Scent Of Pepper By Kavery Nambisan

    This book can tell a lot about culture of the coorg. The way society was functioning. How people think and impact of British Raj.
    However, in background i you can also see a beautiful story of female who grew to be strong women. 288 The Scent of Pepper is laden with Kodava fragrance throughout - in its descriptions, emotions, thoughts and structure. The melancholia of the land and its people sticks to the narration like smells stick to spices, and the effect is an endearing story of not only Nanji's Kaleyanda family, but of an entire race, an entire populace. The narration is sympathetic and aloof at once, both the beauty and putrescence of the land and its people captured with ease and without either adoration or contempt.
    I loved the book, and did not want it to end! 288 I may be under the influence of the vibes in the more than 100-year-old Kodagu house where I was reading this book, the experience was subliminal. The narration was so apt, so fluid and so binding that you could see each moment described in the book happening in front of you - spread across the entire life of Nanji, the protagonist.
    The events are based around her family across two generations, in the Kodagu region. The story is both a window to the virtues, beliefs, and aspirations of everyone who was a part of it; and that of the region as it existed during the times when the British presence was dominant, to the post-independence era.
    With a choicest of expressions, lucidity of language, and vividity in the events
    (and their portrayal), the book was captivating from the beginning to the end. There may not be any extraordinary event in the story but the being has been picturized extraordinarily.
    The only piece that baffled me a bit was the end - I wasn't sure if a few pages were missing in the book or was it just that the present met the future at that point and the book had to end there. It was most probably the latter.
    A lovely read overall. 288 Kavery Nambisan’s The Scent of Pepper is written with a vivid imagery that takes you right to the roots and soil and the soul of Kodagu and its people. Though the main narrative focuses mainly on life experiences of Nanji, the characters, back stories and mention of her relatives and the people around her all contribute to bringing to us the cultural and political history of Kodagu (now present day Coorg) from pre independent India, its connection with British settlers and administration, the reach of the freedom movement and then the post Independent stupor. The descriptions of the bustle in the well to do Kaleyanda family, the intricacies of managing plantation crops and produce serve to acquaint us with the backbone of life in Kodagu.

    I loved the portrayal of the women in The Scent of Pepper. Nanji who is a widow gets remarried and accepted to the household of the Rai Bahadur but faces no social censure. Her resoluteness and strength eventually takes her to head the household. Nanji’s mother in law Chambavva is regal and a woman of her own mind who decides to go and live in a widow’s home on her own after her husband commits suicide. The ties between Nanji and Chambavva is one without friction but the same cannot be said when it comes Nanji and her daughter in law Mallige for Nanji sees her as delicate. While Chambavva and Nanji are the traditional female characters who are the ones to accept the situation they find themselves in, Mallige as an educated woman becomes the first to follow her husband and venture out of the life in Kodagu. And though we do not get to have closer look at the character of Neelu, who represents the 4th generation of the Kaleyanda family, the mention of her nature and her return to the village towards the end of the book gives one the message of continuity and hopeful future.

    My only complaint with the writing is the use of Kannada words liberally without any footnotes or a glossary of meanings which would have added pleasure to my reading. 288 nice book 288


    As usual Kavery Nambisan brings alive places with words, this time I traveled to Coorg with Nanji. I wish there was a glossary of the Kodava terms, coz I had to stop and Google at times.
    This book talks about the Kodava traditions, lifestyle and food at around the pre independence Era and later extends to the post independence Era. It is a multi generational saga whose main character is Nanji. She is married into the Kaleyanda family. The book chronicles her and her family's life 288 I must say, I could feel the scent of Kodavas in this book. Do they actually emit the smell of pepper and coffee? Both are the two things that are close to my heart and so shall this book always be. This book talks about the Kodavas- People of Coorg, their tradition, lifestyle before the independence and their food, of course. I just read a line where Nanji, the daughter in law of the family who later becomes the head of the family in all terms get Rs.65, selling 5 sovereigns of gold !!!
    Baliyanna and Nanji had a happy family life and until they started losing their kids one after the other and finally had to get used to the grief.
    I was so happy reading Nanji's part. The woman is always portrayed with great importance and with a greater strength. She looked after the plantations, its budget, the farmers salary and also the health and happiness of the people around her.

    The book, a family saga, was a bit lengthy and lagging in between. But the style of storytelling was simple and easy to understand 288
    If you ask me what genre “The Scent of Pepper” by Kavery Nambisan falls under, I would like to coin a new category, namely sensuous fiction. This novel assails all your senses and leaves you numb to your surroundings. I was bewitched by the various descriptions in the book – of the people, land, food, customs, rituals and oh, everything. The whole book is replete with rich imagery, all so vividly portrayed that you feel like catching the next train to the lush Kodagu. Alas, the Kodagu in this story is set during the pre-Independence era and I was aware that much of the place might have undergone a sea change on account of industrialisation and modernisation.

    Nanji and Baliyanna, the inmates of the Kaleyanda House, are for the most part of this book the primary characters. Nanji, the unrelenting protagonist of the book, is a strong female of indomitable courage. Having given birth to 13 children, she is the epitome of patience, perseverance and dedication. Of the 13 offsprings, it is on Subbaiah that she pins her hopes. Though he was born a cripple, he makes a miraculous recovery with the help of pepper. From then on, Subbaiah or Subbu has not looked back and becomes a dominant and unforgettable character. He is the apple of his mother’s eye and so, he does everything that is expected of him with vigour, passion and zest. He remains so loyal and dutiful to her till the end of the novel that I could feel that he had some sort of mother fixation.

    Each and every character in the book has been etched perfectly. They have their own virtues and flaws and none of them are detestable. We see how most of the Kodavas were influenced by the British. One hilarious instance of such aping is how a school teacher, Chengappa changed his wife’s name from Muthamma to Pearlie and their children christened Shirley, Sally and Prince. Such purity in his love for British culture. This book is a treasure house of the Kodava customs, rituals and the history of Kodagu during the British occupation.

    We also learn that the Kodavas take pride in the fact that they were descendents of the troops of Alexander. Some even believed that their blood would stay red for six hours after death. Some of their customs are amusing too like how the groom had to slay nine other prospective suitors in order to win the bride. They were always aware of when and if they had incensed their ancestors. Depending on the angle of the falling rain, different interpretations were made. A vertical fall meant nourishment. A slanting rain signified unhappy spirits which resulted in wastage of water. A tansverse fall denoted that the ancestors were truly incensed, mostly because of a Kodava marrying an outsider.

    As if these weren’t enough, there are the what-in-God’s name-are-these kind of dishes. Tell me how you feel when you read things like homemade (organic too?) bamboo pickle, tomato jam, wild mango curry, thaliya puttoo etc. Even fruits which we take for granted like bananas are mentioned so elaborately that I felt like rampaging through the local fruit store. Ms Nambisan, through the voice of Chambavva, (Nanji’s mother-in-law) informs us that “whatever a Kodava does or does not do, he loves to eat like a king.” The rich and varied spread of dishes just makes you writhe in agony. It is torture. My taste buds were tingling with joy and my imagination went overdrive. If not food, then it is the mentioning of jewellery and adornments like gundumani (and I thought this was just an adjective for plump girls), kokkethathi, peechekatthi, white kupya, red chale and the sound of the kombu, kottu and dudi (traditional musical instruments) during special occasions. All of which I could see in my mind’s eye.

    The writing is crisp and lucid and the language overflows with visual imagery. Perfectly structured, I would like to believe that The Scent of Pepper is more than just a family saga. This book brings vicarious pleasure in simple, village life. To cut a long story short, The Scent of Pepper is a lovely treat. I was filled with an aching desire to immerse myself in the bountiful nature that Kodagu was (and perhaps is). I would give anything to have just one glimpse of the Kodagu that was before modernisation happened. This is not to say that I haven’t visited this place. But out of the three times I have been there, I have never once witnessed any of the people/ food/ customs mentioned in the book. All I have seen and known about Coorg is the Tibetan Monastery. Each and every damned time, we were taken only to this ‘peaceful place” and that was that. “Finito folks, this is the evergreen Coorg with its breathtaking views,” said our college nuns with their ever-smiling faces. DRAT! I would like to take these “guides” to the villages in Kodagu – to show them and to see for myself, the life of the simple, hard-working Kodavas. And of course to gorge on all the mouth-watering dishes mentioned and not mentioned in the book. If you love a light, traditional, historical, family story, go for it. You will never regret reading this little known gem.
    288 This is like an Indian version of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One hundred years of solitude! But the comparison is purely in terms of the plot, not the prose or narrative. I liked the prose in this one, but it was not the kind of mesmerizing prose that I expected. In parts it also reminded me of Aruna Chakravarti's Jorasanko, again, based purely on the plot.

    It's a good read nevertheless - for the nostalgia of a coffee estate, the food, the customs and the eccentricities of the characters. 288 3.7/5 is more like it.

    The Scent of Pepper is laced with the fragrance of pepper and coffee throughout its pages. You either want to reach for a cup of coffee, every time you start reading this or hold some peppercorns in your hands, just for the feel of it.

    This book traces the story of Baliyanna and Nanji and their family in the province of Kodagu (Coorg) in South India. How they navigate through colonial rule, first by being loyal to them, dissenting in the latter times; how congress and freedom movement does not suit their purpose and yet the son is drawn to it; how the woman (Nanji) works and toils in the coffee plantations, bearing children as a duty, taking care of Yeravas labourers and running the household smoothly; how the son, Subbu, gets recruited in the army and then resigns owing to ideological differences and how an English woman falls in love with the vet (Baliyanna) and constantly frets over the unpleasantness of her 'Englishness'.

    The story is set in the colonial times so it has multiple accounts where they talk about British treating Indians as native savages and make it their mission of civilizing them. Ever since I started reading about colonization and the painful process of decolonizing minds, my eyes pick up this theme everywhere. The main theme was depression among the males of this region. It had been accepted as a regular feature, was endemic to this area and plagued the men. Suicide was another thing commonly seen with people also doling out advice on how to do it. Depression was described as a soul-sucking, all-encompassing entity that swallows you gradually, creeping on you slowly absorbing your pores and catching you unaware. Because it had consumed males of the previous generation, people in the family expected it to come knocking the door any time.

    It also tells you about the history and culture of Coorg and also of coffee. It dragged on a bit towards the end of the book and it could have ended in a better way. But that's my opinion. The language is good, writing is fine, some editing errors but overall the book should be read by everyone who wants to read about a place and culture which is not dominantly discussed or represented in narratives. 288

    Scent Of Pepper

    Kavery Nambisan ↠ 4 characters