Friday, 11 December 2015

Dilemmas and Delights in Halwa Land...!

To give halwa to someone is an idiomatic expression that comes from Tamil, which according to samosapedia dot com (yes literally!) means to con or deceive at monumental proportions!

Kolkatta – ke rasagullava ???
Mumbai – ke vadapaava ???
Tirunelveli – ke halwava ???

are examples of tautological rhetoric for emphasizing that the action is foolhardy or pointless!

In English, a similar expression would go something like ‘Are you trying to sell Coal to Newcastle!’

But that was more or less the case when we stepped onto the land of halwa!

It was raining hard (on Friday, 11 December) and the streets were glistening in the early 'dawn'ing lights that gleamed through the rain-water-stagnated streets leading up to the Tirunelveli Railway Station.

The moment we alighted at around 3.40 in the morning, Dr. Ramachandra Pillai & I were on the lookout for a good tea shop in the vicinity.

a daring cross-over of sorts...

Tea ah ve? asked a little ‘Master’!, the altervoice of his ‘big’ Master! [an expert tea-maker in tea-stalls is called a Master in Tamil Nadu] Indeed the Master’s eyes sparkled with verve and enthu as he saw a dozen passengers-now-turned-customers come crowding around his corner shop! Once the throng was to the brim, the cooing ceased and the Master took over.

‘Special tea potrava Ve?’

Aama Anney! we chorused back with a mischief twinkling in our eyes, satisfied that our Tirunelveli slang succeeded amazingly even in our very first encounter with the dialect! and how!

‘InthaHa ney’! came forth a pleasing voice, that gently stuck out an elaichi-flavoured tea in comparatively bigger tea-glasses, (like the ones you get opp American College in Goripalayam, Madurai, or like the ones you get in Malligai Tea Stall, Madurai!). ‘These tea-glasses are geo-specific!’ or so, I had once thought, since in Chennai you don’t get such big tea glasses. If you get half that cuppa tea here in Chennai for that price, you should be grateful enough to go on a long pilgrimage thanking Heavens all the way!
After a comparatively longer time over a bigger cuppa tea, we walked down towards the Station Road, to our lodgings, when we were surprised to hear incessant ‘crowd-boo’ kinda sounds on either sides of the streets!

It was the halwah wallahs (surprisingly it’s anagrammatic too!) standing on all four corners of their shops cooing out as far as their lungs could permit them, for a pronounced ventriloquial effect on the ‘as innocent as a dove’ customers, who were literally in the horns of a (bullish!) dilemma on listening to these sales experts sell themselves well!

A traveller-customer is sure bound to be perplexed and 'utterly-butterly' confused on seeing such a plethora of shops that have the same names, (Santhi Sweets!) in old-age fonts and traditional colours [some have even taken a wonderful extra step ahead, boasting with all sincerity that they are here in this place stirring, mixing, blending and vending since the time of Tipu Sultan!]

We both decided to become halwa tasters for a change! We approached a shop which had a deliberately done-up old-age charm to it, and asked for a 100 gm piece to have it ‘then and there’! 

When the seller gave it to us, quite fast and careless, [as he had his own share of victims nay customers waiting all along!] we were careful to the core in handling it, for TWO reasons: first, we had to make sure that the ‘oil well’ which had a committed contract with the halwa didn’t spill over and embarrass our morning! Secondly we badly needed a kinda selfie-click of the halwa on our hands, as evidence of enjoying halwa in halwa land!!!

We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the halwa in our hands shining in a tad lightish-green colour! Because even as children, we were taught (or we had caught it!) that, tirunelveli halwa was a kinda brown in colour, a golden brown that sends your taste buds to a frenzy  tickling all the way!

But here, it was as green as the ‘month-long-moss-filled’ puddles in flood-ravaged Chennai!

After having the hundred grams of ‘halwa’ and having lost our morning calm as a result after our impulsive tryst with these experimental jaggery jellys (euphemistically called halwas), we went to our lodging at Aryas, a walkable distance from the Railway Station!

It was, as I had said earlier, raining hard, when we stepped into Aryas, our lodging premises for the day!

By 8 o clock, amidst the intermittent showers, and in spite of the inclement weather, we were hoping against all odds that ‘Schools & Colleges shouldn’t be declared holiday’ today, at least in Tirunelveli because our travel all night should not go in vain!

We got a Aryas-arranged Cab for Rs.1600 from Tirunelveli to Thisayanvillai, where we were supposed to meet up with the final year students of V. V College of Engineering & Technology, Thisayanvillai, for a program with them. Once in the car, we struck up a conversation with our driver, who was as garrulous as many Chennai OLA drivers normally are!! When we asked him about these innumerable halwa shops that’ve mushroomed in recent years, and the hullaballo that has ‘dilemma’ed the traveller’s choices, he nodded sympathetically with us, and added that, it was indeed the saddest of truths that many halwa shops have indeed sprouted up in the recent past just for the sake of raking in the moolah, but not many have the ‘seasoned hand’ to make it the way it used to be! He suggested that we visit one particular shop in another corner of the Railway Station Road, to get original halwa! And we thanked him later on because  this was the halwa we were longing for, all the way!

Now, our journey of 60 kms from Tirunelveli to Thisayanvillai was marked by numerous flood streams that had battered the roads on all sides, with pot-holes and puddles that were our invisible travel companions all the way!!! On at least two major bridges, the waters were wildly rushing over the bridges with such force and intensity, that even lorry drivers stopped their vehicles a full and safe 10 feet before the waters, and waited to assess the situation for themselves before they could press further on!

Our driver was a Tirunelveli ‘Singham’ by all means! He just overtook the lorry, and a couple of other SUVs even as they were pondering over their ‘next step’, and skillfully made his way across!

The next bridge was an equally taunting ordeal, as this time policemen were planted on bridges to escort vehicles and people from one side to the other to safety! We both had just one word of caution for our driver!

‘Don’t ever take your right foot off the accelerator!’

He said, ‘okay anney’ and dashed through the waters, with the cops in tow - cursing him for splashing some of the gushing flood-waters on their uniforms! He gave an apologetic ‘sorry ney’ and heaved a sigh of ‘Red-Sea crossed’ relief!

Somehow we managed to reach the town in time for our Programme!

Well, I would be failing in my duty if I forget to give my observations and grateful note of thanks to a few wonderful people:

V.V C of Engg & Tech, Thisayanvillai
Prof. Prakash, English Faculty in V.V College of Engineering & Technology, Thisayanvillai (and an alumni of St.John’s, Palayamcottai) was our host, and Mr. Faizal was our coordinator for the Program. Ms. Kamini was our ever-ready help in time of need! All the three good hearts made our stay memorable in Thisayanvillai and in our day-long interventions and interactions with the students here, we could find the truth in Thomas Gray’s wonderful words, ‘many a flower is born to [live] unseen – here! Such wonderful talent and dynamism of the students enthralled us all the way!

A Language Lab in V.V College of Engg &Tech
The students were not only courteous and well-mannered but also self-disciplined and self-motivated, in this beautiful, sylvan, sprawling campus that must be hundreds of acres! There are as many as four language labs here and the fabulous and intricate designs of each of them with elegantly shaped interiors, centrally air-conditioned, with granulated glass-cabins should really be a delight to any Language Lab-administrator!

Now, even as I am typing out this post, I am getting news from my Tirunelveli friends that, holidays have been declared in and around the city in three adjoining districts because of prediction of heavy rains in those places. Even now, the waters are all over the city and in the villages, and the whole area represents one huge island, at some places!

Let’s pray that God Almighty has mercy on our ever-hospitable Tirunelveli-ians and may there be no destruction to people or their property! Shalom! Shalom! Shalom!

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