The aati thinga has commenced. The month starting from the 15th of July to the 15th of august has a cultural significance of it’s own. And just like a s’more is not a s’more without marshmallow, the month of aati is incomplete without heavy downpours and bone chilling gusts of wind. The rains in Kodagu can be pretty disastrous from runny noses to unlimited power cuts. The worst case being people loosing homes and lives because of the landslides. It’s been alright so far but my intuition says that its the calm before the storm. Nevertheless, my dead phone has made me appreciate my surrounding more. Thus bringing out dusty memories from the ‘before phone drawer’.
To start with, the rainy season, is a season where people are hyperactive with their heavy dosage of coffee. My hibernating self can never be compared to my hardworking parents working in the paddy fields, knee-deep inside gooey hot chocolate that was forgotten last night on the kitchen counter. I know, not appetizing.
It’s a season of sowing seeds, constructing bunds, ploughing the lands, transplanting the rice seedlings, mud clad feet, frilled finger tips, crowded fireplace, grilled mushrooms, and tones and tones and tones of coffee. The amount of coffee the localites drink can put the Brazilians to shame. Twice in the morning, twice in the evening and anytime during work hours. At a busy field work day, right when the clock hits 11 there is a shout out from the workers from a distant field- ‘ Akka, kapi’ ( Sister, coffee). The shrewd malkin ( owner’s wife) replies with an ” Ah!” and runs to the kitchen, and pours the already brewed coffee to a flask and thrusts it to her son’s awaiting hands with glasses and shoos him. Needless to say, a worker can be delayed his salary but never a cup of coffee. And it can be pretty offensive if the coffee is not boiling hot. The adults, in my perspective have aluminum tongues and throats. It is the perfect dark heavenly nectar to contrast the cold of the Coorg’s rains.
That would be brief out on the adult’s schedule. Us children are self-trained in the art of gathering mushrooms, catching fishes and of course, hunting crabs. The art of hunting crabs involves only two things- guts and more guts. The department I lacked in especially in this case. My guts was limited to flipping rocks and catching defenseless crab babies and letting them go. Repeating the process in a corner while the professionals handled the food classified, big crabs with sharp sphincters.
Let me introduce you to the art of hunting crabs. The crab hunting can be done all throughout the year but sometimes depends on the species. But the probability of catching one is more in the rainy season since these sassy crustaceans crawl out of the rivers and lives in the water channels and paddy fields. The crabs lay the eggs during December or January i.e., during the harvest season. The crabs store the eggs on the underside towards the back of their shells with fat pigments. These appear as red or scarlet coloured beads. The freshwater crabs unlike the salt water crabs do not undergo larval stages. The freshwater crabs hatch as young crabs and undergo larval stages when they are still in the eggs. The eggs hatch in April or May i.e., after 2 months of incubation. The mother crabs during this time are seen having hundreds of baby crabs under their belly.
The easiest method to catch a crab is the bait method. In this, strongly foul smelling stuff like the chicken intestines or fish waste is used. The chicken intestine is tied to a stick and kept at the banks of the river or the water channel where the crab hole is mostly present. The crabs can be smarter than you and snatch the bait before you even notice. One solution is to fill a worn out sock with the intestine or fish waste and tie it to a stick. This will help the bait to be retained.
The key is to stay alert and motionless, holding the stick and sensing for any sorts of movement. The crab tends to snatch its prey thus tugging at the stick. As soon as you see it grab on, you tug suddenly and land the stick on the bank, where you or your partner will murder it. A bloodless murder where you either hit its shell with a sickle or break its sphincter and pierce it into its own back. It’s dead, simple right? Not.
The crab can pinch you really hard in the process. It has a capacity to break a bone if it wants to. So as soon a crab pinches you, never pull back the finger its pinching. Because the more you tug, the more its going to increase its grip. Try to loosen its sphincter and then remove the finger. Though I’ve never been pinched by one, people say that it can be a pant-wetting experience. So, good luck on that one.
Another method is to simply to put your hand inside a crab hole and pull it out. If in case of a river, you are looking for large rocks under which these creatures live. Flip the rock and feel the underside for something hard and spiny. A painful pinch on your finger will surely confirm your suspicion. Pull it out and plain old cold-blood murder it. The small legs of the freshwater crabs will seldom contain any meat unlike the sea water ones. You snip them out and discard it. Most of the meet is in the sphincter. The body should be cleaned and removed of yellow gooey substance. You can cook it as a curry or simply through it into the fire. The later requiring no seasonings at all, not even salt.
One thing you should know about crabs is that not all of them are edible. I know, key information. So, let’s talk about different species of crabs but I am unaware about the scientific names albeit scrolling through many research papers. There’s very little information on freshwater crabs and many species are yet to be discovered. Thus, I shall be giving the local names and their descriptions.
The first one is the notorious Kakkada crab ( the one in the video ), its name deriving from the aati thinga ( July 15-aug 15) also known as kakkada. This month, like I said is characterized by excess rain and thus the river water overflows and reaches the paddy fields. These crabs thus come out of the rivers, only on this time and reside in the water channels. They are the biggest of the edible crabs and have a black shell. The body can grow up to a palm’s size with two sphincters, one slightly bigger than the other. He’s a tough guy and can pinch you hard. This species can be found beneath rocks and shallow , muddy areas in the rivers. Can be sometimes spotted in the water channels during rainy season.
The next one is Eruli or kolli esendu or crab. Like it’s name, this crab tastes like an onion/ erulli when cooked. Like its other names, this crab can only be found in small streams with clear and pure water. They reside beneath rocks and shall not be found in large rivers. They are the smallest of the edible species with a maximum size of a thumb and a purple in colour with two sphincters, one bigger than the other. Unlike the Kakkada crab, this crab is seasoned well with salt and chili and then grilled and eaten with a splash of lemon juice. These are best hunted in Summer when the spring have very little water.
Bhanu essendu or crab is a non-edible crab. Its name derives from the fact that it resides in Bane or dry areas with a little water source. It can be commonly found in areca nut plantations or beside ponds. This has a reddish shell and is fairly medium sized. Though not eaten, this crab can be a pest in agricultural fields. Another non-edible crab is the Haalu esandu or crab. Now I am not sure if this crab is a separate species of its own or is a mutated one of the kakkada crab. This crab has a very soft and brittle shell which can be easily broken by just pressing slightly. If stamped on, it releases a white liquid ( thus the name, haalu-milk) and is not hard like the other crabs. This type is a very rare one seemingly a 1 in a hundred or a 1 in a thousand crabs. This is black on the backside like the kakkada crab but is white on the underside. The kakkada crab has a yellow colour on the underside.
This is a Baanu esendu or crab, a non-edible species
Now, moving on to the crabby tales. I’ve heard of two tales, a fox’s and an owl’s. A fox has a rather funny way of catching a crab. They say that a fox is very smelly and thus it can easily allure a crab out of its hole. It sits on the bank and plunges its tail in the water. Because of the smell of the tail, the crab grabs onto the tail assuming that its food. The fox immediately takes its tail out and kills the crab by either crushing it with its jaw or by continuously beating it with its paw. In paddy fields, the crab holes are usually on the bunds with mud that is unset. So the fox presses down on the mud and it compresses the hole. As soon as the crab comes out, it grabs it with its jaw.
Another tale is about how owls hunt crabs. Similar to the foxes, the owls are said to stink. So when the crab comes out for the smell, the owl immediately fly down and kills it. Well, these stories might seem absurd but in some point, they seem true. Nevertheless, they are fun to hear. Do tell me if you know of how animals hunt crabs. For more interesting facts on crabs, you can check this website.