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The Village Fair


By Savitri Narayanan

It was the last day of the semester exams. Ashwin submitted the answer sheets and headed towards the library. The cement bench under the gulmohar tree behind the library was their regular meeting point. Sebastian and Isabelle were already there, looking happy and relieved – a week’s break for the students before the announcement of the results.

“Let’s eat out,” said Sebastian, “The Delicacies?”

The mention of ‘Delicacies’ cheered up everyone’s spirits. It was an upmarket but affordable restaurant, the kind of place that a student would go to only once in a long while!

The menu card came with glasses of water. The waiter stood around as they looked through the menu.

There were many dishes with fancy names. Hamburger, pizza, French fries, chili chicken etc., sounded familiar, but tacos, burrito, hot dog and steak sounded vague.

“I’m vegetarian!” said Shoma.

“We’ve vegetarian, too, madam,” the waiter came forward to help. “Try gypsy stew or Swiss chard and tomatoes!”

Shoma thought for a while, closed the menu card and got up.

“Thank you, we’ll come later!”

“The Food Corner?” suggested Isabelle as they walked out, “Their Goan thhaalis are delightful!”

“Good idea!” agreed the others and moved out.

The Food Corner was inside a large orchard. Apart from mango trees, there were cashew fruit trees, areca palms and coconut palms. The food was served under their shade.

The staff smiled warmly as they brought along the large trays with the lavish spread of Goan dishes.

“Here’s your vegetarian thhaali madam!” the waiter told Shoma. “For dessert we have pods of ripe jackfruit for you!”

“We too want phonos!” said the others as they gorged on dishes made out of shrimp like suntechi kodi and kismoor and also mouth-watering viswon made of kingfish.

Shoma said as she sipped the solkadhi prepared from kokum and coconut milk, “Something’s not right – the way we look down upon our own inherent food items as we seek out pride and pleasure in alien ones!”

“True! We crave for things we know only by names! We don’t even know the ingredients or think of the nutritional values!”

“We shop at supermarkets for fancy vegetables, while things like cucumbers, gourds, spinach, pumpkin and jackfruit grow in our own backyards!”

“Why can’t we organise a Goan food fair in our village?” was the thought as they paid the bill and walked home.

The next morning, they met at the college gate.

“Let’s talk to Pravin Sir,” said Ashwin to which everyone agreed. Apart from being an excellent Physics lecturer, Pravin Sir was a passionate farmer and bonded with students well.

Under the gulmohar tree he listened carefully and cheerfully responded, “I’m pleased to notice that you genuinely care for the local products and community!” he said.

“In this strong current of globalisation, things like our languages, traditions, cuisine, etc., are at risk! It’s up to youth like you to take a stand and preserve our heritage! Let’s talk to the Panchayat pradhan,” he said and picked up the phone.

In the afternoon, a few of them assembled at the Panchayat office to present the idea to the committee. Ashwin and others too tagged along with Pravin Sir.

The Panchayat members loved the idea and offered full support.

“Next week, Guru Poornima is a local holiday,” said Veer Singh uncle. “Lots of people will be around!”

“All will go to the temple in the morning!” said Sunita aunty.

“We can have the fair right here in the Panchayat ground!” said the Pradhan. “Let our people set up their stalls and sell whatever they have!”

Gesturing towards the temple, Veer Singh uncle said, “They’ll offer their prayers there and walk down to the fair!”

This opened up a flood of ideas.

“Let’s have food stalls, let them have breakfast here, at the fair!”

“New items, not the same roti subzi!”

The more it was talked about, the more exciting grew the village fair! Neighbourhood shops, church, temple, street corners – wherever folks met, the topic was the same!

“Molly, let’s put up a stall! I’m good at making poi, learnt from my grandmother! You make the moogaghushi curry to go with it!”

“I will bake brownies with my sister Rachel, they’re mouth-watering!”

“My mom has a magic with pickles! Aamla, mango, lemon, chilies – you name it, she’ll pickle it!”

“We have coconuts, mangoes and drumsticks in our own compound. We’ll have a stall too!”

The village fair brought the whole village together into a new level of togetherness and air of celebration!

The much-awaited day dawned soon. The Panchayat ground came alive. The Head of the Agriculture College did the formal inauguration with many compliments to the students, teachers and the Village Panchayat who took the initiative.

“I am very pleased to see the village community come together to arrange this mela here.  As we all know, between the powerful social media, rich investors and lack of mature leadership, many of our traditional lifestyle including food habits, community bonding, songs and dances are at risk. You’re blessed with a fertile land and hardworking community. These stalls stacked with organically grown millets, vegetables, fruits and grains are ample proof! Congratulations, keep up the good work!”

As the applause died down, the villagers spontaneously fell into a circle and started to dance! Young and old, men and women joined in and fell in rhythm with the koli dance. Many went around the stalls with their bags, eating and shopping.

“Cheers to the whole village!” smiled the professors and panchayat members as they sipped glasses of kokum juice.

(The author is a retired educationist at present in Goa. A mother and a grandmother, loves reading, writing and travelling.)