Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Tutticorin to Kuttalam - January 6

Lack of internet coverage means I have not checked the stock market all week. That’s a record for me…and I’m quite curious what has happened on Wall Street. Has the sub-prime battle with inflation crushed the market or is it still bubbling along. I hardly care. We have our daily rickshaw vs. the animal and mechanized kingdom battle as can be seen in today's video.

The morning starts with the “International Pongol Festival” at Aravind’s farm. We’re divided into five teams each of which, with the help of a local family, has to make a batch of Pongol from water, rice, sugar cane, cashews, spices, and a live chicken. As Pongol is a sweet, vegetarian dish, the chicken appears to be there only to lend moral support. We are to be judged on speed and quality, though our primary purpose is to look ridiculous. With the men wearing dhotis, the women wearing Sari’s and the SS Music crew chasing everyone around we make the Indian equivalent of an MTV special.

The recipe starts with making fire to get the water boiling; we’re doing great until the gods take our pot. Water spills everywhere and our fire is out. We elect to focus on quality, and make some darn good Pongol using some “borrowed” ingredients from other teams since we were a bit short due to the hi-jinx with the first batch. After a formal offering to the gods and some cows wearing robes, our Pongol is rated 2nd by a single point. The winners received two bunches of miniature bananas – we received one bunch. And for anyone who likes cashews, as Giamp does – see yesterday’s video – our Pongol was clearly superior as the winning team didn’t use them.

As all the teams are getting ready to go we discover our rickshaw's clutch is broken. The mechanics are right there, but this is a serious operation. Half-way through we discover the gearbox is broken as well. Arivind’s dad entertains us with coconut drinks and food as the mechanics repair the car. We start about an hour later, but quickly make up time as there are no challenges and it’s now Saturday, so again there is no school visit. As we roll into the hotel in Kuttralam, one of our tires deflates. For a day with two potentially serious problems, they could not have happened at better times. Our secret prayers to Ganesha – the remover of obstacles - are paying huge dividends.

For the adventurous among us, dinner is at a local truck stop and our transportation is the luggage truck. We’re shipped there in the dark container like a bunch of illegals and their cruel coyote. After surviving the fast food restaurant on the way to Rameswaram, we were feeling confident, but here we are taken to a whole new level. As usual, the meal starts with a banana leaf with water splashed on it, but then a fat, greasy, sweating cook comes round with pots of very spicy roasted chickens and quails. He digs around the pots with his bare hands and tosses them onto your banana leaf. Need more squab? No problem, I just happen to have a handful here. There’s no ordering. No asking. No communication whatsoever, probably because you can’t talk over all the noise. Other servers come by with paratha, vegetables, rice, etc. Just food coming at your right and left. The meal ends when you fold your leaf over – then no one can put more on your “plate”. Super efficient, and the food was delicious. The mayhem was a sight to see, as you can do for yourself in today’s video. If someone ran a petrol station like this, they’d be millionaires.