Life is so Lovely – Mynah’s story.


Update for one month ended 22 September 2014

I am Mynah and my gregarious friends and I would spend our whole day chatting and flitting about our neighbourhood on the fringe of the Rainforest Island. I had heard stories from my grandmother that the island used to be a tranquil place with lots of food for everyone, the rainy season was tough, as it rained hard, but the tall dark trees with their canopies would protect those on the ground from the harsh raindrops. All of this started changing when a large ship got marooned on the reefs abutting the island. The sailors swam ashore and found what they called paradise and though initially they just foraged for food and shelter, they soon started using their crude implements to cut down trees and used the strong wooden trunks to build shelters and even rafts. And then one day, they were “rescued” but not for long, as they returned. They returned with an armada and a larger group of sailors. And then they tore down the trees and built small houses and a pier for the ships and brought in more implements to help them bring down the more of the tall rainforest. They chopped down the trees, the very trees that provided shelter to my grandmother and her sisters and brothers. They planted smaller oil palm saplings and continued cutting down more of the forest as they moved further inland. Now, my grandmother was adaptable and she stayed around and the loss of fruit and berries from the trees that were cleared, were now replaced by the scraps of food that the settlers threw about. They also had small vegetable patches, where my mother would forage for little worms and insects. At times, she would peck at the straw tray of dried rice or some other grain, new food for her and my aunts and uncles. And by the time I was born, the forests had receded to the near horizon and that is why I say that lived on the fringe of the rainforest. But I could see more and newer people settling on this island. It was large enough to accommodate more people, but the new entrants had to be content with trudging up the gentle slopes and down the nearby verdant valley (a walk that would take about a day) before finding a new place to settle into. Then they would chop the trees and clear the land for their settlements and little farms to plant their favorite oilpalm. But this process would lead to skirmishes, as the clamour for space would make the settlers edgy as they quarreled with each other to grab the forest by the river. And that is when they devised a newer plan – they decided to burn the trees and then chop them down – it was easier as many of the smaller trees just fell down due to the fire, and this way, they could get more land, more quickly. I know of a lot of my friends who had to flee the forests due to the fires. Not only were the forests hot, but they were very smokey, causing sore throats, coughs and at times even severe breathing problems. That is why they chose to fly down to the coast and live amongst us. And in September, the wind blew from the forests to our homes and it was difficult to stay here, so my mother led us all across the blue green seas to the islands nearby. We were fond of people and so my mother chose the Island of the Lion. And we flew down to this avenue of raintrees by the bay, that reminded my grandmother of her childhood, and so we chose to stay there. It was just next to this large eating place so not only did we get the shelter we wanted, but would never end up starving, as the people always left something for us – on their plates, or their trays, in the bins, sometimes as scraps on the floor. My friends and I just loved this place. During the day, we would go sightseeing around the harbour, playfully sail on the large container ships, and fly back before it was dark, singing and chirping all the time. I remember one evening, when the sun was about to set, and we were flying back to our raintree avenue by the eating place, exchanging loud notes of our day, of where we went, whom we saw, what we did, and there were these groups of people with little black and silver boxes hung around their necks. They would repeatedly raise the box to their face and then a lightning flash would burst out of the box. Whoa! Did that startle us? We chirped and flew about the branches, as we laughed at Grandmother who almost fell off her branch at the flash of light. Life is so lovely.

The D Street Boyz and their green street saw a lot of new visitors. They were here to buy what the D Street Boyz sold. They initially stumbled onto this street mistakenly. But after seeing the lush verdant surroundings, they went back, this time to return with more people and almost settle down here. At times they did cut off those branches hanging obstructively close to the windows (almost like the BMC folks, who actually chop down all and sundry trees these days… never mind whether they blocked a window or not… but this is not about the BMC Boyz but the D Boyz.. so let us back to them). The new settlers saw new opportunity in new companies, they saw opportunity in oil companies and invested in them. And that they say is the main reason for the D Boyz’ darling , SENSEX, to traipse her way up 1000 points, from 26130 in mid-August to 27195 by 22 September. The D Boyz looked around and also sighed “Life is so lovely”.

But the people who ate at the Eating Place complained about the racket that Mynah and her friends made. They also complained about the droppings that would plonk right in the middle of their food trays while they feasted after a hard day’s work. And so the authorities came along on a weekend, and chopped down all the trees that lined the pavement by the eating place and even pulled out the roots so that the trees don’t regrow. Mynah and her friends had to stay on the other side of the street – cooping up like chicken on a broiler or hatchery farm. They squabble a lot and make a larger racket, but now the people are not complaining as their trays are relatively “safer”. But they miss one point – they can no longer eat at the open air eating place at lunch or any other time during the day. The Equatorial sun can be harsh. And Mynah and her friends know that. Grandmother wants to go back to her Rainforest island as she finds this single-file tree avenue claustrophobic, but Mother is holding her back. This place at least did not have the slash and burn of trees …… though the winds are now bringing in the smoke particles from across the sea to this island of the Lion. Mother has a sore throat, but she is not sure if it is because of the smoke, or the crowding of the trees and the quarrels she has with her neighbours. But she is hopeful that Life will become Lovely again.

Take good care of your trees… and be hopeful that life will be lovely… on that cheerful note … Cheers

Kanha and the cowherds – The Yamuna curse


Update for fortnight ended 14 August 2014

 

Kanha was a playful child. He was always playing outside his house and had to be reprimanded by his mother, Yashomati, a couple of times a day, at least for his naughtiness. His mother’s heart would melt after the scolding, given his chubbiness and endearing smile and excuses galore. It was a relatively dry August when the cowherds hailed out to little Kanha to join them in a game of throwball on the banks of the Yamuna. The river was in spate given the heavy rains that pounded the Himachal ranges, near the source of the river and some of the check-dams and barrages had overflowed. But this was not the main reason why people stayed away from the river this season. It was believed that poisonous serpents had occupied the river and threatened anyone who dared to go close to the river. This is why the cowherds chose the floodplains on this dry August to play their favourite game. Kanha followed them like a cow would follow its cowherd and positioned himself under a large parijat tree. The earth below the tree was carpeted by the pretty, dainty white flowers with their distinctive orange stems. The young adults and children played – throwing up in the air as high as they could and would want the other to catch it without dropping it. And when a ball came flying at down at Kanha, he for a moment lost concentration and the ball bounced off his forehead and rolled out. Kanha quickly turned towards the runaway ball and hailed by the cowherds, ran after it. It rolled away till it was perched precariously between the delicate blades of the “kusha” grass on the banks of the river. Kanha reached out to the ball as he ran towards it and in his haste, tripped on a stone and fell headlong into the grassy foliage, but only after dislodging the ball which rolled out and into the river in spate. Now Kanha’s sole aim was to retrieve the ball, lest the cowherds scold him and never let him play again with them, so he jumped into the water to the horror of his playmates. Initially they could not utter a word as they were horrified to see little Kanha being swallowed into the gushing waters of the Yamuna. But their fear only deepened, as they were petrified to follow suit and try and save the little boy, lest they be poisoned and killed by the serpents of the river. They yelled for Kanha to swim back ashore, but the water was no match for him, as the current sucked him into the middle of the river and before he knew it, he was within the tight grasp of a large serpent. Kanha wrestled the coiling snake and every time he let himself loose, he was being dragged deeper into the river. Strangely, he noticed that the river was calmer as he got deeper into it and saw that the snake was a large with a hood that looked like a large fan. And the hood had many heads with a central head larger than the rest. No wonder everyone believed that there were serpents in the river, though it was just a many headed serpent of serpents, the Kaliya. He had to escape, he was worried that his friends would be in distress if his mother was to know of this. So with all his might he swam upwards and before the serpent realized, the young boy’s folded fist had smacked the serpent between its eyes in the middle of central head. The snake was disoriented and that is when he thrust himself further towards the surface and with one kick on the same spot between the serpent’s eyes, he emerged onto the water surface. The snake was knocked out and as it slithered to the bottom of the river, Kanha grabbed it by the tail and flung it over his head a couple of times, before tossing it into the water. The now defeated snake floated as Kanha gingerly took position over the snake’s head, still not letting go of the tail and did what looked like a victory dance. The floating snake and the dancing child atop it hailed quite a few catcalls and yells of victory from the banks, as a few courageous cowherds dived in and pulled out the dead serpent and the grinning Kanha. Before Kanha could even react, he was perched atop the shoulders of Maakhan, the tallest cowherd and everyone forgot the ball and instead headed back to the safety of their village. They had a story to tell all the dwellers of this riverside hamlet. But Kanha was worried – how would he confront Yashomati.

 

The D Street Boyz were preparing for the festival season to begin. The first off the block was to be the Blue God’s birth. They prepared D Street for the birth celebrations and in their playfulness (in keeping with the Blue God’s playful character), tossed the SENSEX upwards and high off , but in the bargain, also dropped it to fall away. And it fell to as low as 25257 on 8 August. But the Boyz put on a fight with their demons on the street and fighting it hard, they retrieved the fallen SENSEX to finally bring it back up to its lofty height of 26103 on 14 August.

 

What happened to Kanha when he got home was a different story. Yashomati was cross and almost slapped the little boy and his friends for playing so dangerously close to the river. But when she heard of the slaying of the Kaliya serpent – she was relieved that boy not only saved himself, but also the village, as the dry spell deprived the village denizens from regular water sully and with the river out of bounds, the rest of the grain growing season would have been difficult. But now, she too rejoiced with the villagers and decided to not only forgive Kanha and his friends, but also make their favourite Kheer (a milk pudding thickened with rice).

 

Happy Gokulashtami and Happy New Year to all my Parsi readers…… and have a great festival month ahead……

“Nature Strikes Back” – The Raintrees of Bombay


Update for month ended 31 July 2014

Hot summer afternoons are when these trees are fondly sought after, but not so in Mumbai 2014. A record two hundred plus of these century old giants were slayed in one swoop – not by an axe or a chainsaw or the indiscriminate road widening, but by a natural disaster that dug its heels into the bark of the tree and sucked out every drop of its sap. This was the attack of the mealybug, a white, cottony looking insect. The attack was swift and with no predators in sight, these killing machines had a gala time spreading from tree to tree, suburb to suburb. The heavy rains in 2013 ensured that the moist condition, which the mealybugs love, remained for long – to let these killing machines suck out all the moisture, sap and every other drop of life from the trees. And with no-one paying any attention to the falling leaves, and drying boughs, the attack was slow, steady and sure. Before the next summer was here, the trees were bare branches, mere black skeletons of their otherwise green and burly selves. And then some of the branches started falling off and insensitive municipal staff just went off hacking the rest of the trees. But some of the trees survived the summer. The heat and strong sunshine of Summer 2014 perhaps helped the trees from their killers. The ants returned to the tree trunks for shelter from the sweltering heat and found their meals in the mealybugs. And these killers were killed. And when the rains were delayed, it looked like these trees would also perish for want of water. But no – the reverse seems to be happening. The raintrees started sprouting fresh leaves and slowly regenerating itself. The healthier trees grew more leaves to provide some shade to the other drier ones and what looked like an episode from “Nature Strikes Back”, the avenues started looking like their name – leafy and green. The dead trees, though, are gone, but before drying out and dying, these trees dropped a few seeds to the ground beneath their wide canopies of branches. The heavy rains in 2014 are helping nurture some of these seeds that will hopefully take root near its father tree and some day in the future, young lovers will sing ditties around their thick trunks or just shelter themselves from the harsh summer suns. Meanwhile, the ants are still there to help keep the mealybugs at bay.

After the sharp fall around July 11 – to below 25000, the SENSEX seemed to suddenly regenerate. Not unlike the raintrees on D Street. The D Boyz had eaten their crunchy snacks under the shade of these trees and perhaps attracted the army of ants to feed on the fallen scraps. This mess creation was, in a quirky sense, a boon to the trees, as the ants ate their way up the mealybug-infested trunks and helped revive them in the bargain. The greening branches helped turn the street green and the SENSEX did not want to be left behind as it climbed up to a lofty perch of 26245, before readjusting from the flimsy top branch to settle at 25894. (We hear that the D Boyz shook the trees a bit to unsettle the SENSEX which finally settled at 25480 on 1 August).

The mealybugs strangely found its way to my 11th floor windowsill garden. And it trained its eyes on the colourful hibiscus shrubs that blossomed every other day. I carefully tried to clean these sticky cottony insects that chose to inhabit on the lower side of the leaves. But they would return with a vengeance attacking the buds. I tried spraying them with my organic pesticide (tobacco infused water) – which used to do wonders to rid plants of aphids. But these stubborn killers had their way when they devoured the red hibiscus. I was not one to let them kill my little garden, so I took a harsh step. I trimmed my yellow hibiscus shrub – such that it had no leaves, or buds, just plain twiggy stems and waited through the hot summer. And when the delayed rains started pouring from the skies, the green leaves sprouted (smaller than before, but there nevertheless). And yesterday, the missus was surprised to see a blossoming yellow flower when she watered the plants in the morning.

It is wonderful at times to see the positive side of Nature Strikes Back.

What are your stories of “Nature Strikes Back).

Have a great weekend and week ahead … cheers

The Monsoons are here


Update for fortnight ended 11 July 2014

 

The ceiling is leaking, squeaked Mickey. It was time to pack his bags for the annual “holiday” routine when he climbed out of his little cave tunnel sized cubbyhole and ventured out to drier pastures. The monsoons have been harsh on Mickey and his friends as they either learn to live in their leaky homes or venture out into the big bad world. Mickey had an amazing sense of smell and could sense the advancing monsoon and he would send out his code signal squeak to let his friends know when to start their annual “migration”. This year it was delayed and Mickey wondered (happy in his heart though) on when he would finally have to leave his damp surroundings. And then it came without any warning – the deluge and thunder and the unexpected high tides that clogged the storm drains. This was a sureshot disaster in the making and Mickey with his sixth or was it his seventh sense just dashed upwards – warning others in the wake and ran up the slippery “stairs”. The rains had already started seeping in, and the lower basement rooms were getting flooded, despite the crude engineering of mounds and bunds around openings. And when Mickey ran up and up – he could see the flash from the lightning and for a moment the surroundings looked overwhelming and glorious. It almost felt like heaven. And Mickey jumped out into the open – as advised by his school teacher, to always stay in the open during a thunderstorm. He was getting drenched but the cool water was reason enough for him to rejoice as the long dreary summer had ended. He felt like he was on top of the world. And then he looked around and the slushy wet earth was covered with a carpet of red petals. The flamboyant gulmohar tree that must have carefully nurtured its flame red flowers during the fiery summer had just lost all its petals to the downpour and they now carpeted the ground beneath the tree and beyond as the winds and rain swept it across the land. Mickey was slightly thankful that it was just the flowers that had reddened the earth and not something else that he and his friends dreaded. Just then, a squeal from the skies almost stopped his heartbeat. He looked up at the sky and saw what he had had feared all along!! The rains were not the only hostile factors during the monsoons.

 

The D Street Boyz were also waiting for the monsoons like they had never waited before. They looked heavenwards and read every weather report (whether they understood them or not). The worry crease lines on every sweaty D Boyz’ brow were getting more jagged. And then the sunny skies started getting their first grey clouds and then D Street was overcast. The D Boyz jumped up with joy and raced up their tall D Towers to the terrace to enjoy the first showers. The excitement also saw the SENSEX run up with them to the top – 26190. And then the heavy rains started taking its toll, as the tall and lush gulmohar tree fell to the ground and scattered the flame red flower petals all over the street. The tree fall also had some collateral damage as the street Boyz started checking their wallets to see it had sufficient budget to cater to the expenses of clearing their street. The Finance Ministry did not give them much assistance and the Boyz were left to fend for themselves, as they gathered their resources to clear up. SENSEX had to step down from the terrace and also work at the grassroot levels – down to 25100 – 1000 points down, all within the week!

Mickey dashed about the open field towards the gulmohar tree – the only likely shelter in this otherwise slushy ground. He ran as fast as his little feet could carry him to protect himself from the terror in the skies and in the hurry could not skip the puddles. He splashed muck about himself as he accidentally dived into a mud puddle and skidded a few times, but he had to rush to the tree for protection. The blinding rain was not being helpful either. He was being closely followed by his friends who also dashed towards the tree. There was however one contrarion among them, who dashed in the opposite direction – perhaps trying to act as a decoy or a “confuser”. Unfortunately for him, the danger in the sky aimed for him and in a swoop, it was in the grasp of sharp talons and a sharper beak. The Brahminy kite was a keen hunter and this rat was his. Mickey and his friend noticed the missing friend only when they reached the gulmohar tree, but they were helpless. And in this world, this was the rule of survival. They hid in the hollow of the tree’s buttress roots and survived another day.

 

Hope you a have a great week ahead – despite the D Boyz’ red street or the fear in Mickey and his friends minds. ……. Cheers.

 

 

 

Rising Mercury


Update for month ended 15 June 2014

Summer is here and the sun is shining brightly on the Indian subcontinent. Now this is not an unusual phenomenon, since the sun shines down practically every day (barring that one odd solar eclipse), but the heating up of the plains and plateaus and even hills and mountains is stuff that legends are made of. When the Englishmen descended on this part of the world, they were so smitten by the sun that they roamed about in the summer afternoons resulting in the phrase, “only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”. Summer was no different this year, except that the dust storms at the beginning of summer, that went through the dry areas of the north, were not weather occurrences, but generated by helicopters landing on bare fields and cavalcades of jeeps and mini-vans traversing the unpaved roads of the countryside and the shuffling of thousands of feet at open grounds rushing to collect the freebies being doled out at election rallies. Much of that dust settled down once the results were announced and places afar watched with bated breath to see and hear of a new change in India’s destiny. So CEOs of coffee companies in Taiwan took the day off to watch Indian Satellite news TV, exchanging notes with friends in the Philippines and Dubai; while hedge fund managers in London woke up to results of the lotus party’s resounding success. And there was much anticipation in sunny Cappadocia, as ancient history of victors and vanquished were replaying today; was there a Karmic connection between the how those cave dwellers had to seek shelter in the arid, mountainous region to escape capture; and how some of the vanquished in faraway India would perhaps have to start preparations for such a journey? But that said, the new winners were announced amid much emotions and noise – not unlike many things Indian. There were celebrations on the streets and sweets were distributed and in all that din, people forgot about the rising mercury. And that is when the sun decided to tell everyone that it existed. So it shot up the mercury in the northern plains and some “western disturbances” (as the met office folks like to refer to anything they don’t understand) caused a dust storm that not only lowered temperatures, but also trees and power lines and brought the capital city to standstill. The weather gods were not pleased with this disruption in their summer glory, so they brought out the solar power in full steam and heated up the capital city to record highs and to not leave other cities out, they also chose to bake (or steam, if that be the right word) the seaside cities of Bombay and Madras, which also saw summer heat records being broken. And all of this heating up ahead of a monsoon which is likely to be affected by the South American little boy (football season is here too… ). So interesting summer times are here with peak heat in much of India, as we wait for the monsoons.

The D Street Boyz were also eager to watch the election results and its outcomes. So they were all out on D Street waiting in anticipation and the SENSEX followed them there too. As the results started pouring in, and the frenzy and energy on the street raised the temperatures, the SENSEX heated up a little too going up from 23900 to over 24000, and quickly rising to almost 25000 till the dust storm hit the capital. The D boyz did not know whether it was the power line collapse in Delhi or the stalled Delhi Metro that caused the SENSEX to dip, but it lost steam waiting for the pressure cooker to work up the steam. And as the temperatures rose and hit all time highs, the SENSEX too zoomed to reach its all time high of over 25700 before resting on June 12 at 25228.

The greens and yellows of the southern hemisphere have invaded our living rooms as we watch teams kick about to get world recognition, but the Indian monsoon remains relatively silent. So what if the Natural History division of a global TV company swooped down into India to chase the monsoons or participate in rain propitiating prayers. The monsoons are still playing truant as trouble in the Middle East takes away attention from the Arabian Sea and its end-summer guest – the Monsoons. So as Indians, we are hopeful that our guest will arrive indeed and bring with it the gifts that we always look forward to from guests, especially those that come from overseas!

 

It is interesting to note that I had not written in a while and when I chose to, it was the month anniversary since India got a new government. So it is imperative that I clarify, I am not affiliated to any political ideology, nor do I understand politics and politicians very well. So I observe and make certain deductions which maybe obtuse or acute, but ultimately, it is all in a bid to understand the moves at D Street.

Have a great Monsoon…. Cheers…

1008 Brass Pots


Post for Fortnight ended 14 March 2014

Church towers or steeples have always been built to make its building be higher than any building in the parish – perhaps to enhance its importance. So when the bells tolled, calling the faithful, its ringing could be heard all over the settlement. That is also perhaps why the muezzin’s minarets are the highest placed in a rather flattish Maghreb oasis town. Here – his prayers called out the faithful, replacing the gong of the bell. And in temples, the designs are different in northern India compared to that in the South. The temple dome is the highest part of a north Indian style temple and the shining brass pot with the customary gold coins, and other precious objects are sealed and placed on the dome adjacent to the flag of the temple deity. In the south, the brass pot is entombed in the design of the temple gate or gopuram. (The temple itself maybe squat or short, but would be a well designed building.) The pots are consecrated with religious fervour and the entire ritual is spread over days. Over 1008 pots of water are ferried from the sacred rivers of India. And samples of these are poured into the main large brass pot. Into this pot go various precious metals and stones and even precious and healing herbs. The pot bearing this is supposed to symbolize all the precious wealth of the city or state that this temple is to grace. And with all of this wealth placed so high on either temple dome or the gopuram is said to radiate that strength to the surroundings – that is what spirituality is all about. It is not about the Gods or Goddesses, but it is about our wealth and how we preserve and nurture it and deify it. And on auspicious days – when the weather is just right, the temple priests have been known to carry these pots, all 1008 and more up to the highest point in the temple and place the main pot or the “Kumbham” but also anoint it with the pots of water, and all other riches from the kingdom or state. And just like it was done in the days of yore, I happened to witness one in our megapolis. The chanting of prayers could be heard form the early hours of dawn and the dome was shrouded from my view, atop an eleventh storey of a not so high skyscraper. As I approached the temple, I could see that the summit was decked with a makeshift stairway and it was lined with colourfully attired priests who were passing on pots up the stairway to the main priest, who after chanting a few prayers would pour its contents on the main kumbham. And the brass pot (Kumbham) was shining in the morning light – it had apparently been adorned with gold leaf sponsored by a local jeweler. I said a silent prayer to the God I had not seen but knew existed.

Summits were what the D Boyz were talking about. D Street was abuzz with tourists. The foreigners were invading the street in droves and pushing the D Boyz and their favourite SENSEX higher and higher their D Street Tower. And that was the week, when the SENSEX reached its pinnacle of over 22000. But like the priests who had used the makeshift stairway to the gopuram the Boyz too had to step down and look at the surroundings – so they stepped down a little to look at the surroundings form the SENSEX heights of 21809.

And talking of 1008 brass pots took my mind wandering to another set of 1008 pots. It was the movie set of a southern produced Hindi film where the heroine danced around the pots arranged in an array of shapes and formations on a Coromandel beach. And for those who were disappointed to read of a temple and its gopuram and kumbham, won’t you look forward to the story of the 1008 pots that bore the weight of a southern heroine and her white trousered hero?

Have a great week ahead and Cheers…

The Greens We Eat – part 2 *


Update for month ended 28 Feb 2014

Foreign influences to India cuisine have made it that much more varied and rich. Like the introduction of chillies into our food habits was brought in by the European explorers of the late 15th century, also bringing us the much used and taken for granted potatoes. And as a culture we have adopted and adapted these into all types of cuisines. It is unthinkable for Indians form any state to prepare a lunch or dinner without using chillies, unless of course it is for an infant or a sick patient, just as it is unthinkable of not using the ever present kitchen staple, potato to act as either a filler in a curry or a thickener to a gravy or even rustled up in a jiffy as a “dry” curry for unexpected guests. And what seemed like a melting pot of cuisines, India today is taking to other influences, but not to the extent it was perhaps 6 centuries ago! So the green herbs (which are the only flavouring agents outside of the salt and peper routine of European cooks (or would you rather call them chefs because it is more fashionable?), are used by us, but not to integrate into our cuisine but to make “their” food. So herbs that we used as regular food, like dillweed, are used only to pair up with potatoes in a salad, but when used in Indian food, they are in the traditional “saags” (greens) with perhaps some ridge gourd (torai) thrown in. And holy basil is not used in cooking, unless making that concoction to relieve a sneezing relative of that blocked nose; but pasta in pesto is quite a popular dish with the children of this generation and basil makes its appearance not only in supermarket shelves, but also at birthday party “live counters”. And rosemary, that sweet sounding herb that grows as a perennial (and reminds me of the Braganza twin sisters, Rose and Mary, who were very sweet and always found together), is good to pair with the roast chicken, but never with chicken tikka or butter chicken. Indians have always revered their sages or yore, but only recently been introduced to the sage that goes well with butter (so say some Australian chefs on TV). I think Indians still like their butter plain and white with the parathas, though the salted and yellow variety is also widely consumed with white bread or dropped in dollops into the mushy vegetable curry that is eaten with bun paos, pao bhaji. (Interestingly, the paos are Mediterranean in origin and still retain the Portuguese name for it). And although we have been less influenced by the eastern cuisine, the greens of the spring onion are quickly chopped up to garnish any “Chinese” dish. Of course, the slender and tender leaves of the onion bulb shoot have been used in local cuisine to pair up with the omnipresent potato in the cool winter months, to warm us.

Foreign influences on D Street have been making their mark these days, but in very small ways. And sometimes, it is chilli hot that scalds the D Boyz and their SENSEX (like in the beginning of February) or it is the greener herbs like dill, basil, rosemary and sage during the rest of the month. And quite like the appetites of Indians, these have taken in in limited doses to inch the SENSEX up, step by step, during the month from 20460 to 2110 (with the chilli affecting the SENSEX downwards at an intra month low of 20024).

Although much of India is not climatically suited to grow the European herbs, it is still grown on “specialty” farms and priced even more specially. It is, however, rather surprising that the more tropical “herbs” from the east have not easily adapted themselves into Indian food and we see little of the kaffir lime leaves and pandan except at Oriental restaurants or food festivals. I wonder why?

It would be interesting to hear your views on influences to Indian food. I look forward to the interesting interaction with my readers.

Have a great week ahead …… cheers

 

* for those interested in reading The Greens we Eat – Part 1, click here.

Green Stalk Amaranth


Narayan:

I apologise if some you were not able to read the post. i have rectify the issue and hope it works now. Happy reading and Happy Weekend!

Originally posted on Making Sense of the SENSEX - Blog:

Update for month ended 31 January 2014

This is an interesting story following the update on The Greens that we eat – part 1
(click the title to read about it).

Kanagambal lived in the small temple town in Kerala, dedicated to the playful, flautist God. She led a simple life, rearing her children, cooking for her husband and children and generally taking care of her house. She loved to sit on the large wooden bed in the verandah and look out of the door onto the pathway that led to her house form the street. The street led to one of the 2 main entrances to the temple and was always teeming with pilgrims and general town and village folks headed to the temple. Kanagambal loved to look out and watch the crowds as they hurried to the temple or were ambling along the street shopping for little temple town…

View original 950 more words

Green Stalk Amaranth


Update for month ended 31 January 2014

This is an interesting story following the update on The Greens that we eat – part 1
(click the title to read about it).

Kanagambal lived in the small temple town in Kerala, dedicated to the playful, flautist God. She led a simple life, rearing her children, cooking for her husband and children and generally taking care of her house. She loved to sit on the large wooden bed in the verandah and look out of the door onto the pathway that led to her house form the street. The street led to one of the 2 main entrances to the temple and was always teeming with pilgrims and general town and village folks headed to the temple. Kanagambal loved to look out and watch the crowds as they hurried to the temple or were ambling along the street shopping for little temple town knick-knacks, like prayer books, little red plastic finger-rings with the insignia of the God embedded in gold, or pendants in red with a gold motif of the God strung on cheap golden chains. There were shops that sold little brass lamps, water containers, prayer flower plates, and metal baskets. The streets were always buzzing with activity and Kanagambal loved to watch the world go by, so her meal preparations were simple, some curry and lots of buttermilk to be eaten with the rice that her husband got her from the temple. She used to admire her sister-in-law who lived in the humbler cottage besides hers. Her sister-in-law would cook up more elaborate meals for her husband and daughters and would have a different “tiffin” item every evening for the children when they returned from school. She would go out and tend to the garden that her husband would help till. They grew basic Kerala vegetables like ladies finger, snake gourds, bitter gourds and the amaranth greens. The town had not yet got its running water from the Bharata River and most households depended on ground water drawn up from wells. So every evening, brass pots of water would be drawn and carefully balanced on the hip to be taken to amaranth greens bed and lightly showered by a partially cupped palm. This would ensure enough watering, whilst ensuring little damage is done to the tender stalks of the greens. There were always multiple beds – for growing different greens or sometimes the same greens but for a staggered harvest. It was at one of these beds that Kanagambal wandered to on a sunny afternoon. She wanted to be of help to her sister-in-law and thought of harvesting some greens alongwith the ladies fingers for the evening meal. Although Kanagambal did not wear glasses, she knew that her vision was very poor. She could barely make out anyone at a distance, but relied on her keen sense of hearing to figure out who it was. She was fond of reading and did not fancy her reading glasses, so she would hold her magazines and religious books really close to her nose to read. This was quite a fascinating sight, as you can imagine… a rather tall woman, sitting partially cross-legged, bent over half to read a book placed on the ground with her diamond studded nose ring shining just above the book. So that late afternoon, she set out to the kitchen garden between the two houses barefoot. She walked into the left amaranth bed and held onto the stalk of the thandu keerai, stalk amaranth, before picking the leaves and collecting them into the end of her saree (thalappu in Tamil / Pallu in Hindi). She moved from stalk to stalk and then held onto one stalk that she could feel vibrating. It wriggled in her hands, and she called out to her sister-in-law who was watering the gourds and flower shrubs, “Manni, why is this keerai wriggling so much?”. And the sister-in-law got closer to see that what Kanagambal held. She shrieked and asked her to let go of the stem and get out of the green patch. What she saw was a green tree snake that was resting on the thick stalk of the amaranth and its colour blended quite well with its surrounding and it was caught unawares in the tight grip of the near-sighted Kanagambal. Both the sisters in law were terrified and the even more terrified green snake slid away as fast
as it could from the garden.

The green leaf mood in the market was set. The D Boyz kept eating the various types of Indian Greens and that perhaps showed in their attitude and the movement of their favourite – SENSEX, as it scaled up from 21000 levels to touch an all time high of 21400. And that is perhaps when they got a Kanagambal moment, as a few D Boyz held onto a green stalk thinking it to be an edible plant, however being shocked by its wriggling volatility. Some say that it was a foreigner impact – of some two-forked reptilian magnitude that could poison the local market by withdrawing – also referred to as the US Tapering; while others felt that the rising local prices in the veggie markets, led to people tending to kitchen gardens, and perhaps the inexperienced hand could not handle the fauna that sometimes go with the flora…… and the scared D Boyz withdrew as quickly as Kanagambal – letting the SENSEX fall from its heights to 20510 (over 900 points…).

In the scramble, Kanagambal let go of the corner of her thalappu dropping the collected amaranth leaves. And the fear with which she got out of the vegetable garden, she had no courage to get back and collect her spills. The sisters in law rushed into the house and sat on the wooden bed to catch their breath. And then, after some small chatter, laughed heartily. Kanagambal rued the fact that she did not wear her corrective glasses, but I guess she was in no hurry to start getting into the habit. The last time I saw her, she still held her magazine close to her nose to read the latest stories and squinted her eyes, whenever she saw some movement in the path that led to her house from the busy streets. She was the ever alert matriarch of her house.

Do you know of people who, like Kanagambal, may have a few disabilities, but go about their lives on their own terms? Tell me about them. I am eager to hear their stories.

Have a great week ahead… Cheers

The Greens that we eat – part 1


Update for week ended 17 January 2014

 

Greens are good for you would be the standard one liner that all mothers would extol to their children. And children from all ages would toss the greens around on the plate – in the olden days on banana leaves with their fingers, and later on brass plates and now with spoons or forks on their “china” plates. And there are so many greens that an Indian is offered. The most popular of the greens is the easy growing and much cultivated spinach or paalak. It is most often cooked anc crushed to form a base in foods – like a sauce – perhaps to make it presentable and palatable to the young child who tossed the food around the plate. So it is served with chunks of melt in your mouth cottage cheese in winters, or with golden corn kernels, or plain potato dices in summers. The fact that the form of the leaves is not “seen” on the plate perhaps makes it easier for children to eat the paneer drenched in the spinach sauce. And in the state of the five rivers, the arrival of winter is also heralded by the ubiquitous mustard greens or “sarson da saag”, which is dished out with a corn bread and loads of homemade white butter. The strong taste of mustard and the not so mashed consistency is sometimes a put off, even in traditional Punjabi homes. The locals in Himachal and the Uttaranchal serve a similarly bitter green called bathua, which has
unusual nicknames in English, like pigweed, goosefeet or lamb quarters. The English names of this green or weed are enough to put me off it for a while! The slightly bitter fenugreek greens, methi, is another favourite across the country but mostly to flavour the food, so it is usually never presented on the table on its own. It is paired with a blander vegetable or meat or even flour to give its dish of the day- aloo methi, methi mutton or methi thepla. The amaranth is the second most popular greens that are consumed by Indians, perhaps because of its milder taste and soft texture. It is used to pepper the larger veggies like potatoes or onions or used in ‘dals’ to add that green effect. My favourite using this green leaf is the Keerai Molagootal, a dal preparation with coconut, cumin and red chillis. I once made this at my bachelor pad for a comfort food session on a Sunday and a flat-mate went nostalgic about how it tasted much like his mom’s cooking! Now Now, I had to control his emotions!
And if you go to the south of India or even to a market that sells south Indian traditional vegetables and you would get various variants to this green – the stem amaranth (thandu keerai), the only leaf version (aria keerai), the red leaf amaranth (sigappu keerai). And the red leaf amaranth is normally served as a yoghurt based sour kadhi in the south – as a Keerai Morukootan or Morukozhambu. The reddish colour is tempered with the white buttermilk and coconut, but slightly highlighted by the red chilli, mustard and fenugreek seed tempering.

 

The D Boyz had a week eating the Indian greens. So if on Monday and Tuesday, they just tossed it around on their plates, they enjoyed the spinach, amaranth and fenugreek based food during the rest of the week to take their SENSEX to an iron led growth close to an all time high, but a tad short at 21315, before retracing its steps as it saw the reddish toned dish served on Friday – which pushed the SENSEX down into its red zone for the week – to end at 21063. But overall, this was a week of gaining iron and good from the greens as the D Boyz brought up their SENSEX 305 points from last week’s end of 20758.

 

There are other greens that Indians eat, which are not of the weed variety. Like the pumpkin leaves during the rainy season, or the Malabar greens (a squishy thick waxy leaf of a climber), or the Moringa tree leaves used in Maharashtra and the Southern states during the rains, again. Are there other leaves that are eaten in India as also overseas like the cabbage and lettuce, which I resrve for another week’s posting. Till then, enjoy your greens and share your secret recipes with me. Who knows, I may also go nostalgic while eating them, just like my flatmate!

 

Have a good week ahead… Cheers……. And Happy Republic Day