Japanese duo Hiroyoshi Takeda and Shinji Kashima are cooking up a storm in Mamallapuram mixing styles

“Masala wala. Like the Spice Girls,” laughs Hiroyoshi Takeda. Shinji Kashima adds with a grin, “But we're spice guys.” Only, they're nothing like the Spice Girls, thank goodness! Instead of hair spray and lip gloss, there's some serious talent for the subversive here. Which explains why we're in Mamallapuram on a Sunday afternoon armed with a techno groove box, oil paints and a sitar. And, let's not forget, a tray of freshly fried medhu vadais.

The normally sleepy Good Luck Café's buzzing with young Japanese people and a handful of Indians curious to see what Masala wala has up its sleeve. It's an ideal setting with comfortably faded, unconsciously kitschy interiors overlooking the bright beach and brilliant blue sea. The ‘Spice Boys' have been here for a while preparing for the day's event — a ‘painting, music and cooking show'.

Fascination for India

Hiroyoshi (33), an amiable guerrilla artist, takes his high energy work everywhere, using painting, clay and sculpture to express himself — whether at a show on top of Mt. Fuji or the façade of a building in Osaka. His fascination for India began in school. “I wanted to study art. Reading about it in the school library, I discovered Indian art and loved it. So I began preparing to come here by learning Hindi 15 years ago, at the Asia and Africa Institute, Tokyo.”

When he became proficient in Hindi, he hopped on a flight to Chennai practising phrases all the way. “Then, I went out of the airport — and no Hindi!” he exclaims in mock horror. It didn't deter him. This is now his fifth trip here. “Now I study Tamil and can speak… konjum, konjum.”

Shinji shows us his very funky sitar, as he tells us this is his first time in India. “I like the Beatles. And through them I learnt about Ravi Shankar. So I bought a sitar in Tokyo 10 years ago and started classes.” His band's called ‘Conti' “because we play Continental music.” Meaning it has no particular Asian origin. Just a drum and sitar set against a modern techno-house background.

He starts to play — doubling as sitarist and DJ — as Hiroyoshi covers a white canvas with bright yellow dots. If the music is jarring at first, it's because of its unfamiliarity; it's still fascinating since beats are timed to Hiroyoshi's ‘performance painting' rife with agile pirouettes. As the canvas is rapidly covered in deep ochre, bold pink, blues, greens and violets, Shinji adds live drumming to the mix. In the tradition of heartfelt electronic music there is a story, if you listen carefully. The noise yields a melody, weaving through the chaos. As it reaches a crescendo, Hiroyoshi adds eyes to the multi-hued fish he's painted and beams ‘meen.'

Then it's time for lunch. “We started cooking at 7 p.m. last night,” they say. “Sambar, poriyal, rasam, kootu, appalam,” says Hiroyoshi. “Don't forget meen kozhambhu,” adds Shinji, rolling his ‘zha' with an adeptness born of patient repetitive practice.

Food of this sort in Mamallapuram, home to grungy backpackers, chocolate pancakes and calamari fry, is unusual enough. Add the fact that it was cooked by Japanese boys flown in straight from Tokyo. “We got recipes off the net, and from Viji Varadarajan's books,” Hiroyoshi says, pointing at the cook book author, also in attendance.

In a happy mix of cooking styles, the food's light, fresh and delicate. Though it looks fairly drab, the vegetables work because they've been quickly stir fried and are, therefore, bright and crunchy. The duo says they've done small events in Tokyo with similar food, for appreciative audiences.

As we leave, Hiroyoshi's painting a chubby cow on the café table, as Shinji's music thuds in the background. Admittedly, it's all rather surreal, but in the manner of a charming, memorable dream.

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