|The Nilgri Hills|
This involvement has taken me to several foreign climes, in including Australia, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Malaysia and India. The latter is the country which is home to the Nilgri Hills, a mountain range that crosses the centre of the sub continent. The range of mountains form a
part of the Western Ghats situated in the western part of Tamil Nadu state.
It is on this range of hills that the Jack fruit grows. This is a remarkable fruit as it is the only fruit that grows directly from the trunk of the tree and not from the branches. It grows to a great size,
some a long as four feet with a girth almost as large.
In the Hindu religion it is held to be food for the Gods.
The reasons for this are threefold. To start with it is not easily accessible; secondly it is covered by very small spikes that are poisonous to touch. Although not fatal they give a nasty prick that
causes a rash on the finger.
It is for this reason that the collectors of this gigantic fruit and those that dissect it to get to the very tasty edible part, coat their hands in cooking oil. This coating gives protection from the spikes also from the gelatinous substance that surrounds the absolutely delicious inner kernel. The flavor is comparable to a combination of apple, pineapple, mango, and banana.
|The Jack Fruit|
|Tea Pickers in The Nilgri Hills|
I mention this exotic fruit to give you an idea of the unusual fodder that crossed my lips while on this particular assignment.
I was in India travelling by road from Bombay, or Mumbai as it is now called, filming a doccie called “Behind the African Mask”. We travelled from Mumbai to the southern most tip of the sub-continent ending at the town of Trivandrum.
The premise of this documentary was exploring the theory of a Dr Cyril Hromnik who believes that Dravidian Indians crossed over the Indian Ocean as far back as 8000 BC to mine gold in Southern Africa.
This Cape Town based historian Dr Cyril Hromnik has produced a vast body of research. He paints a compelling picture of an ancient settlement of gold miners in the Eastern Transvaal and Swaziland with roots that go back to the early Dravidian seafarers who had expert navigation skills and a lust for African gold.
So the documentary attempted to answer the question; did ancient Dravidian Seafarers establish the first gold mines in Southern Africa?
Also grown of the lower slope of the Nilgri Hills is tea. Nilgiri tea is generally described as being a dark, intensely aromatic, fragrant and flavoured tea and is grown in the district of Tamil Nadu.
It was whilst I was trekking up the slopes amongst this aromatic tea that I had my first rear end explosion.
It was a low-budget production. The producer stroke writer, director and camera operator, his wife as coordinator and general dogs-body, Dr Hromnik and myself as the on screen presenter and carrier of what else was needed, made up our full crew.
We had a hired a driver four our four wheel drive jeep as driving in India is a nightmare for anybody brought up in the western world. The driver Habba was also our interpreter and our go-between when any bribes had to be negotiated for entrance to certain historical sites.
We were on a climb through the terraced tea plantation to see an ancient dolmen, also known as a cromlech, a portal tomb or a quoit. I suppose it’s a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb.
All these strange words entered my vocabulary while I was on this shoot. I had already been made familiar with the Yoni stone and the Shivaling or Lingam, which are representations of the male phallus and the female vulva.
In Hindu philosophy the Yoni is the origin of life and an abstract creative force that moves through the entire universe, so during the climb Dr Hromnik had said we were going to see the most enormous Yoni very close to the Dolmen.
To this day I still do not know that the thought of seeing a giant Vulva or Vagina set my bowels in motion, or if it was the curried paste of the Jack fruit I had eaten the previous evening, but set in motion they were.
I quickly had to remember all the advice I’d read in Kathleen Meyer ‘s humourous , environmentally sound and explicit book entitled “How to shit in the woods”.
I borrowed a small trowel from our director, which he’d brought along for leveling the ground for his camera, and dug Kathleen’s suggested six inch hole while I squatted, hidden from the tea picking ladies, between two lines of tea bushes.
The relief was gratifying and as I strode effortlessly on an empty fuel tank up the hill to catch up with the rest of the crew, I wondered how my six inch buried semi-liquid donation would affect the aroma of the Nilgri Tea picked from the nearby bushes.
The Yoni was enormous and the dolmen was as it should be, two vertical stones with a large slab stone lain across the top. Dr Hromnik had dragged us all the way on this four hour climb to see something that we had already seen many times on our travels in the Eastern Transvaal of
Southern Africa, in Zimbawe, and in Swaziland.
His point was that he wanted to show us how the construction of this particular Dolmen and it’s orientation toward the setting sun was very similar to the ones we’d seen in Africa.
Down the hill we trekked back to our waiting vehicle and driver, who told us we had still another four hours drive till we reached our overnight stop-over in the city of Mysore.
We were visiting this city for two reasons.
Firstly our director had to cash in some dollar traveler’s cheques and we were going to see the Holi festivities in the city.
In Hinduism, Holi also called Holaka or Phagwa is an annual festival celebrated on the day after the full moon in the Hindu month of March or Phalguna, as it is known in the local tongue. It celebrates spring, commemorates various events in Hindu mythology and is a time of disregarding social norms and indulging in general merrymaking.
The central ritual of Holi is the throwing and applying of coloured water and powders on friends and family, which gives the holiday its common name "Festival of Colors."
The ritual is said to be based on a story of Krishna and Radha, when Krishna playfully splashes maids with water, but most of all it celebrates the coming of spring with all its beautiful colours and vibrant life.
Dr Hromnik said that similar festivities were also conducted by the Nguni tribes of Southern Africa, thus adding more credence to his theory that The Dravidian Indians had crossed to Africa and left some of their culture.
The following morning after spending over four hours exchanging dockets for wooden discs and then pieces of paper with hand-written instructions and signatures on them, our director finally got his hands on almost a small suitcase of Indian Rupees.
The Indian banking system is archaic and adheres to Nehru’s political doctrine of every man
having a job no mater how menial it may be.
In our hotel too this was highly evident. If I lit up a cigarette, immediately a man would appear with an ashtray. I’d drop my ash into it. Again immediately a boy would rush up and scoop the ash into a bucket. Then another boy would appear from nowhere and take the bucket across the room and empty the contents into a dust bin. Then suddenly I’d be surrounded by two boys and a man with their hands open expecting payment of a few Rupees for disposing of my tobacco ash.
Back in the bustling city, we then weaved and threaded our way through the throngs of people who were in the city for the festival. We were heading for the river where most of the “splashing” would take place.
It is estimated that over 4.5 million people come to Mysore for the Holi festival that lasts for four days. It is amazing to think that we Westerners believe we’re in a crowd at a Rolling Stone’s concert that has sixty thousand people crammed into a stadium and here we were watching close on one hundred and twenty thousand people splash around in the Kabani River.
Negotiating our way through the crowded streets was like moving through a tin of sardines, sweat, splashing water and coloured powders engulfed us and only once or twice would the crowds thin out. This was usually when a “Bloodletting” ceremony was in progress. To my eyes this event was horrific.
In a small clearing we came across a mother, son and father. The young boy was being held by his mother who was deep in a self induced trance.
We could watch no more and squeezed our way back into the thronging mass of people.
We later learnt from Habba that this practice still occurs throughout the country, particularly amongst the Shi’a Muslim community, the practitioners believing that they are ridding the victim of impure blood.
It’s called “Ashura” and is one of several ceremonies marking the death of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson Imam Hussein at the 7th century battle of Kerbala.
That night we stayed in a hotel, the one and only hotel apart from our first night in Mumbai. The budget was restrictive and most of our stops where at hostels that catered for the trade representatives that roamed the country trying to sell their merchandise, These hostels certainly
would not rate a semi-colon let alone a star.
Washing facilities were an enamel bowl and a rather unclean looking face cloth. Latrines were long drops outside, few were a little up-market as they were pig-cleaned. That means a ravenous pig quickly consumed your droppings.
Early the next morning we set of on the final leg of our journey, a drive through the rest of the Western Ghats mountain range and onto the town of Trivandrum.
My bowels were still not in a stable mood although I’d taken some Imodium tablets so I had to request several stops at what I was told were public toilets.
Fortunately we’d learnt to keep several rolls of loo paper in the vehicle as there was never any at these latrines.
All were of the “Stand or Squat” variety and all had a supply of tap water. I was told that this was for the washing of one’s hands, particularly your left hand, as this was the one you should wipe your arse with.
I only believed this when I noticed that all the locals, left or right handed, ate their food with the fingers of their right hand.
When I landed back at what was called Jan Smuts airport in Johannesburg the first thing I did was rush to the ablution facility and give the attendant a twenty Rand tip after I’d finished using the first flushing Thomas Crapper I’d used for three weeks.
I wish you continued happy bowel movements & use of the loo.
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