Today, I travelled across Bangalore to attend a family function, and to eat bale elle oota. It was my first trip on the BMTC bus service that runs across the city, which was pretty fun. Especially considering I got to pass by several points on the old route I used to take over the weekends for LST (this isn’t a drug, it’s a Law School Tutorials service – to prepare you for the entrance exam to Law Schools across India). I was introduced to the bus by an Uncle who was desperate to ensure that I was thrown out of my comfort zone as soon as I shed my bratty, NRI-label. I remember he told me that he often played this game where he tried to guess the backgrounds of the people who were getting on or off the bus. I was basically filled with a flood of memories of that game, and a few fights I witnessed as I travelled literally across the city.
Bale elle oota, however, is worth all that travel. And more. If you’re unable to pronounce the phrase I’ve typed out, try saying it like this: Baley elley oootah. That’s a good enough pronunciation guide, I would think. The phrase translates, roughly, to: meal eaten from a banana leaf. For me, though, the phrase translates into an emotion.
BEO’s (it’s far too tough to say the entire thing each time. Although people shorten it to “Oota”, I’d rather not.) are the most happening event of any function. they’re often where cameramen and video crews will apprehend you and take the worst kind of photos imaginable: the mid-bite, unsure of what to do but staring intently into the camera lens photos. You know the one. But they’re so memorable for so many other things.
I remember BEO’s from before 2006. A couple here and there. There used to be a lot of Sathyanarayana Poojas that used to be organized by my parents, or someone in the family, or extended family, and an invite would always result in a BEO. But, the one that stands out is this one in Basaveshwaranagara that I attended with my grandfather.
My grandmother used to work at a College, so most days of my summer break, my grandfather was responsible both for my well-being and my entertainment. I think this was a wedding close by to home. My maternal grandfather is probably one of the only people who has been able to properly, properly discipline me without me being scared of him at some point in my life. Mostly because he introduced humour, or a story, or some reasoning into everything I questioned, disliked, or decided not to enjoy. In my memory, we walked to this wedding (if it was one). As a kid, I got super restless and cranky about walking – and I remember him telling him I’d get really good food once we got there.
He didn’t lie. He still doesn’t.
That BEO stands out in my memory because it was the first time I did two things: (a) I took a second helping of rasam-rice, something I think is a delicacy and tastes SO different depending on whose hand makes it, and (b) I finished my entire elle. I was so proud that I had managed to accomplish the latter. Here’s why.
You see, BEO’s are notorious for the sheer quantity they end up serving, in addition to see the variety of foodstuff you get to experience. There’s atleast about 3 types of curries, 2 types of salads, 3 things to eat rice with, 1 separate rice preparation, 2 sweet things, papad, and more. If people want to have a BEO with all the works, you’ll end up experiencing things like pineapple gojju, which has, as per my data, always been a 50/50 dish. They’re also supremely notorious for the pacing of the servers. Because BEO’s are mass events where around 100 people eat together, the servers tend to drive the pace at which the food is eaten, rather than the pace of the people eating.
At age 8 I felt like it was the biggest accomplishment in the world. To have secured two helpings of rasam in a big crowd (in a large part thanks to my grandfather), and then eating everything I had taken, I understood, only then, what zero food wastage truly meant.
While my Munji (thread ceremony) re-emphasized those values, atleast off the elle, I think that was really the idea I became one of the people I looked up to. Food-wise.