It is no secret that we have long been enchanted by the legend of the archetypal waterman - who, as Rahul Malaney concisely sums up, ‘a human being that feels completely comfortable in the ocean no matter what the conditions are like’.
Unmistakeably one amongst these elemental beings who avidly responds to the call of the ocean himself, he was joined by Jill Fergusson, who subscribes to a similar lifestyle that transgresses the generation’s consumerist trappings to respect the mighty and selfless ocean – and the environment - for the phenomenon that it is. Together, they embarked upon the journey that is Vaayu, as much about creating a water sports-cum-accommodation centre, as it is a social and cultural breeding ground for environmental awareness, art, passion and ultimately, creating a community that prompts even the wandering visitor to question the ‘kind of impact they want to have on this planet’.
“One of the things we found,” Jill shares, of the Vaayu Experience. “Is that when people have a relationship with the ocean or the environment, through these sports, that creates within them an internal environmental ethic, that makes them want to conserve it, want to protect it.”
After elaborating on the five pillars that Vaayu is based on, we were delighted when we heard that the unique space, located on Ashwem-Mandrem beach roach, has now encroached on territory that we, at Homegrown, nurture extremely strong feelings for – food.
The official season launch on the 16th of December heralded the raising of shutters for the first time on the Vaayu’s much-anticipated brand new organic foods Prana café, in addition to their myriad other offerings in the next few months, that include accommodation at the Vaayu Waterman’s Village, lessons, rentals and excursions through the Vaayu Adventure Centre, environmental projects and outreach initiatives by The Prakriti Tribe, art exhibitions, residencies and screenings curated by The Vision Collective.
The evening in celebration of multi-faceted entity that is Vaayu included free food-tastings from the cafe, a live screening of the new promotional Vaayu video Homegrown released earlier this month, created by Krish Makhija of Mosambi Juice Productions, and live art created by resident artists from the Vaayu Vision collective. There was also a band from Arambukkam, a guy on hand drums, a beatboxer and a singer, bringing their funky upbeat sound to the mix with local musicians playing an ambient DJ set with visuals, adding their own flavour of downtempo to the night.
”We also had a sacred fire ceremony hosted by our friend Anjan to usher in a season of positive energy,” Jill tells us about the opening. “Held at sunset, the fire ignites the intentions that we wanted to start the season off with, and there was even a ceremonial gong; all of this was to honour all that is sacred in the environment, a celebration of inter-connectedness. The ashes from the fire were later sprinkled into the garden so that we could grow in abundance. Everyone involved in Vaayu, while not necessarily religious, is very spiritual.”
”The launch night was fantastic,” she says. “We must’ve had about 200-300 people come over, over the course of the night, and they all loved the food and just couldn’t get enough of it. There was such a huge crowd around the kitchen, that it was hard to get the trays of food near the DJ’s. We also screened the promotional video. People have already started coming back because of that, and the quality of the food.”
With gifted master chef, Gome Galily, taking the helm in the kitchen, Prana Café uses fresh produce from Samata Organic Farms, cheese from Barbara’s delectable Swiss Happy Cow Cheese series and bread from traditional, local bakeries.
Since the Vaayu Collective has always subscribed to a many-layered and complex ethos, we decided to find out from them how the idea for Prana cafe evolved. Unsurprisingly, we were regaled with a train of thought that is incredibly well-formulated and reflects a distinct clarity in approach.
“This monsoon Rahul’s mom Anjali and I decided to take a yoga teacher training together at the Param Yoga Centre in Pune,” Jill elaborates on the name of the café. “One day after class Anjali and I were discussing what we had learned with Rahul over lunch. Our yoga classes usually consisted of spending 1-2 hours of the morning going through the various philosophies and ancient wisdoms of Pantanjali yoga then 1-2 hours of learning the asanas and how to teach them. On this particular day we learned about the seven main chakras (energy centres), our Nadis (energy highways), and Prana-shakti the life giving force that brings our body the energy it needs to do everything.”
“We were retelling Rahul all about our lesson plan as we thought it was so interesting, and he was the one who said we should name the Café Prana. And there it was…we had our name and really I don’t think we could have come up with a better name then Prana. It honors and embodies everything we stand for and draw our inspiration from.”
The menu for Prana Café has been designed for the outdoor active nature loving person, who wants to order a super healthy but nutritional meal that leaves them feeling both energized yet satisfied.
Open seven days a week, Prana café offers a range of seasonal fresh fruit juices, sweet and savoury breakfasts and refreshingly light lunches, from 9:00AM - 4:00PM in the evening, followed by Tapas and cheese platters served from 9:00 AM - 10:00 PM. With its emphasis on using locally sourced, homegrown (cough) ingredients that are fresh and nutritious, Prana Café echoes Vaayu’s core values for health and sustenance and contributes to their commitment to sustainable development.
“While we all love a good Thali every once in a while, it doesn’t really leave the individual feeling like doing anything active,” Jill explains. “There is a reason why siesta time exists in Goa, food comma sets in after lunch. As kitesurfers and surfers we needed something that left us feeling re-energized not sluggish, so the menu was designed with that in mind.”
Bolstering Vaayu’s belief that it is just as important to love Mother Earth as it is to love ourselves, where the food comes from and how it is grown is accorded just as much importance as how it tastes. Due to limited number of fully organic farms, Prana won’t be able to be fully organic this season but they hope to transition to this type of produce a hundred percent, in the years to come.
Deeming Prana ‘an extension and completion of Vaayu’, Jill reflects that it was what was really missing in the unique space last season. Like the rest of Vaayu, they have tried to create a space that is ‘inspired by nature, filled with art, and inspires people to feel comfortable to express themselves’. Like the rest of Vaayu, it has been built using the Traditional Tamil Nadu style of building; using no plastic and almost no nails, they were able to construct a place in the garden of the premises, simultaneously beautiful yet functional.
“And of course we have filled the space with our Artist residents’ art,” Jill says, referring to the Vision Collective. “Which we plan to change from time to time as and when our residents’ shows happen.”
So what about personal favourites on the menu, of the people who form the backbone of Vaayu?
“My favorite thing so far on the menu would have to be a tie between the Vietnamese Spring Rolls (which are always on the menu) and the Breakfast Burrito (that we have as a special sometimes),” Jill says. “The breakfast burrito takes me back to California and to me is the embodiment of surf culture in food. Its eggs, lettuce, avocado sauce, salsa, wrapped in a tortia. (And bacon for the meat eaters in the world)”
“The feeling that I want visitors to leave the café with, in a word, is ‘satisfied’,” Jill says. “In another word, ‘strong’. I believe a good meal should leave you feeling happy, yet energized. I really don’t like it when I feel so full I can’t move. There are so many fun things to do in the day especially when you live next to the ocean.”