Mungaru Magic

Photo Credits :

Shanthi Munisamy

Writer :

Shanthi Munisamy

4th December, 2018

Through all these years, I have always been reminded that everything happens at the right time.

I had spent years reading about weekend getaways and camping in magazines and earlier this year in September I went for my first to Angadibail, Karnataka for the Mungaru Festival hosted by Buda Folklore.

Memories rushed of all the times I had spent on farms as a child and I was eager to experience it again.

We reached Gokarna from Bangalore, early morning at 6 am. Sadhna and Divya who accompanied me were as excited for their forest calling as I was.

We were picked up along with other invitees in a Mahindra Bolero by Uday, Savita's husband, Savita the founder and curator of Buda Folklore.

There we stood behind in the open truck as Uday zoomed passed into the lush forest.

While the first kiss of the morning sun was brushing my cheeks and the cold breeze of the forest was swaying with us, we were driving ahead in this bumpy ride on an open truck. It felt like the best welcome to hear exotic birds chirping and entering into the magical greenery of the woods that was right out of the Rudyard Kipling's Jungle book coming our way. A dream was unfolding right before my eyes. An unforgettable bumpy ride experience into the forest of the western Ghats. A sense of rejuvenation to my Body and Soul.

Around 1 km away from the house, we all got off the truck and others from the jeep that followed. We then trekked to reach Buda Folklore through a dense forest cover and muddy, slushy patches along small streams and drizzles of rains.

The forest opened up to beautiful house surrounded by thick trees and paddy fields.

There were no other houses around. Just acres of forest land and sounds of gushing water from a nearby stream.

As i stood awestruck and heavy at heart with emotions, Sadhna asked me how I was feeling. 'I wish my every morning walk was like this'. I was mesmerized.

We could see hands waving out to us from far and Savitha Uday was awaiting to welcome us.

She greeted me with a big smile and the tightest hugged as she said "Welcome! Finally you are here!"

"You are living in Heaven!" I exclaimed.

"Yes!" she laughed.

All of us gathered around the house and we saw in the rice paddy fields, women and children playing below the creek from her house.

This particular festival took place during the Monsoon season which is the perfect time for transplanting of the rice saplings.

"Who is ready to go in the paddy fields and help?" Savitha exclaimed as we all looked on! I quickly got ready and stepped into the slippery path, my legs were knee deep in muddy soil as i approached the tribal women in their decorative neck band resembling native Africans but adorning a saree.

Savitha introduced us to Padmavathi & Gopiakka who were busy plucking the rice saplings and were eager for us to join them!

"Namaskara Nanagay aah Sasi yannu kiluvudhu yeyge antha yeli Kodi Vira?(Hello. Can u teach me how to pluck the rice saplings from the ground?)

"nimma kaiyannu burudey ya kelege vuri mellaney berrannu mellake yethi (Put your hand under the soil and grab the root and pull softly)" she replied.

Once i had got the technique I continued my conversation with Gopiakka

"Gopiakka Nimma buddakattu yavudhu? (What is your tribe called)?"

"Siddis" she mentioned.

She went on to describe the Siddi community, about their fore fathers of an African Origin who had migrated here long time back!

I also asked her if she ever wanted to go back to Africa.

She replied with a vehement no. "Navvu vuttidhu Elli. E ahranya nammadhu. Namage Elli eruvudu bahala eshta edhu Namma mula. (I was born here. This forest belongs to us. We love being here. This is our origin.)"

After a series of conversations and laughter in the paddy field, tired, we all headed eagerly to have lunch.

Oh what a wonderful special spread of home grown produce was laid out for us!

It was delicious, from the fresh hot rice to the sambar, vegetables, tamarind leaf patra, fresh chutneys, pickles and mouth watering desserts made out of jaggery. An absolute delight.

Our bodies demanded rest after the meals and we went back later to the paddy fields and started to work with the tribal women again. All the 16 people were a group of energetic fun people from school children to freelancers to enthusiasts.

I learnt later that Savita loved having children over for them to experience the everyday of a farmers life and be rooted to their culture so it does not fade away into concepts from the west.

Though I was having an experience of my own, it was great to contribute to a collective learning and understanding of cultural preservation.

While everyone were busy doing their chores I asked Gopiakka to sing a song.

She happily sang a tribal song in Konkani which is sung while hunting for a special ants from the forest for making a special ant chutney using the ants harvested from the hunt. It relates to the ant bite one goes through the harvest. "Muuya nee chole, haye haye, Muuya nee chole"

We all sang happily spent the day hearing songs and plucking the rice saplings from the field.

My curiosity about the tribal woman's culture, traditions, crafts and attires kept me in constant conversation with them to know more.

I consider jewellery such an important part of adorning a personality, I was very much interested to know about the unique head piece that was worn by Padmavathi akka.

She told me how it was hand made from beads from the local market and is worn by all women from the Hallakki Community. She said she would show me how to make them if there was time.

The nights came in early, by 6 pm at Angadibail. We all sat around listening to stories by Gopi and Padmavathi Akka as she shared Stories of an old women in a village,a hungry tiger and local stories of Ghosts.

Padmavathi akka would then transcend to sing a song for us and teach us the tribal dance of holding each other hands in circle and singing.

During the first day, Padmavathi Akka had asked me how many children I had.

I was pleasantly surprised at that question. Its not everyday that people look beyond appearance.

"I have no children and I am not married. I am a male to female transgender"; i replied.

She was stunned and confused.

"How is that possible?" she exclaimed.

I told her that it could be done through operations and surgeries.

This was new and news to her as she knew only of the male and female and nothing beyond.

She conveyed this to the other women and they all looked at me confused. Soon, the conversations became beyond our gender and about our experiences.

This emotion drove all the three days for me.

I learnt a lot about the rich history of preserving the forest, farming, co-existence and living with harmony and peace, about the tribal women, the monsoon rice transplanting.

I had the privilege of spending one of the best days in my life being in the forest and spending my time in helping with the farming and extra activities of stream walking, seed ball making, tree planting, learning how to weave baskets, trekking to visiting Vibuthi falls, watching a beautiful Kananda film screened by the film makers "Aghanashini"; and of course meeting some of the amazing people of the MONSOON FESTIVAL (THE MAGICAL PLACE OF RAIN,SOIL&FOREST) in ANGADIBAIL.

There is lots I could say about the three day festival and write chapters of all the people I met, the food i ate, the experiences I lived and the stories I shared.

This is Chapter 1 of being thankful for that experience.

I am Shanthi Muniswamy, a trans artist, poet and blogger. As the documentarian at The Aravani Art Project, I bring stories to you from our projects. Especially, stories that move my heart and will resonate with me forever. I am sharing these experiences, with a hope to build acceptance and love towards my community.