal planned around ‘avarekaalu’. There is even an ‘avare mela’ on in the city’s VV Puram right now. It’s a fair where everything ‘avarekaalu’ is celebrated, from the mixture made with deep fried ‘avarebele’ to ‘avarekaalu uppittu’ and ‘rotti’. There’s even ‘avarebele jamoon’ on offer at the fair! Just goes to show how crazy Bangaloreans are about this bean.
Step into any market in the city, from Malleshwara to Basavanagudi, and you will spot heaps of ‘avarekaayi’ being sold. Much like it is difficult to put into the words the experience of ‘hithakida avarebele huli’, it is also difficult to explain the word ‘sogadu’ used to judge if the beans are aromatic enough. Impossible to capture the essence of ‘sogadu’ in English. A lingering heady aroma? The smell of ‘avarekaayi’ needs to stay on your palm long after you've washed your hands. The best ‘avarekaalu huli’ is one where the beans have that strong smell. Winter in Bangalore is best described by the sight of ‘avarekaayi’, and the lingering ‘sogadu’ of ‘avarekaalu’.
And true to winter form, a Test series against Australia in Australia is upon us. Also, true to form, the Indian bowling has faltered. The cricket has been good only in some sessions, and the commentary – nothing to write home about. There is no Dravid, there is no Kumble or Srinath. The Waugh brothers are a distant memory and there are no cricket memorabilia-related announcements. And whatever happened to those funny, snarky banners in the stadia? Didn’t spot too many of them.
Hell, it is not even as cold now as it was back then in Bangalore. Or did it feel that way? That’s a debate for another day, but there’s always ‘avarekaalu huli’ to count on. Small mercies, indeed.
(If you want to explore ‘avarekaalu’-based dishes, hit VV Puram’s food street, which starts at Sajjan Rao Circle. Visit the ‘avare mela’ organized by Vasavi Condiments. The ‘mela’ is on till January 14.)