MALLEGALA (MALEGALA)                            ( By Maneyapanda Bhamini)

Mallegala. Naati panni. Bitth. Kakadda. Words that you possibly have often heard your grandfathers, fathers, uncles, and enterprising aunts say with great seriousness come May in Kodagu. A good year for the typical Kodava planter is defined by timely monsoons and good labor, both of which are popular conversation starters at a wedding, naming ceremony or across the thanthi baylee (wire frame boundary). For most people who live in urban areas talking about the weather is a lame conversation starter, something that does not allow your clothes to dry or just an inconvenience that adds to your travel time across the city. Since the farmer’s immediate future depends on Lord Indra’s whims and fancies it is not hard to imagine why agriculturalists find it appealing ,almost exhilarating, to discuss the dark clouds looming above.

The splendor of Kodagu is magical in the monsoon. In my opinion the best time to be home. Let me paint you an image…the smell of rain soaked soil, the feel of moist fuzzy moss on the soles of your feet while you walk on the cold parapet walls, catching glimpses of lush green through grey cold mist, the mad thrill of driving through narrow winding roads with near zero visibility. Ever sat on the ainh marra drinking sweet bella kaapi that the yerrawathi prepared to go with the hot sticky balle nurkkus that amma made? Makes your eyes water and mouth go dry just visualizing those moments in your mind’s eye doesn’t it..?

Although the monsoons are a hectic period in terms of work, it still is enjoyable. Between attending weddings, going to town, climbing up Tadiyanda Moolh, getting bitten by leeches, going fishing, checking the annchi roofing for leaks, visiting the club, reading Top Gear magazine cover to cover, fixing the jeep for the next rally or off-roading session, planned or unplanned, and arranging enough labor for the estate work. Our lives in Coorg revolve around the rains. Let me attempt to explain how.

The end of February or beginning of March brings the pre-monsoon, a sort of sporadic shower which is popularly known as the blossom showers. This pre-cursor rain has the whole of Coorg break into snowy white bloom where the sweet jasmine like coffee blossoms scent the air for about 6 to 9 days, a sight that is joy personified, lack of action is the reward, a time to just sit back and take in the beautiful phenomena. Life is perfect. A week later the next shower called the backing shower helps ‘set the blossoms’. Often this is done via artificial irrigation or sprinkling.
The different types of rains are named after the various nakshatras or lunar signs. Rohini malle, Pushya malle, Kanyaar malle, Minyaar malle are some of the types that I have heard mentioned. Each of these have a personality to match and are defined by the kind of showers they bring – heavy, sporadic, incessant, light drizzle… each of them holding significance to the farming cycle.
Generally in the month of April or May the festival of Bissu has farming folk plough their fields before the monsoons arrive. Uppoh is the process of running the plough through the hard soil to loosen it up and prepare it to soak in the monsoon rains that follow towards the end of May or in June.

The monsoons arrive. The frogs croak in tandem and the streams rapidly swell and the little Kuruba boys catch scrumptious neeyandh (crabs) with chicken skin bait. The first week of June sees a rush to finish the sowing of seeds or bitth-kh-udoh, to raise little sprigs of paddy saplings which are ready for transplantation or natti in 22 days. In 22 days the saplings are tied up to make green bundles big enough to fit both your palms called nerrh the creation of bundles is called peripeh. 20 bundles of nerrh make 1 guddeh. Bitth is measured in batty-lekah, where 100 batty’s are used for approximately 3 acres of land and 2 batty’s measures 100 kgs or one 2 batty’s measures 100 kgs or one quintal.

The men folk of each family make an offering of chicken, coconut, milk and alcohol to Kulliyah or the estate spirit of sorts asking him to protect the cattle, labor and children of the family during the work months that are to ensue. Natti-panni begins with fervor before the kakkada month starts on July 15th. Amongst oyya patt or songs to motivate the labor to hurry along with the work the aim is usually to finish the natti-panni before kakkada begins. Since elder folk believe that the temperature changes during kakkada affect the yield of paddy crops adversely.
Kakkada as most would know is a month when we enjoy unique foods like baimballe (bamboo shoots), kumh (mushroom), kakkada kolli (chicken) and on the 18th day of kakadda the sweet rice pudding that is infused with aromatic madh thoppu extract which is deep purple in color. All these food preparations are devoured, often with ghee or clarified butter, to balance the body temperature and keep it warm in order to combat the extreme cold during monsoons in Kodagu, to help keep the body fit for work that requires energy and strength. Interestingly, kembh leaves or edible colocasia is not eaten during kakadda. The myth is that pisaachis or spirits tie their young ones to the water friendly plant in the monsoon so as keep them safe in the rains, and to be eaten at the risk of falling violently ill. There is a claim that scientifically it has been proven the plant is best not consumed during the monsoon since it contains certain toxic elements during this time. However, these large elephant-ear size leaves are alternatively used as umbrellas by children!!

During the month of kakadda no ceremonies are held only for the reason that the greater populace of Kodagu is busy in the field supervising the work, ensuring that all goes well. Besides the rains are so heavy that it plays dampener for people who would need to travel for many kilometers to attend a function. So just for convenience, weddings, naming ceremonies and the like are advanced to the next month or held before this month.

During this month maintenance work in the kappi thota like kachada, kapaath and gobarra panni (weeding, pruning and fertilizing) are carried out. People begin to look at recreational activities to lighten the mood thus turning to sports – gesarru geddeh or natty otta where locals congregate for a day or two of sports in the wet slushy fields. By the first week of August all field work is usually complete and we sit back to catch our breath, smile with smug satisfaction at the green carpets that stretch out in front of us and enjoy some of that fantastic homemade wine that the wife, mother or aunt made.

All in all, the monsoon in Kodagu is the most interesting season, with the air abuzz with activity and the soil languid with moisture. Days kept alive and cheerful with conversations revolving around the number of ‘cents’ of rain that poured down the previous evening, how the pai guard dog refuses to leave the neighbors chicken alone, intermediated with lamentations of an obstinate calf that drinks up all the milk from his mother having us drink bitter black coffee that we secretly enjoy.

The next time you are visiting Coorg, try and make it happen in the monsoon. The experience that is the monsoon can only be felt and never completely narrated. Imagine the wet breeze on your face and a hot cuppa coffee in your hand while you listen to stories and myths, the method and the logic from a grandmother or an uncle with a flair for storytelling. As you listen to why nuchchi kumh sprout only when there is a light drizzle teamed with lightning you will wish the monsoon holidays go on just a little longer…