Buttermilk in Coimbatore
The raging heat at the onset of summer in Tamil Nadu was a clear sign that the worst was yet to come. There was no rain in sight, and the only saving grace in the magnificent campus of the Isha Yoga Center in Coimbatore was its green canopy, even though the thick, sultry air was stifling most of the time. Cold showers were barely helpful, and even though the air-conditioned interiors of the simple cottage rooms seemed like the best refuge, we spent most of our time exploring the campus.
After having spent a couple of days there, we had become quite well-acquainted with the abundance of fauna (and flora) at every bend. Water snakes coiling and shimmying around the lotus pond, cats meowing and purring from behind brick-tiled compound walls, insects and crawlies of all ilk and order slithering underfoot—all on their own, doing their own thing. The cowshed was different. There was order there: milk being sorted and carried away in traditional receptacles, the immaculate cleaning and clearing of dung, which was in turn used to make manure. The indigenous cows and calves seemed people-friendly, visibly well cared for and happy.
On day three, at 5 o’clock, it was still just as muggy as it had been at lunch hour, when we were quietly worming our way past the cow shed after a visit to the Isha home school. We were headed to the Pepper Vine Café for tea and a snack, more by habit than by choice. But under a gazebo just a few yards ahead, a crowd was gathering in front of two volunteers with big earthen pots, dispensing some kind of drink.
Curious, we went closer and learnt that it was mor, or buttermilk: not the kind made from watering down thick yogurt, but rather, the remnants from churning big batches of butter from fresh, thick, milk cream. A closer look only roused a sense of mild aversion—the stuff in the pots was far from appetizing. It was a pale, diluted liquid, with little knots of cream floating about like unwanted dregs.
My husband, meanwhile, had crept ahead, gulped down a full glass and was in line for another, oblivious of his creamy mustache. We made eye contact for all of ten seconds and he seemed to convey that it was heavenly. I inched in gingerly, got a glass of it, and took a little sip, then another. It was a moment of inexplicable joy, in which I felt at once refreshed and reinvigorated. The hot sun streaming down onto my skin, and this marvelous, earthy drink that was flavored just so with salt and hints of ginger cooling my insides. I had forgotten all about the hot tea and deep fried vadas at Pepper Vine.
When the volunteer caught my animated expression, he knew better than to ask if I was up for some more and graciously offered a second serving. I had many more servings during my stay there—every evening—and the prospect of a hot caffeinated drink in the summer hasn’t appealed much since, regardless of where I am.