Monday, April 21, 2014

One great glutton, Suryanarayana

When I was very young I used to imitate the gait of Suryanarayana by pushing my tummy forward and hanging the hands behind me.  I walked 3-4 steps to complete the little show, much to the delight of onlookers.  Suryanarayana was a relative from my grandfather's side and lived in the town of Shimoga, 6 hours by road from Mysore. His physical profile was somewhat like my rough illustration.  He was tallish, having white and thinned crop of short hair.  I do not remember where or if he worked!  I draw this mental picture when he was probably in his late fifties or mid sixties. My memory timeline is again from the early 1970s.

He presented a serious face and because it we were afraid to talk to him, more than his imposing bulk.  He also had a sharp tongue.  His gait was no different from such personalities, with a typical sideways sway.  His gluttony [eating] was an important issue wherever he went.   He was the fattest man I had seen at that time, of course besides our own Mysore Maharaja!!

1967 picture.  My grandfather is presented with a trophy at Mysore Sports Club, by Mysore Maharaja [Sri Jayachamaraja Wadiyar]. No need to indicate who is who! 

 The reason for this post is because of a deep imprint from my younger days when I saw Suryanarayana eating a meal during a visit to our house.
I will slim at least his name down to 'Suri' for this post.

Except for very important reasons, informing of visits was not in practice.  Friends or relatives visited at their convenience even from different places as and when they pleased!  Social visits like this was a very common and normal thing.  Suri's visits were spread far and wide, but whenever he was in Mysore on some work he would always pay a visit to our house.

When Suri arrived, the top priority was to know about his meal programme.  If he agreed to have the meal, it was an S.O.S. call for the ladies of the house.  It also meant removing bigger vessels from the attic for immediate cleaning and cooking for this special guest.  In our tradition, offering/serving food to anyone, esp. a guest, is like serving God himself.

Everyone knew of Suri's normal routine in his house, of having a full meal 3-4 times a day.  Each full meal of Suri was equal to a full meal of three or four persons.  No exaggeration.  Imagine the capacity and that is exclusive of what he ate in between.

Our usual day to day menu consists of cooked rice, rasam or sambar and buttermilk, typically south Indian.  If no sambar, then some cooked vegetable.  When cooking was over the ladies would give the green signal.

By giving Suri my grandfather's extra dhoti he was invited "ಕೈ-ಕಾಲು ತೊಳೆದುಕೊಳ್ಳಿ, ಊಟಕ್ಕೆ ಬನ್ನಿ" [Please wash your hands and feet and come for the meal].  He would go to the bath room and change his trousers and wear the dhoti.  The widest plate available at home, a small mat and a glass of water next to the plate would be kept ready.  He could come and sit, wiping his hands with a small towel which was also given with the dhoti [both returnable!].  Someone would be ready with a jug of water in case he needed more, because, between some morsels he used to drink small quantities of water. As per tradition, a meal must be had comfortably seated cross-legged, on the ground.  It was also because with trousers it was impossible for him to sit cross-legged.
Dining tables were taboo in traditional homes!

  Just as food was being served to Suri's plate the elders would tell in Kannada "ದಯವಿಟ್ಟು  ಸಾವಕಾಶವಾಗಿ ಊಟ ಮಾಡಿ, ಸಂಕೋಚ ಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಬೇಡಿ", which is close to "Please have the meal to your satisfaction and be unhesitant to ask what you wanted".  Typical Mysorean hospitality.

The ladies would stop serving / building the mountain of steaming fresh, cooked rice in Suri's plate until he called or gestured 'enough'.  Suri would dig a hole at the top of the rice mountain with the fingers for hot and aromatic rasam or sambar to be poured, spoonful after spoonful, again till he signaled 'enough', as he kept mixing rice with the spiced liquid - sambar had vegetable pieces.  After he consumed this batch, another batch of rice etc. would be served.  Then a third time would be asked.  If he said enough, the last item would be rice and buttermilk plus some pickle.  Another great heap.  It was an unbelievable sight for our eyes.  For the ladies, preparing and serving was an experience in itself, for its sheer proportion, and also a test for their quantity guesstimate.  It did not matter if their calculation was more, not less. There were always someone to make it up later. A deep and long burp as he went to wash his hands indicated a satisfying meal.  

Suri having his meal here was indeed a grand spectacle, nothing less, one that I did not get to see everyday!  And one that I did not get to see many times. He did not mind us hovering around with curiosity.  He he was proud of his capability!  But some people would dread evil eyes.  I know not, if there were also ways to neutralize them!  That is why perhaps many people do not want to eat when others are 'watching'!  Talk about evil eyes, it affected me once and I am not a glutton. It appears that there was an old lady with such eyes who happened to be having lunch opposite to our row during some gathering in our house.  She was looking towards me every now and then and I did not like the way she did.  When my elders linked my upset stomach to her presence, soon after  I realized what those weird looks were.  It is inexplicable!

Back to Suri.  The abnormal volume of food is also a need for Suri's type of constitution.  I know not if that was a disease with some name.  His family had to be a prosperous one because, aside from preparing food for such a person, day in and day out, economically also it is a herculean task that can involve mammoth costs. I do not know if he worked to earn, but I know they were growing rice in their own fields.  There is a proverb in Kannada "ಆನೆ ಸಾಕಿದಹಾಗೆ", something like "Having a pet elephant at home."

We had heard of some of Suri's devouring acts like eating in one go a whole jackfruit or a whole bunch of bananas or 25 chapatis, or 40 idlis, or 15 dosas and so on.  Eating was his forte, a gift and a need.  It was not an exaggeration when some numerical was mentioned.  They were all eye-witness accounts.  My now-retired colleague Nagaraj used to mention of his own eating adventures for challenges in his young age to please or to win something.  He was also fond of eating, but never a glutton.

In 1974, my father had taken me to Shimoga.  We stayed in his house for two days.  That was my third and last visit there, earlier ones being in 1968 and 1969.  When I looked at Google Map now, several houses have replaced that heavenly greenery, right on the bank of River Tunga!!  Marked 'S' was roughly where that lone, old tiled house was.  Marked 'R' is River Tunga. Click on the image.

During our stay I was myself an eye-witness to his full meal four times a day routine!!  The kitchen [firewood/cowdung cakes/charcoal/kerosene stoves] was open almost 20 hours a day and the chimney always smoked!! It was a full time job for the ladies who took turns to do all the chores.

 Besides Suri, there were 6 or 7 other relatives living together besides his old mother.  He felt hungry very often and also ate anything in between those meals.  A siesta always followed the afternoon meal.  Suri farted freely in his house to fill the silence and as if to announce his presence. And he snored to serve the same purpose also, at night. 

I was playing with a couple of children near the open-air toilet outside his house.  The sight of Suri urgently walking with a pail of water in the direction of the toilet made me very curious!  The sounds that I heard in the next few minutes said it all!  *Smile*
Reverse gluttony was at its melodious best!  And Suri was ready for another meal. 

Long later I came to know that visiting the toilet [and performing well] as many times as we take the meal is an index for good health. I had seen Suri, actually on his second visit that day!

  He had lost half the bulk to some health issue during his last years. I saw him only once in that shape and I think he lived till he was about 80.
Suri was born to eat and lived to eat.

I found some photos of that Shimoga house where Suri lived and where I made 3 visits.

I cannot relate the names to faces in this and also know not how it came to our album.

Clockwise from top left: 3 boys [early 1950s] - no idea how they are related to Suri.  My paternal aunt with her husband, who was the brother-in-law of Suri - see how green the environs were [mid 1940s]. Cousin's thread ceremony in 1967 - that was my first visit.  See trellis. 

Same photo of 3 boys, magnified - see how small the photo is.  See trellis again. 


I wanted to make just one post, but now I have to split.  My second favourite eater was Seetharamu. Please go to my next post [Click here].  I will begin with a few sundries there.  
Better you read this and go there.



Susan Hirneise Moore said...

I think that most obese people eat in private, and they also claim that they 'don't eat that much,' trying to suggest that they must have something physically wrong that keeps them fat! All of which makes me want to follow such a person around for a day to see what's what! Or, perhaps that person needs to follow a thin person around for a few days.

Gokul said...

Dinu, this one is easily your magnum opus, my friend. I have never laughed so hard in a long time. This is too much awesomeness to take. I commend the impact Suri has had on your powers of observation and your fathful recount of his eating habits. Top-class writing! Well done : )