Tuesday, July 11, 2017

By The Banks Of The Chalakudy


At the Rasa Gurukal, in Chalakudy Kerala, Das Sreedharan focuses on the traditional ways of cooking and healing

Photo of Das Sreedharan by Albin Mathew; a foreign lady at the Gurukul

By Shevlin Sebastian

Just before sunrise, on most mornings, Das Sreedharan steps out of his bungalow at the Rasa Gurukul on the banks of the Chalakudy river (33 kms from Kochi). He is wearing a striped purple shirt and Kerala-style mundu. He steps on to the back of a bullock cart. There are several wooden seats. The driver then leads the oxen forward. And Das leans back and inhales the fresh air.

This is a daily ritual for Das. “On a bullock cart, you are moving at the pace of nature,” he says. “You can feel the rhythm of the animals. And I am reminded of my forefathers and the life they led.”

When the cart stops, Das steps down and gazes around: there are rabbits and hens running about, apart from insects and birds. But the big charm is the river flowing nearby. “When you sit on the bank, it is so silent, you can hear the gurgling of the waters,” he says. “It is very soothing.”

The Rasa Gurukul farm retreat is set in 25 acres. There are four cottages and 16 double rooms. But this is no ordinary resort.

It is a place where all kinds of vegetables are grown organically. These include traditional Kerala rice, tapioca, bitter gourd, beans, black pepper, turmeric, and sugarcane. “For cultivation, we use ancient methods like cow dung,” says Das. “We avoid chemicals and fertilisers. As a result, there is a good yield, it is healthy and cost-effective.”

When visitors arrive, from Kochi, other parts of India, Europe, and the USA, Das encourages them to immerse themselves in the local milieu. So, they learn yoga, make mats and bronze vessels from local artisans, get a massage at the Sri Subramania Ayurveda health clinic and learn a bit of Mohiniyattom and other traditional art forms.

Apart from that, there are cottage industries like blacksmiths, a pottery and weaving unit, a coconut oil mill, and a craft section where bags, from banana fibres are made,” says Das. “Again visitors are encouraged to participate in these activities.

But for Das, who runs three ‘Rasa’ restaurants in London, the primary focus is on food. “Indian food, which is 5000 years old, has one of the most unique cuisines in the world,” he says. “Nobody uses pure spices the way Indians do. And they are all so therapeutic.”

For example, turmeric is an antiseptic, which purifies the blood and fights cancer. “Ginger is soothing for a sore throat,” says Das. “Black pepper helps in combating colds and fevers, while mustard alleviates arthritic pain and stimulates hair growth. Our spices have always strengthened the immune system.”

So for Das, the main aim is to foster the power of long-established cooking. That’s because, modern cuisine, the world over, with its many artificial ingredients, has damaged the quality of food in a big way. “I want to develop a system whereby we can protect traditional food and culture,” he says.

One of the ways is through the annual Kerala Food Festival which Das holds every September in London. He also goes to schools to inspire children and teachers to keep their faith in home cooking.

And he has plans for the Rasa Gurukul, too. On September 9, this year, Das is planning a 24 hour non-stop harvest festival. There will be a demonstration of how rice is harvested from the seed to the grain. Apart from that, there will be games, folk music and dances of the harvest season. “It’s a mission,” says Das, with a smile. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)  

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