Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Living in the past - Beladingalu Oota (Moonlight Dinner) - "Beladinglix Ootax".

Bangalore was still Bengaluru, a clean and tidy city, with lots of trees and a salubrious climate to support a relaxed life style. Those were the days when there was very little vehicular traffic on the streets. People would be in bed by ten and the streets practically deserted by nine thirty. As an eight year old boy, my parents found it safe to let me walk up to school and back – from Gavipuram to Mahila Seva Samaj in Shankarpuram – a distance of 4 to 5 Kms. In the fifties Bengaluru was relatively small and the population lived in self contained developed localities such as the Cantonment, Malleshwaram, Shankarpuram, Gandhi Bazar, Ulsoor, Wilson Gardens and a few more. Beyond first block, there was no Jayanagar. Hebbal, Kengeri, Madivala, Hessargatta and other outlying areas were considered far and beyond city limits.  

The essence of the Bengaluru of yesteryears was in its bungalows, unlike the high rise buildings and apartment complexes one sees today. The bungalows were spacious with a garden in front and a little house at the back called the ‘outhouse’, normally given on rent. As a rule, all the houses had a ‘Gachi’ (Terrace) on top. The Gachi served many purposes – drying clothes, airing beds, sun bathing, drying food preparations such as ‘sandige’, hapla or papad, stuffed salted chillies and so on. It was also a venue for ‘Beladingalu Oota’.

Come summer, all my out station cousins would come to Bengaluru to spend their holidays with the grandparents. Our GP’s house in Gavipuram, located on ‘Masti Venkatesha Iyengar’ Road, was fairly large with all the attributes of a bungalow, with a garden, out house et al. The summers were very mild with a touch of sun at midday. The nights were cool with a fresh summer breeze wafting all around. On the days when it did not rain, the skies were clear and filled with bright and shining stars. All of us waited anxiously for the ‘Hunnime’ (full moon) to arrive so that we could enjoy ‘Beladingalu Oota’ on the Gachi.

Moonlight is always associated with romance, adventure and a desire to come out in the open and enjoy the bounties of nature. It has a strange effect on people – it eases the mood, lightens one’s heart and fills the evening with endless possibilities – anything can happen on a moonlit night.

Moonlight Dinners were a common tradition in Bangalore. The entire family would gather on the Gachi and prepare for the dinner. Ground sheets would be spread and littered with mattresses, pillows and light woollen shawls. My eldest cousin Madhu had devised an ingenious method of transporting food from the kitchen to the terrace. The kitchen had an unused chimney and Madhu had installed a pulley and chain to hoist the utensils. The whole process of hoisting the food was a very interesting engineering feat and invariably attracted all of us. We later took turns to hoist the food.

The menu used to be drawn up especially for the occasion. Bisibele Hulli Anna (a masala rice and dal combo) with Sandige, Hapla and Upperi (Potato Chips) as accompaniments were a must. Curd Rice was another compulsory item on the menu. The dinner had to have a sweet dish; it was either Gulab Jamun or Carrot Halwa. I still remember walking across to VB Bakery in Vishweshpuram to buy ‘Khoya’ (reduced dry milk) for preparing Jamun – one of my mother’s signature dishes.

Another highlight of the evening would be ‘Kai Tuthu Oota’ meaning food served by hand. All of us toddlers would sit in a circle around one of the aunts who would give a mouthful of food to each one of us in turn. This feeding would always be accompanied by storytelling. Singing was also a part of the programme.

These social occasions provided the family with an opportunity to bond. ‘Beladingalu Oota’ was often extended to other relatives and friends. Pot Luck dinners added an element of surprise and increased the variety. In the absence of TV, picture halls, restaurants, clubs and such other outlets for entertainment – these simple gatherings provided the much needed opening for social interaction and bonhomie.

My grandfather was a homegrown astronomer. He had a star globe and would set it up for the night. After dinner, all of us would sit around listening to him and would gaze at the stars – that is when I first heard of Sapta Rishi, Ashvini, Dhruva,Kruttika and a few more wonders of the night sky.

As the night progressed each one of us would fall asleep peacefully under the gaze of a benevolent moon. An evening well spent. Times have changed and Bengaluru has become Bangalore. Bungalows are things of the past. People are busy and forever on a fast track and have hardly any time to look up at the moon, leave alone having ‘Beladingalu Oota’.

I invariably go down memory line, whenever I read ‘Asterix’. At the end of each adventure, the whole Gaulish village in the province of Armorica gathers around a camp fire and eats and drinks to its heart’s content under the glorious night sky. "Beladinglix Ootax".