Here is beautiful essay by one ‘Sri Kamesam’ from the October 1946 issue of ‘Bharathi’ the great Telugu literary magazine of the 1940s and 50s. The essay is titled Taamboolam.
Tamboolam also known as Khilley in Telugu and Paan (or even Suparee these days) is an essential requisite to round off a hearty meal, for most South Asian people. For some paan-afficianados any time is paan-time.
Here is my attempt at translation of some excerpts from the essay, about a Telugu ambience which is inexorably slipping away into oblivion.
‘ Have a Tamboolam , won’t you?’, the coy bride says. Her grace spills all around. Married not very long ago, it is indeed a boundlessly convivial ritual for her everyday. She rolls in, her affection, into the tender emerald betel leaves. She fashions them each into a tiny parrot (chilakalu), wears them on each of her fingers and proffers her hand to him. And he receives them avidly, not without gently touching her gleaming fingers,
Not before caressing her with some apt sweet-nothing that he utters.. Laid back, he munches the Tamboolam,, savouring it leisurely. No, not just for its delightful taste. But for the precious feeling of partaking in a pleasure . Tamboolam indeed embodies an enjoyable emotion which, together they love to share.
As they get along, they get more and more familiar, conceding more, demanding more. ,. She might no more roll each half-leaf elaborately into a parrot, – she doesn’t have the time, patience or energy. Still she carefully removes the central rib from each leaf all the way through to its thin end, She stacks all the half-leaves together and offers the bunch to him. Stacks of experiences they have shared. All those long years together. Like the bunch of tender leaves stacked there. . Each day she stacks the nostalgia of all their life together and places them religiously, with the bunch of gleaming green leaves on the small tin of powdered betel nut, for him, to relish, to share.
No poet or writer worth his salt, has not touched upon Tamboolam in his work.
For Allasani Peddana, poetry was inconceivable without a tamboolam. Ditto for Varudhini the lady lead of the opening tale of his great epic, Manu Charitram.
There is a list of the different categories of heroines, stipulated in the theories of Indian literature, Abhisaarika is one of them..The theories exemplify, inter alia, that an Abhisaarika would make sure to leave a trail of the jasmines that she is wearing in her hair even as she strolls along a country road, during the evening twilight, just to ensure that her beloved can reach her without any hitch.
In Peddana’s epic too, it is the bewitching flavour of the Tamboolam (veetee-gandhamu) of Varudhini that draws the simpleton Pravaraakhya to the ‘Lightning-streak-personified’, ( Vidyullatha-Vigraha) Not much difference. ain’t it so.?
Tamboolam draws total strangers together, Not only that. It can concretise the amorphous joy of acquaintances. It is not for nothing that on their first night together,a nuptial couple are made to nibble at the same Tamboolam. What great hungaamaa is enacted by the elders and the younger ones too on that day? It is just the mundane Tamboolam the munch every day all right.But on that grand day its sheen, its allure is different, it welds them all together.
Weddings are occasions when people play pranks at each other. The groom’s mother, ( it could be the bride’s mom too, in reverse ) , is honoured by smearing her neck with sandal-wood paste. Rose-water (panneeru) is sprinkled on her respectfully. And then Tamboolam is presented to her. The tamboolam,smelling sweet of camphor, literally placed gently in her eager mouth with elaborate affection, contains in fact within it a fierce chilli pepper. The lady intent in gathering and safekeeping of the gifts and tinsel-presents, readily munches it, to her discomfiture and to the amusement of the clump of smiling, laughing and guffawing ladies clad in their festive Canjeevarams.
Tamboolam is not just for naughtiness or laughs. Tamboolam is also a prerequisite to show your respect for your elders.’
I will try to translate the rest of the essay and present to you in my coming posts. Till then,..