Friday, February 10, 2017

The Oyster Land Journey: An evening with Ajith

I once read an interesting quote off the net, it said, “If Plan A doesn’t work, remember that the alphabet has 25 more letters, so stay cool.” Last Sunday, things were not going our way and yet, by the time we called it a day, it had turned out to be both meaningful and resourceful. So here we share our oyster land journey. 
Muru Oyster Masala
The initial idea was to complete a long planned mangrove exploration but when that plan went awry, we were enticed into visiting Elathur. The promise made was of a relatively less toured and calm beach, perfect for a restful Sunday with family. 
Kerala Boat in Korapuzha
Our friend into this sojourn was Ajith, who among other things is also a professional cyclist, artist, sculptor, magician, healer and fisherman, and belongs to the area. 

Kerala Boat

He led us on his multi terrain bicycle, first to his warm home and then later to the banks of Korapuzha river. Each step held anticipation, even as we ventured into thus unknown lands. We had expected to be led to a serene beach but instead found ourselves in the restful backwaters. 

Korapuzha Kerala River

We had a wonderful evening, rowing down the river, listening to Nanma dish out “Row Row Row your boat” and “Kuttanadan Punjayile” out loud, even as Ajith shared with us, his treasure trove of stories and exchanged tidbits of local knowledge.
Kerala Boat

Kerala Boat

The Elathur patch of Korapuzha River is a rich source of Indian Oysters. ‘Crassostrea madrasensis’, as they are scientifically known, grow on the laterite rocks found under the water. These are different from the usual oysters because they don’t produce pearls. Given the nature of oyster harvesting, the local men are known, to be able to hold their breaths under water for even up to six minutes. A quick ‘googling’ informed me that the world record for holding one’s breath underwater was held by the German sea diver, Tom Sietes, who can hold his breath for 22 minutes and twenty seconds, underwater. But then, what is unique about Elathur is that most of the men folk in the community partake in this record (six minutes). After all, there is a lot of difference between doing if for the sake of a world record and doing it as a means of living.   
Kerala Boat Korapuzha

We just want to use this space to tell you a little about Ajith. He is what we would gladly describe as an extraordinary person. Multi-talented, he is a great entertainer but what is most surprising is that he never does anything out of the ordinary. His innate talent lies in consistently doing those things that youth from his locality can’t or won’t do. Wont that be a surprise to you when a rural Malabar youth tells you, “I am vegan”. In a land which thrives on meat, you may even wonder if he even knows what he is talking about. But then, this young man  dreams of one day, cycling across India (alone) spreading the vegan message. Throughout the evening, his handy magic tricks kept the children happily engaged. While his engaging encounters in life, kept us spell bound. Thank you Ajith! 

Coconut Palm Craft

Ola Pambaram Coconut Palm Craft

Upon reaching the shore after our rowing expedition, we found Ajith’s surprise for the day – a sack full of Muru (colloquial term for oysters). He had personally dived in the river, around afternoon and harvested a sack full for us to carry home and enjoy. Yup, the yummy, mouth watering, much anticipated part is about to come.  

Muru Indian Oyster

Here is a video, where Ajith demonstrates how to cut open the oyster shell and shuck the oyster.

Upon heading home, we had our work cut out for us. It involved, cutting open the sack full of oyster shells and then shucking them, before they could be cleaned, cooked and eaten. Oh! And a word of warning, it doesn’t look as easy as Ajith made it seem. The process back at home involved three adults, a few productive hours and cuts and bruises to show for it all. Phew!

Oyster Cleaning

Here are the cleaned oysters, ready to be cooked by Chef Nirmal.

Muru Indian Oyster

A little bit of onions, some tomatoes, few chilies and a dash of ginger later, our dish was transformed. Seasoned with love, we shared this wonderful meal with our friend-in-crime, Abi, his beautiful wife, Jasna and his loving mother. 

Onion and Chilli

Oyster Pepper Masala

Oyster Pepper Masala

As George Bernard Shaw said, “There is no sincere love than the love for food”.