Dedicated to Stephen and Manjela
I gently stretch out in the firm bed, it’s half past six and it’s time to wake up. Even though it seems like it’s early morning after that short night, we are both well rested. Quickly, quickly we discover the joys of simplicity by showering with a tub and bucket of water. There is nothing more efficient or more ecological to reduce water consumption. As soon as the shower is over, we quickly leave for Srirangapatna for our bike ride. It’s a good way to discover the local life and to meet the inhabitants.
First step, go and enjoy a breakfast of dosai, these large pancakes from South India, made from rice flour, at a charming plasterer. His small shop is very colourful and very welcoming. One feels at once at ease there. He handles his instruments with ease. For the service, he is helped by his three children who enjoy discovering tourists. His pancakes are real laces, accompanied by small coconut sauces, all spicy. They are served with a tchai tea which we particularly appreciate. Satish enjoys watching us taste the spices carefully. Here, it is also the morning meeting point for the local regulars, who come to have breakfast before leaving for work. Once breakfast has been eaten, we set off on a trip to discover the Island, proudly riding our bright red mountain bikes.
Our second stop will be at an artisan wooden cart manufacturer. These are decorated with multiple multicoloured scenes representing the life of the Gods. They are all as beautiful as each other and the play of colours is undoubtedly a good way to avoid accidents on the roads shared between ultra-fast and ultra-slow vehicles.
In the streets of the island, it is now time for offerings. Every home has its kolam, these charming drawings made with rice flour, on the threshold of each door, as a sign of welcome and in honour of the Gods. This popular art, very developed in the South, is called Rangoli. In this sector of the island, the traditional habitat is very low, it has very small openings, which helps to preserve freshness. The houses are brightly coloured and all these paintings put us in a good mood.
Now it’s time to cross the famous railway to get to the other side of the bridges. Check on the right, then on the left if there is no train on the horizon, lift the bike, don’t get your feet caught in the rails… we pass one after the other under Stephen’s watchful eye. We take the old railway bridge now dedicated to walkers and cyclists, we are under the spell of the surrounding landscapes.
Stephen suggests that we make a stop on the bridge over the ghats of the Kaveri River. He then shows us precisely the place where Manjela’s Puja took place. The puja? but what is it about? It is the rituals and ceremonies of immersing the ashes of the deceased. And yes, against all odds, Stephen told us that Manjula died last March from a nasty disease. He insisted that she be buried according to local tradition. We gather with him and understand the strength of the bond that now unites them. For your part, you could immediately conclude that this is where Stephen and Manjela’s beautiful love story ended. Then you would be completely wrong. Manjela permeates Stephen’s daily life and all his actions are taken in function of Manjela. This is the fate of powerful and eternal love. That is why we feel Manjela’s presence in every room of the house although we haven’t met her yet. We take the time to immerse ourselves in the places dedicated to the ceremonies. On the right bank, on the left side of the bridge, we discover an old temple invaded by vegetation. It has the charm of old architecture abandoned to nature. A few men are sitting on the steps and practicing their ablutions. On the left bank, on the side where we stopped, it is the place of the Pujas, these prayers of the families which take place under the advice of the priests. So it was here that the carnal lives of Stephen and Manjela were separated. We can still feel Stephen’s emotion as he tells us this part of their story. Now we are both deeply moved.
Below, women beautifully draped in their saree wash the laundry and dishes for the rituals. This is an opportunity for them to get together with other women for a little chat. We will now take a closer look at the ghats of the Sri Kaveri Temple.
On the way, we pass by the remains of the Tipu Sultan fort. From this strange place we have a magnificent view of the railway bridge over the Kaveri River. A majestic locomotive, coming from Bengaluru, crosses the river, driving its blue and yellow wagons towards Ballani. These endless trains are really very impressive. Every day, they cross the immensity of India, and carry a multitude of passengers.
We are now coming to the edge of the ghats of Sri Kaveri Temple. Here everyone goes about his or her business and many activities are carried out with the greatest indifference. Some women wash their clothes, some men chat, others prepare the rituals. Children play in the water while monkeys, hyper agile and on the lookout for everything, feast on the reliefs of the offerings deposited on the steps. All kinds of offerings are deposited here every day, in memory of a life, they are the traces of a passage on this earth. Most of the offerings seem basely material to us, others seem, to us Westerners, more spiritual, but in the end, what is it really like? They are varied and colourful, which is also the charm of the place.
Going up from the ghats, we take the time to taste a chai tea at the Venki Tea Stall, a small street stall, installed under tarpaulins, where the regulars enjoy a tea, cookies, or samossas … The scent of spices intoxicates us and we each think back to the short and intense love story between Stephen and Manjela. The smell of curry, cardamom, tchai, massala takes us little by little into the depths of India and it is a delight for all our senses. The tea does its work and invigorates us, we are ready to set off for the rice fields.
The circuit, which takes us through the heart of the rice fields, is conducive to daydreaming. The end of the morning is peaceful and we are happy at the end of this magnificent trip to go and take a lunch break at the Majura River View. Curry is served with naans. We enjoy the view of the Kaveri River while tasting the food. Monkeys jump from branch to branch, above our heads, shouting shrillly. Below, the river flows peacefully, taking the ashes of the dead with it, to the other side of this world. It brings us back to Manjela and to this love story interrupted in its most beautiful momentum. Little by little, we realize that our thoughts are deceiving us and that Stephen and Manjela still have some beautiful emotions in store for us. Three men peacefully go down the river, aboard their coracle, these round boats, similar to large baskets, woven with natural materials and covered with fabric inside. Their boat is light and gives us a feeling of peace and confidence.
After lunch, after a well deserved nap, we will take a tour of the Devajara Market near the KR Circle on Sayyaji Rao road. We like to immerse ourselves in this atmosphere. The smells emanate from all the stalls (flowers, spices, fruits of all kinds). They are so loaded and so colorful that it turns our heads. We then return bloodless and happy to dine at Dosa Corner on Barnu Road, close to the magnificent Stephen’s neighborhood. On our return, we exchange again and again with him and get to know Manjela, the soul of this house. There is no doubt that she is still very much present there. It is simply another form of presence. Stephen tells us about the ways in which she cooked excellently, how she made the garden bloom, how she enchanted the guests of the guest-house. We discover once again how Manjela enjoyed life here 200%.
The next morning, during breakfast, Stephen gave me a wonderful surprise with a magical and extraordinary gift: Manjela’s wooden kitchen spoon. What an emotion in this moment, we look at each other with Jean-Yves and perceive the emotion in each other’s eyes. It is a wonderful mark of friendship. The day before, I had evoked my passion for handcrafted spoons from all over the world. That’s why we went to the Devjara Market. There I had found some fascinating bamboo spoons; their different shapes were inspired by nature and also by their future culinary use. Nothing to do with Manjela’s spoon, of course! This spoon keeps Manjela’s fingerprints and has prepared, under her guidance, so many dishes for their romantic dinners or to pamper the guests of Manjela’s guest-house. Here I receive this spoon as a gift, as a small token of trust.
It is now proudly enthroned next to the kitchen utensils, in the small kitchen of our apartment in the heart of the 14th district in Paris. It is large, stands upright like an « i » in the cutlery jar, and comes alive as soon as you pick it up to prepare an Indian spice recipe. What she loves above all is the preparation of Ayurvedic vaghars. She always manages to fall for our Massala dani (those Indian spice boxes) and you can see her cheerful as soon as you handle the spices. She then dances in the pan with special agility, as Manjela probably did in her kitchen. Manjela invites herself into our home every time she uses it.
And so it is that following a beautiful human encounter between two French, an English and an Indian, a wooden spoon now finds itself at the other end of the world to enchant everyday cooking. We keep in touch with Stephen, who, for his part, continues to keep the memory of Manjela alive, sometimes walking her sarees, by bicycle in Mysore. No doubt, their story is an ocean of eternity.
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Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)