Monday, June 2, 2008

Chakka and the Life of Malayalis: From Dinner Table to Folk Songs

URAVU, AN indigenous technology center in Wayanad, this week organized an exhibition of chakka (jackfruit) delicacies at a village near Kalpetta. There were as many as 58 items on display, making use of all parts of this summer fruit that grows in abundance in all parts of Kerala. Normally, the external skin called karimullu and the inner core known as madal are discarded but I found that even these were not abandoned and delicious items like thoran, upperi and pickle, important dishes in a traditional Malayali meal, were prepared out of these parts.

It appears that traditional dishes are making a comeback and indigenous skills and resources are now being put to effective use with the help of innovations in technology. Quite a number of rural based non-governmental organizations and technology institutions are making an impact and one can see the changes they bring about, at the annual display of rural wares put on show during the IRDP mela that the government organizes every year during Onam season.

Thus, chakka appears to be making a triumphant come back to our dinner table. It was all but abandoned as rural economy grew and people’s income increased in the past few decades but thanks to recent innovations, they are becoming fashionable once again. I have seen quite a number of chakka dishes in all parts of Kerala like chakka varattiyathu, chakkakkuru upperi, chakka moloshyam, chakka pradhaman, chakka payasam, idichakka thoran, erissery, ihstu, chakka ada, etc, but when Prof. RVG Menon recently said that he had tasted a chakka wine, developed at the IRTC (Integrated Rural Technology Center) he heads, I was excited. I have seen wine made out of coconut but I never knew even the lowly chakka could be wine worthy! He says it was delicious.

But chakka, like coconut, had a dignified place on the Malayali menu and lifestyle for long. That is why we have so many stories, songs and other folklore around chakka. The famous among them, I think, is the story of the guy who brought down a chakka: It fell on the back of an unsuspecting rabbit going by and the lucky chap got rabbit meat for dinner!

And we Malayalis got a saying too: Chakkayittapppol muyaline kuttiyapole…
So every time we climb a jackfruit tree to bring down a chakka, we expect a rabbit as a bonus.

And here is a song that describes a summer evening beautifully:

Chakka manga kalam
Anthi monthi neram…

The season of chakka and manga (jackfruit and mangoes), when the sun sets…

From Kannur, Prof M P Chandrasekharan sends a folksong that is popular in those parts. Here, I quote:

Makane, ini nee chakka kakkan poyitename
Kuru ninakku, chulayenikku, pondi nintammakku
Madalum koonjalum karimullum ninte muthiyammakku…

Here is a glossary as some words are known only in the local dialect:

Pondi: The soft skin between the kuru (seed) and chula (flesh)
Koonjal: Central core
Madal: The collection of all the waste
Karimullu: External skin
Muthiyamma: One of the grand mothers. (As the song is from the dad, it is to be presumed that he refers to his mother-in-law as the boy's grandma.)


Unknown said...

Jagan Narayan writes in an email from Los Angeles:

Very interesting Chekkutty.. not the chakka, but the Manmohan singh article.

By the way we get chakka in all shapes and sizes here; coming from Thailand... canned varikkan chaka...and from Mexico full size version cut and ceran wrapped...also small ones for thoran...

All the kerala appams too are available here in the store, a special Kerala store: Coconut Hill.


J.Geetha said...

You might think I am nostalgic as I am away on and off now but even at home I get nostalgic for chakka - we used to have plavus all around our house when I was a kid and now one by one all of them have gone. We used to take it for granted in those days but now it is quite a task getting a chakka from the market. What is life without chakka-manga! And if it is there in your garden, great!

Unknown said...

Joseph Satyasdas writes in an email from Singapore:

Dear Chekkutty,

read the life and times of chakka. yet to eat chakka pickle or taste chakka wine.

we do get chakka here, from malaysia and thailand. succulent and sweet, in aseptically packed packets.

but the feel is different.

the joy is in having it with a whole crowd, immersing in the smell, getting our hands sticky, and seeing the kurus pile up - for the chakkakuru mezhukupuratti the next day. now my mouth waters. and i miss my ammoomma's dishes.


Rineez said...

nice article