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Posted on : September 4th, by
Konaseema Paddy Fields, Acrylic on canvas, Vishnu Vandana
Konaseema Paddy Fields, Acrylic on canvas, Vishnu Vandana

This painting speaks to me so much. The paddy fields of Konaseema are where we come from – where our roots are. Both of us, brother and sister, are the produce of these fields. Our grandparents lived in a small village called Mori, many of our cousins still do. It lies near the eastern coast of India very close to the Bay of Bengal. The Godavari river is quite close to it as it meanders its way to the sea. Mori is a picturesque village where, every year, my dad would take us form Durgapur in North India to Mori in Razole taluka, East Godavari district. I remember the journeys well – starting from the doors of 22/7 Newton Avenue in Durgapur to the Railway station in Calcutta overlooking the overpowering Howrah bridge over the Hoogly river and then the two nights on the train.

Hoogly river with Howrah bridge
Hoogly river with Howrah bridge

Our train journey would end at Narsapur Railway Junction and then came the expansive Godavari river crossing by boat – a weak structure filled with people and luggage with water very close to the brim or so it seemed with the lone boatman gently coaxing the boat across the river. We always only saw the river in its gentle state and so my childhood memories are of an undulating river crossing to Sakhinetepalli on the other side. From there, we took a bus to Mallikipuram and then a bullock cart or horse cart to Mori. What a wonderful journey that was. There seemed to be magic and mystery and a sense of adventure – an adventure where you knew what was going to happen next and so that was comforting, too. I loved the ending in bullock and horse carts. Today we travel by car – not as magical. I wonder how my children will remember it when they grow up and turn to musings. For even now as the car goes through Mallikipuram my eyes look out for the statues of leaders past – for they signalled to a young boy that the journey’s end was near.

Mallikipuram statues
Mallikipuram statues

Mori was where my father grew up – a little boy form a village school whose intellect and industry took him to University tops! A great journey and a story in itself – of human endeavour and the desire to better yourself. But throughout his travels every year he would bring his family back to Mori. He sees himself as a Konaseema lad. For the whole area is the Konaseema belt in coastal Andhra with its verdant land with lush green paddy fields, coconut trees, and the Godavari “kalavalu”- man made rivulets filled with water taking it form the Godavari to irrigate all the interior fields of Konaseema. One such rivulet fills the ponds at Mori.

Mori paddy fields
Mori paddy fields
Mori "Kalavalu"
Mori “Kalavalu”

I remember as a child seeing the school at Mori. I even sat in a class there – courtesy of my cousins. But it was only a few months ago that my father took us all to Mori and on the way stopped and showed us his primary school, his secondary school and the college he studied at. But I digress. These musings are about the paddy fields of Konaseema….

When we were kids the overwhelming memory is that Mori was all about paddy fields and coconut trees. And weaving – but I will come to that later. Mori is still the same – in so many ways despite the obvious progress that is happening and is being shaped by the people there. It is beautiful and evokes much of the charm that it had 30 odd years ago. There are rows and rows of coconut trees along the edges of the paddy fields like this image taken in May 2014 and it is as I remember from my childhood.

Harvesting rice at Mori
Harvesting rice at Mori

The houses with little wells in the courtyard to draw water from, the cooking outside sometimes in earthen fireplaces, the pestle and mortar to grind the pulses that go to make the lovely Idlis and Dosas. My memories of Mori breakfasts also feature Pesarattu (made of green gram dal) and Upma (a savoury dish of roasted semolina). My mouth remembers the taste and as I write these words I remember my father’s elder brother whom we called Tathayananagaru. He is no more now but I remember his smiling face as he used to make these Pesarattu and Upma (it was his thing) and feed us with great pride at his culinary abilities. It was unusual as men folk in Mori generally do not cook. My father cannot! I think it is his love for the Pesarattu he was making that I remember as well as the taste…

The streets and the gulleys with their mud roads led on to the Mori library where I read Don Quixote – a dusty frazzled copy of it used to be there 35 years ago. These roads then led on to the “Santa” – the village weekly market where vegetables would be piled up.

"Santa" - a weekly market 2014
“Santa” – a weekly market 2014
Brinjal, Gourd etc
Brinjal, Gourd etc

And then there was fish – being so close to the river and the sea. There was a lot of fresh fish on the markets. But also dried fish. My aunt used to make a spinach dish with small dried fish called “Netharulu” which was and still is a local delicacy. It is so tasty – it gives a salty edge to the tanginess of the tamarind in the dish. Occasionally, my sister and I would try our hand at fishing. Our family lived near a pond and we sometimes cast a line there. It was a simple thing – a reed with a line attached and a hook. We would dig up some earthworms – they would be the bait. We would sit on a coconut tree trunk which was overhanging on to the waters and we would try our hand at fishing. Most days were uneventful – but the hope of catching something was always exciting to us young children. Occasionally a fish would surprise us and we would march proudly home with the day’s catch. Our aunt would cook it for us. These trees still bend over the edge of the pond and in May we sat there … reminiscing….

Mori - village pond
Mori – village pond

Everything about Mori was paddy fields and weaving! Or so it seemed… Next to the ponds were fields and fields of paddy. And then in the distance after many fields was a larger pond. In Mori, each paddy field has a raised embankment and on that embankment are coconut trees. We would stare as men would climb up the trees fetch coconuts down.

Mori - coconut harvesting
Mori – coconut harvesting

And in the middle of all this life, revolving around paddy fields and coconuts, was the weaving. There was a thriving hand loom industry here once. I remember trying it out – trying to make spindles of thread on a “chakra” – the spinning wheel.

"Chakra" at Mori - 2014
“Chakra” at Mori – 2014
Hand loom - at Mori 2014
Hand loom – at Mori 2014

For days before there was the preparation of the roll of thread on the loom. These looms would be prepared on the street and everyone rolled the bales of thread so it could feed into the weaving process.

Trying a hand loom at Mori - 2014
Trying a hand loom at Mori – 2014

Even now the finished products are sold in a cooperative hand loom society. The colours are beautiful. It is lovely to see that central aspect of weaving so alive.

Mori - Hand loom Society "sarees"
Mori – Hand loom Society “sarees”

I wear these lungis now and it reminds me of that tradition of hand looms and weaving. But it is a detour and let me bring us back to paddy fields of Mori and Konaseema and its produce – the rice. When I was a kid, I used to go to a rice mill. Here the husk of the rice grains would be removed and then the rice would get polished. There used to be mountains of it. There still is. You can see this behind the area where my grandfather and grandmother’s cemetery is.

Grandparents cemetry - Mori
Grandparents cemetry – Mori

The image shows the connection of paddy and rice in our lives. My great grandmother came from a village where a famine hit. Times were hard and food and water scarce. In response to this, two women and a small boy moved to Mori, a village where water is always available, being so close to the sea. There these two women took brown rice and polished it and sold the polished rice at a profit. They made some money, secured their lives, brought up generations. They are remembered in the family as “Buvamamma” and “Beyammama”. “Beeyam” means raw rice in Telugu (the language of Konaseema) and “Buvva” is cooked rice. That little boy grew up to have three sons – the middle one is my grandfather. So this image shows rice, my grandfather and grandmother’s tomb and my father and me. It encompasses a lot.

Mori reminds me of so much more – the “Kalavulu” – the man made rivulets of water carrying this life force from the Godavari, the buffaloes in the Kalavalu, the bales of hay being transported down streams, the house I lived in our childhood holidays, the roof I slept on in warm summers night, staring into the overhead leaves of the coconut trees…..

It is such a warm feeling of nostalgia for Mori and Konaseema. Next to our house is a small temple. On the top of the temple facade is a statue of Durga – and my younger daughter carries one of the many names of the Splendorous one – so the roots are deep and the branches go far…..

Mori - Shiva "alayam" with Durga "Vigraham" on top
Mori – Shiva “alayam” with Durga “Vigraham” on top

And every time I see this painting I have a myriad of memories stirring within me… of Konaseema and its paddy fields.

Konaseema Paddy Fields, Acrylic on canvas, Vishnu Vandana
Konaseema Paddy Fields, Acrylic on canvas, Vishnu Vandana