Monday, August 2, 2010

The irrepressible "Congress groundnuts"

I actually consumed part of what is seen above and got the inspiration for this piece as the mind 'nostalgiated'.
My father's favourite snack aside from the Masala Dosa was the
Kharada Kallekai aka Spiced Peanuts aka Congress Kallekai.
I do not know how this catchy name of 'Congress' got tagged up to this. May be someone will enlighten me. When we were young, we had heard of the Congress Party and that it was their food and so we thought it was called Congress kallekai.

My father was so fond of this snack that he would oftentimes choose the route back home either from a shopping errand or somewhere so that there was his favourite shop that sold the "Congress". The small shops sold this item from wide-mouthed big glass bottles kept loose on their show shelves covered with wide lids. If we were walking by that route we knew that his legs would automatically go in that direction and at other times, his bicycle stopped in front of the shop as if from a magnet!

Pointing to the bottle, he would say "Give me 250 grams of this." There were other bottles containing whole nuts coated with salt and red chilli and spiced-puffed rice (mandakki puri and avalakki puri). This 'Congress' comes with the seed separated into its two halves and the recipe suited this. When he had more money, he would buy all the three in equal quantities and sometimes mixed them together for a new combination!

When the shopkeeper opened the lid and kept it aside for taking the required amount from a large spoon to the bowl on the weighing scale, he would invariably sample a small handful. This was normal practice! If sometimes the taste did not appeal, he would not consider buying.

Those were days in the 1960s and 1970s when plastic had not overwhelmed the world and so the packing was done using recycled paper envelopes made from old magazines or children's school books which were sold off. The easiest way to pack was to make a cone using a rectangular sheet, fold the top and secure the bottom by pinching and twisting and then tying it up with a thin jute or cotton packing thread. All biodegradable things. But then we never used that word at that time!
(The disposable paper cone container)

If we were walking with him, no sooner we left the shop, he would open the pack, hold the cone and put in a few seeds into his mouth and then offer it to us kids or whoever were with him. Such was his temptation. As we walked along, he would, in his own typical style, shake the cone as if to bring the heavier ones to the top like a winnow. That way he felt comfortable. He really enjoyed this. Of course who does not relish a spicy specialty item like this!

When he was on his bicycle and coming alone, he would gobble up the top quarter and bring the rest home for us keeping the cone or packet in his shirt pocket. When I grew up and was old enough to run errands, he would ask me to go and buy a small quota when he felt the urge. I would happily go because it also meant an independent ride on the bicycle. I always promptly returned the balance. I cannot remember the rates but I have seen the times when it was bought in measures and also saw the time when shopkeepers bought weighing scales.

In the 1960s there was one Ramaswamy Iyer in the neighbour's shed selling such items (plantains, cigarettes, peppermints, lemon lozenges). He was eking out a living from this humble little shop. There was another "Iyengar Shop" close by, but they sold only provisions.

My father was in Bangalore doing his diploma in 1949-50 and his liking to this 'congress' was well known even from those days. It appears he was a great patron of a shop in the Basavanagudi area that sold delicious 'congress'. Long later, he used to remember and show us a house which was the place of that shop where he bought. Here is a picture (below) from 2007 around the same place and is also popular for its variety of condiments.

In Mysore, he had found 2-3 shops, esp. one in Cheluvamba Agrahara, that prepared the item to his liking because this spice combination can vary from person to person and can be very tricky. He would buy often from here whenever he felt like, until the time (late 70s) he could no longer freely entertain his taste-bud temptations but probably not before strongly passing them on!

Those old shops are no longer there. Some new tastes have got stuck - in particular, one with predominantly asafoetida flavoured. Paper cones have given way to the more convenient plastic covers and jute and cotton thread have given way to Bostitch pins, but the irrepressible attraction to this tempting recipe never dies. Not for nothing it has been around for more than 60 years!


Groundnut is called the poor man's almond. Here in India, it is way cheaper than the almond which comes from the north. Its nutritional value is unquestionable.
There are so many uses, besides the "Congress", of this wondernut which you already know. The list would be endless!
I must share a funny incident about peanuts involving an elder friend. He had gone to Israel for a year long study-stay. In his early days there he used to buy peanuts for 'time pass' and was comparing the prices back in India. A friend noticed it after he did that many days and asked him to buy almonds and other dry fruits instead of peanuts but he was surprised at this suggestion! Only then he realized how much money he had wasted on peanuts! Our 'poor man's almond there indeed was way dearer compared to real almonds!

Kannada film song Kallekai Kallekai.... raja taja kallekai profiles this humble groundnut which the westerners call peanut and also Bangalore's famous groundnut fair. Tried searching that original film song footage, but this rendering by this little girl is equally impressive.

India is the second largest producer of groundnut. It is called by various names like peanut, earthnut etc. You can see more information here in this Wiki link.

Mahatma Gandhi was a great advocate of groundnuts.
Spiced peanut is an important ingredient in Churumuri. Some people ask "put more peanuts"!
Proverb: Marriage is like a groundnut: you have to crack it to see what is inside.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Typewriter

Do you know which is the only word that can be typed using the first row of letters on the keyboard of a typewriter keyboard. It is TYPEWRITER.

Do you know where the word 'typewriting' came about? It was coined in 'Scientific American', a magazine.

Do you know who made the first typewriter? It was by a gun making company. (Fine pictures and nice write-up here!). I will not be surprised if the newer generation youngsters ask what a typewriter is... they know only the keyboard of their computers!

Do you know who invented the first modern typewriter? Christopher Sholes.

Before I write something about my own fancy for it, do look in here for some different models of the early period - 1870s - and see how they appeared like.

My grandfather, an advocate, had his office on "Rave Street" near Gandhi Square. It had been there since since the early part the 20th century and he had picked up his practice from his uncle, who had started that office, since 1925. It was in this office that I remember to have seen a typewriting machine for the first time. It was in the early 1960s.

That model was so similar to this one.

The one thing that fascinated me in his office was the typist who 'click-clacked' on the machine with some speed but with some pauses as he looked into the document beside him to decipher some words . Sometimes my grandfather would take me and others in the family with him to his office before a market errand together. He would attend to some work before he took us out. Going to his office was a great attraction and much looked forward to, because of the typewriter and also a big lens (to study documents) he kept in his draw.

Awestruck, I would stand beside that typist, neck jaunting forward in great curiosity. Some metal rod would come from inside and even before my eye could follow its movement, it had already struck a letter and disappeared back. I used to get amazed also how one line was typed out and shifted over the the next one using the lever of the cylinder carriage.

I got the first opportunity to take a close look on another day when the machine was lying idle. I saw the the elements closely that struck letters (it had reverse image of letters!) and tried to meddle with it slowly and to listen to the click-clack noise, which was my favourite, I started to press the keys one by one and got a scolding from my grandfather not to strike the keys without a paper on the cylinder. It was a small black machine that had the "Royal" logo printed on it in cream letters.

Gauging my keen interest, he asked his assistant to put up a paper in it for me to play with it and shouted "do not strike hard". It was such great fun to see the printing of letters in purple. They used a purple inked tape. Sometimes I would touch the ribbon to see what it is and got the finger-tips stained. This stain would not go off on any amount of rubbing! It had to be washed with soap. Later I came to know there were two spools to hold this ribbon and that it even came in different colours. The keys were round and had yellowish letters on black background with a tiny round glass cover with a slight concave depression to fit the finger feel, almost like in this picture I found on the net to show here:

Browsing the net for this blog I found that vintage typewriter keys are fashion too - in great demand as pendants!

Every time I got the opportunity to visit my grandfather's office, I would beg him to allow me to type. Sometimes my younger brother also wanted to do the same and I had to make way for this little fellow.

I can remember the calm and quiet of that office at times when the only sounds were from my striking the keys when there were no clients as my grandfather prepared some pronote or something and I could hear the hourly chime from the huge bell on the nearby 'clock tower'. I had a few more opportunities of long sessions like this later also.

I tried to imitate the speed of the typist at the office using my two index fingers but often they got caught in spaces between the keys. It was a funny feeling! But more often more than one key was pressed so that the letter strikers got caught and had to be carefully released back to their positions. It was fun nevertheless, but by then I had known that 'rough use' can spoil the machine. The typewriter belonged to my grandfather and the office.

In 1973-74, I had joined a typewriting institute - only because someone told to join and that I had wanted to do fast typing and not because of any career growth. They gave me, just like for all beginners, an old machine, a Remington Rand, something like this one:

After some months of attending the sessions and doing speed drills (at Keerthi Institute), I had not picked up accuracy or uniformity of strike force. I used to blame the machine because the keys were hard. (I used to hear that they adjust a screw to make the keys harder). Some others were given better machines but not me. The instructor always used to tell that I strike hard. Disgusted, I changed the institute and joined another (Ganesh Institute) nearby but faced the same problem there also. He never allowed me to a Halda brand machine which was smoother. I finally threw the towel without taking the exam as I saw no purpose to continue any further.

I do not know, had I been given better machines, my typing quality would probably have improved, much like my tennis game improved many years later, once I changed over to graphite racquet from the traditional wooden.

My grandfather died in 1976 and before his death, I had a few more opportunities at his office to try out the keyboard knowledge on that "Royal" machine and more than anything else, my enjoyment was utmost. So, after his death, we wanted the machine back along with a few other items including some beautiful furniture that were belongings of my grandfather's uncle and grandfather himself who had been the actual owners. The office was now under the hands of the 'junior'. But our requests fell on deaf ears, much to our surprise and displeasure! I had accompanied my elders to the office once to ask but I could not see "Royal" at all. So there went my hopes of getting it back, nor we got anything back from there. The dream of having the typewriter was stalled for about 20 years.

By this time, I was into the hobby of penfriendship and many letters were exchanged but with the old system of paper and pen. There was a great yearning for a typewriter. The dream was realized long later, in the mid 90s to be precise, when a colleague was moving out and was giving away his items. The moment I came to know there was a portable typewriter on sale, I grabbed it. He was kind enough to allow me to fix its price for which I took the help of the instructor at my first typing institute and paid accordingly. It was a Singer Scholastic which I still have, used sparingly or never in recent years. But when I took it out for this blog, it was working fine!

When it was most needed, it was not there. But when the need was waning off, it came. But it is okay!

I did not take any typing exams, to experience the terrifying sound of the machines in unison when all candidates began to strike the keys in the exam hall when the start bell rang, but the basic knowledge I got in attending the classes have kept me in good stead esp. in this computer era. In my early years in the job, I had the pleasure of watching 4-5 steno-colleagues compete with each other in speed @100 w.p.m. until the computer age affected the slow disappearance of the machines into oblivion.

There are now no instructors to check the errors and fail me in tests because with computer keyboard, we have this key:

.... and this is the one that also wears out faster!! :) With typewriters, the error stays (erasers and correcting fluids disallowed).

Knowledge of the keyboard is a must nowadays as there is growing awareness, exposure and availability of computers to almost all people. Some people say they are happy with their speed in using only the two index fingers but the traditional knowledge will be extremely handy, for which there are many online tools also like in this link.

There are hundreds of brand of typewriters, there are museums dedicated to these wonder machines - some to show here:

Do not miss the funny design of the machine in the centre here:

Typewriter art was popular some time ago, but I found this (pic below) simple but beautiful art on the Net which is more recent as the artist types. There have been more complicated designs and pictures made too:

My grandfather's cousin K.S.Nanjundaiah (marked in rectangle) was involved in a "Champion Metropolitan College of Commerce" in the early 1920s in Mysore, imparting typing knowledge. I know not the location of the building in these pictures but it goes to show that typewriting was an important element in those days.