When Evolve Back Resorts asked me to help them set up the Sidapur Coffee and Culture Museum at the resort in Chikkana Halli Estate, Coorg, I didn’t know I would be embarking on such an interesting journey, full of fascinating discoveries.
We decided that the museum would have sections on various related topics. The story of the Ramapuram family; the history of coffee in Coorg; aspects of coffee cultivation globally; the art of brewing the perfect cup of coffee; and a section on Kodavas and their culture along with the other communities living in Coorg.
The brief was to recreate a space that evoked the rustic feel of a coffee plantation, using materials and objects used in the past and the present, reminiscent of eras gone by and ways of life that have been replaced with the onset of modernity. For a designer, this was an absolute dream project. What could be more exciting than playing with light, form, textures, artefacts and images; to curate and detail all of the latter and set out on a quest for old objects that were used previously in Coorg.
Housed in what was originally the old smokehouse (the result of an experiment with growing rubber on the Chikkana Halli Estate), the museum has a high thatched roof with red oxide flooring, typically found in old plantation homes. Jute, coir, burlap, wood and old metal were the other key players in the mix of materials. Information panels were placed on backgrounds of burlap, while the divider for the main section of the museum was an installation made from thickly intertwined coir rope. This formed an interestingly patterned backdrop, against which the other information display boards could be hung.
The idea of using rough wooden planks hoisted with rope and metal hooks for the display shelves was inspired by the shelves in the Ainmanes (clan homes) of Coorg. This allowed for different heights of shelving to be created easily to place objects and the products of the Sidapur brand of coffees.
In the Kodava section, besides the documentation of the origin and customs of the Kodavas, there is a part dedicated to the unique jewellery of the Kodavas, quite unlike any other found in the neighbouring states of South India. These pieces are characterised by exquisite repoussé work.
Wandering the old bye lanes and streets of Madikeri, I happened to chance upon a few master craftsmen, who still handcraft the jewellery. The intricacy, attention to detail and the fact that they work with extremely minute pieces of gold wire and beads, to create elaborate patterns of geometric motifs that characterise these pieces, make the jewellery all the more special.
These craftsmen continue to uphold a centuries-old tradition, passing their craft on to the next generation and thereby ensuring the continuity of one aspect of Kodava culture. The jewellery in the museum is from some of these craftsmen and is beautifully detailed.
In my quest for old metallic objects used earlier in Coorg, I was lucky to find sources in Madikeri and Balele. The K P Metal shop in Madikeri proved to be a veritable treasure trove. All the metal objects found there belonged to the collection of the father of the present-day owners. Besides old cooking vessels used by communities in Coorg, like the noolputtu vara, kudige, kanji kala and thappale, I also discovered a set of old gallon measuring pots dating back to 1918 and ancient rusty iron weights that are deceptively small in size but literally weighing a tonne.
A vast array of priceless old copper and brass vessels belonging to a friend’s mother who had recently passed on, were saved from the fate most vessels of this era face. Instead of being sent for smelting, I am happy to say these beauties are now housed in the safe confines of the museum. Stop by to look at them sometime and the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi immediately becomes clear–the concept of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. Large, dented copper and brass vessels of unique shapes and sizes line the walls, each whispering their unique stories.
A few of the objects are from the Ramapuram family collection–an old hand-operated coffee roaster and typewriter that were very much in use on the Chikkana Halli Estate. The coffee grinder in the museum has had quite a journey. It belonged to a Kodava gentleman who ran a coffee house in Lahore before the Partition, after which it was transported to Bangalore and was housed in Chinny’s Café on Brigade Road for many years.
The unbelievably large tree stump that forms the base of the centre table in the coffee brewing area, is from the Chikkana Halli Estate. When you are in Evolve Back, Coorg, wander in for a session on how to brew the perfect filter coffee, cappuccino, Americano or Vietnamese coffee. With the invigorating aroma of coffee in the air, stroll around the museum and get a taste of how life was lived in the days of old in Coorg.