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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

ALL SOUL'S DAY OR THE CEMETERY FEAST IN KGF



ALL SOUL'S DAY OR THE CEMETERY FEAST IN KGF

An excerpt from my book KOLAR GOLD FIELDS DOWN MEMORY LANE - MEMORIES OF ALL SOULS DAY IN KGF - 
All Souls Day falls on the 2nd of November every year. It is primarily a day for remembering the departed souls and is observed mainly by Catholics and Anglicans. The official name of the celebration in the Roman Rite liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church is "The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed".

These are the graves of my parents Sydney and Doris White who are buried in the Cemetery in Champion Reefs in Kolar Gold Fields 

The All Soul’s day was also known as the Graveyard Feast / Cemetery Feast or “Kalrai Thirunal”(in Tamil).Even though it was a Christian day of remembrance for honoring the departed souls, it was celebrated as a Festival for remembering the dead even by non-Christians and people of other communities as well. This is one example of the communal harmony that existed between the different communities of KGF where its secular nature was unparalleled.

Tomorrow the 2nd November is All Soul’s Day,  and it brings back many memories of this day in KGF when we were growing up. The Cemetery in KGF has the graves of three generations of our family on our paternal side. All my dad’s ancestors lived and worked in KGF since almost the beginning of the mines in the late 1800s. My dad’s forefathers came in from England and Scotland to earn a living in KGF and eventually died in this place.

There are almost sixty graves of our family members in the Catholic Cemetery in KGF. The Cemetery also has a number of graves of other old families of KGF. There are also graves of many Britishers, Italians, French, etc. who were all employees of the KGF Mines and who died there either naturally or as a result of the Rock Bursts and accidents underground in the mines. Most of these graves lie unattended and forgotten as their dependents are no longer in KGF. A week before All Soul'd Day,  my dad would send a team of his workmen to the Cemetery, to repair, clean, paint and generally do up all the graves of our deceased family members. His workmen would work really hard painting the graves and getting the surroundings cleaned.

On the morning of All Souls’ Day, we would all help to make around 75 wreaths at home, with silver oak leaves and flowers. Isaac our faithful house boy would make the outer Rings or circles out of mulberry branches and stems  from the garden. All of us would sit on the ground and arrange the silver oak leaves and ferns around the rings and fasten them with twine. Then the asters, lilies, daisies or roses (that were specially brought in from Russell Market Bangalore) would be arranged around the wreath and fastened with twine.

In the evening, we’d take all the wreaths and loose flowers to the Cemetery and go around placing the wreaths on the graves of our dear ones, pausing and praying for the repose of their souls. We would meet a lot of our friends and relatives in the cemetery that day as everyone had some departed member of their family buried in the Catholic Cemetery in KGF.

Since, All Soul’s Day morphed in to a feast day for remembering the dead, there was a carnival like atmosphere around the 4 Cemeteries. Vendors selling flowers, candles, balloons, sweets, savouries, etc.  After we visited all the graves and prayed for the departed souls, we would have a gala time buying balloons, blowing whistles made of pieces of bamboo, hair clips, plastic sun glasses, etc that the vendors sold outside the cemetery. It was a colorful and noisy feast with lots of people milling around and the vendors doing brisk business selling these toys, ground nuts, hot stuff, sweets, colored ribbons, glass bangles, flowers, candles, etc.

The All Soul’s day was also known as the Graveyard or Cemetery Feast or “Kalrai Thirunal” in Tamil. Even though it was a Christian day of remembrance for honoring the departed souls, it was celebrated as a Festival for remembering the dead even by non-Christians and people of other communities as well.

This is one example of the communal harmony that existed between the different communities of KGF where its secular nature was unparalleled.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

OLD FASHIONED KITCHENS IN KGF – SOME NOSTALGIA



OLD FASHIONED KITCHENS IN KGF – SOME NOSTALGIA

In the olden days and even now-a-days, most of the houses in Kolar Gold Fields didn’t have attached kitchens or kitchens that were part of the house. The kitchens were always built off the dining rooms with a small covered passage in between. This was because all the food was cooked over firewood and hence the kitchen had to be separate from the main house so that the smoke, fumes, soot, etc didn’t get into the house. Like the rest of the house, the walls of the kitchen too, were painted white, but the ‘white washed walls’ would get quite black with the smoke from the firewood ovens in no time.
 I remember that the fires in the ovens were always kept going in our kitchen. At any given time, one could see glowing coals in the ovens. When she needed to start cooking the food, our Ayah would blow through a long narrow metal pipe (or tube known as an ‘Oodankol’ in the Tamil language) on the embers to rekindle them. A huge aluminum pot filled with water was always on one of the ovens so that there was a perpetual supply of hot water for use whenever needed. 
Besides the wood stoves and open ovens, we also had iron ‘Sigris’ that were fired with coal. Some dishes such as Roasts, etc which had to be cooked on a slow fire or “Dumm” were left to slow cook over the Sigri the whole night. There were no pressure cookers in those days and hence they had to slow cook for several hours to make them soft and tender.
 Our kitchen had a number of shelves filled with lots of aluminum vessels or dekshis in various sizes, frying pans, etc. The big dekshis were for cooking the Biryanis, roasts, etc, while the smaller ones were used for cooking the curries, fries, pepper-water, etc. Separate dekshi or pans was kept for each type of dish that was prepared.
There were also a few cooking utensils made of mud which were called “Chatties”. These Chatties were used mostly for baking Hoppers and for preparing Fish curry. A special ladle made out of half a coconut shell with a long wooden handle was used to stir the Fish Curry in the Mud Chatties!
 After each cooking session, the utensils would be covered with soot from the wood fire. Our ayah would scrub the dekhis and pans with a mixture of powdered charcoal and soap and some ash from the oven. After a good scrub they would once again shine brightly like polished silver.
The enamel dining plates and dishes were also washed using ashes and 501 Bar soap in those days. The glass crockery however was washed with liquid soap specially procured from Spencers! The brass items such as the water pots, pans etc, were scrubbed with a mixture of brick powder, salt, tamarind or lemon rind to leave them sparkling and shining like gold!


Since there were no refrigerators in the olden days, all the left over food, milk, etc were stored in the “Meat Safe”. A meat safe was a compulsory   piece of furniture in Anglo-Indian homes in the olden days and every family a couple of them. We had 2 Meat Safes in our Dining Room. The Meat Safes were wooden storage cupboards with steel wire mesh on 3 sides so that the air could pass through and keep the food that was stored in it fresh. The back of the meat Safe was of wood. Since the weather was cool in those days and there was no pollution,  everything remained fresh in the meat safes for more than a day. The legs of the Meat Safe were placed in ceramic bowls filled with water or germaxin powder or Ant powder to avoid ants from getting at the food in the meat safe. The Meat Safe’ was also quite necessary to protect the food from cats and mice as well.
Another kitchen appendage that has also disappeared with the older generation is the ‘Wooden Provision or Ration Box / Chest which occupied pride of place in the passage just outside the kitchen door. This Provision Chest / Box  was about 5 feet in height and 4 feet in breadth and housed tins of the various provisions and condiments that were required for Anglo-Indian cooking.  It was divided into many compartments for rice, and dry provisions such as Dhal / Lentils, Red Chillies, Cumin seeds, coriander seeds, spices, jaggery, etc. While these ingredients / provisions, gave out their own unique smells, a combination of all of them together was just heavenly. The smell from my Grandma’s Provision Box still lingers in my mind even after all these years!!

Sadly the Meat Safe  and the Provision Box are now a part of history as they are arely seen in homes these days. People prefer to have fancy refrigerators at home instead of Meat Safes!!