Thursday, June 14, 2018

Notes From Madikeri: In The Hindu on Sunday

Featuring the famous biscuits from the Bangalore Food Products (BFP) bakery in Madikeri.

Published here in BLInk on May 26, 2018.


NOTES FROM MADIKERI

Home is a thing of the distant past. Can one ever go home again? Every time I go to Madikeri, my home in the hills, I go as a tourist, accumulating short capsules of anecdotes, wispy feelings, a breeze or two that I will think about with mild longing, later. But then, I do believe that one can never really leave home. I carry its many notions beneath my skin, “in the gristle of my earlobes” even.

Madikeri, spelled just this way, thank you very much, used to be a slightly outgrown village with village-ish camaraderie among its people and small-townness in the display of their attitudes, albeit with some stray cosmopolitan allowances if you would seek them out. If you knew about it, and not many did, in the early two-thousands you could go to Periyan’s for a burger, priced an extravagant ₹60 and served with salty potato chips plus some ketchup on the side.

Then the tourists ‘discovered’ Coorg, or preferably Kodagu, and it has gotten enmeshed in the grand traditions of hill-stations being favoured by cantankerous tourists to become a slight city. The ruins present a cliched narrative: filth everywhere, entitled arrogance of the city-people, high rentals for locals, new faces that refuse to be friendly or care about your private businesses any longer. The town/city in a crisis of identity loathes and loves its perpetrators.

When someone arrives in Madikeri and asks how to get to Coorg/Kodagu, that’s loathing for, though. Madikeri is to Kodagu how Calangute, Anjuna, such like is to Goa. Please to be noted.

HIGH LIFE

There is still a hill or two, a waterfall, a vista of mist and rain rolling over silent, jagged, kind mountains that these people don’t know of. They are where you still see why Kodagu is the Scotland of India. While the point of epithets in general escapes me, the land that will always decorate the longings of my skin is ancient, is affecting, is as phantasmagorical as the Scottish Highlands I once traversed. I will not name these hills and vistas here.

What I will write though is of the best biscuits from Bangalore Food Products (BFP), the sole large bakery in Madikeri at one time. The biscuits are refined flour, they are white sugar, they are tutti-frutti, a questionably made product in itself and they are absolutely, talk-to-everyone-about-it amazing. They are packed in transparent, nameless packets. Sometimes, when sold in retail outlets around town there is a price sticker, for the Others; most locals know how much it costs. 

WHITE BREAD WORKS

BFP is placed halfway on the eponymously named Industrial Estate – a sole long road flanked by the townly Kohinoor Road on one side and on the other, by a section of town that used to be mostly residences. The bakery supplied, still does, loaves of bread around the district. The bread, once an occasional treat, was white with thin browned sides – no new age healthy brown and multi-grain nonsense for us back then. A window in the bakery that opened to the road was large enough to accommodate a swirl of various smells from all the cakes and other bakes, becoming an aroma that you just had to stop and get a slice of. Else, you could walk a few meters to the back and enter the bakery. It was like entering a warm cocoon of gluttony in my district’s cold months.

The best biscuits are crisp like shortbread, softer than biscotti and unlike most local bakery biscuits, long like a stubby finger and are studded with tutti-frutti. I bite into one. A bit breaks off without effort. A few crumbs land on my lap, some on the ground that one of my four furry fellows will find, sniff and polish off later. I chew on the biscuit slowly, willing Madikeri to be “home” again. I wouldn’t be tourist when I knew all the still-isolated best hills and waterfalls and other magical places. But home too is elsewhere, made up more of parts than one rooted whole.

It is complicated: these unnecessary feelings of comings and goings. The biscuit is simple: I’ve never found their equivalent anywhere else, wouldn’t care to either. By the time I am through half a packet, I have replicated what evenings in Madikeri used to be like. Coffee with BFP biscuits: that is all there is to it.

When not flaneuse-ing someplace, the writer can be found at the mercy of her brood of rescued mutts.

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