Fasting and Feasting


Update for fortnight ended 20 February 2015

This week, many Indians spend most of their Tuesday fasting. And Fasting takes a different meaning in India depending on the region you are in. It is by no means, staying away from food. It is staying away from chosen foods….. or in some cases, excluded foods. So in the North of India where the devout Hindu believes that by fasting, they will get the boons that the Gods are about to bestow upon “fasting” devotees, they decide to stay pure to fasting. So no grains, no pulses…. but all else will do and there is no moderation here. So grains are replaced by carb loaded sweet potatoes, or plain potatoes and water chestnuts, and buckwheat. These are patted into little doughballs and flattened and cooked on hot griddles with loads of pure “desi” ghee. Oils are to be avoided as well. Sometimes, these flatbreads are fried into golden puffball breads or “puris” and eaten with potatoes seasoned with rocksalt. Peanuts are welcome, as also fruits in all shapes and colours. Milk is not only used for worship, but also gulped down in litres, if not gallons. And as you move east, where the fish is considered vegetarian, this is a day, when males in the house can partake of their vegetarian fish while the women cook their favourite sweetmeats to be offered to the Gods. As one traverses to the south, the only exclusion to the fasting feast is rice. So no rice…. which is unheard of in their meals, is a huge sacrifice. The rice is replaced by snacky wheat chapatis or rotis. sometimes, the craving for a ‘ricey’ dish gets the innovative south Indian to mix the wheat flour with water and salt and temper it with the ever present mustard seeds, and then ladled onto a well oiled hot griddle, to be spread out into thin doshais. Of course, the common factor with their northern brethren are the fruits. However, as India fasts, their close competitors (or at least in Indian’s minds) start preparing for their annual feast with the families. Families start getting together as many traverse miles in sardine can packed trains that criss cross the cold and frosty countrysides of China to get their hometowns, almost like salmons that brave dangers of rapids, and have jump up waterfalls to reach their “birth places”… trying to avoid the hungry, fat paws of the grizzlies as they wait for easy prey that swims against the current and so is tired. Much like these salmons, the packed sardine Chinese are also prey to petty thieves aboard these crowded iron snakes that gorge on and vomit out human beings as they snake  through the countryside. So the family dinner will have the favourite pork and perhaps some chicken and for seaside residents, there will be plenty of seafood on the table; all to be eaten amidst gaiety and family fun.

Festivities were in the air on D Street as the D Boyz gathered their favourite fast foods for the festival around the corner. Many had asked fro boons or blessings at least, and hoped to get them answered by “sacrificing” the excluded food group from their meals during the day. While some D Boyz did not touch wheat and pulses, some stayed away from rice. But all of them had their share of fruits and milk which must have kept them in good health, as they could not only lift their SENSEX, but actually hoist it above their shoulders to above 29000 for the entire fortnight or so … and even today when they sat down to partake their meal, the SENSEX did slip and that too about 240 points, but still the SENSEX was at 29231… The red buntings of the Chinese New Year feast not withstanding, the treats on the table did get the D Boyz’ mouths watering and they are waiting for their “competitors” to be back next week to see if they can taste the mandarin oranges and its goodness as well hope to receive their red packets.

The Chinese believe that a monster like creature visits homes on the Lunar New Year new Moon night, so to ward it away, they light up red lanterns and paste red sayings on their doors. This is supposed to scare away the monster and therefore protect the Chinese. And then they gift little red packets of cash to the little ones for staying awake all night on new year’s eve, as gratitude while also gifting it to older members of the family as a way of telling them that they need not be worried of expenses as now they have the cash. And for the givers, the saying goes that “One who gives is One who has”, so it means that prosperity is already with you.

With that thought, wishing you all a Happy Lunar New Year …..

Cheers

The Long Walk


Update as of 10 February 2015

Pichagam, have you made the garlands? yelled her mother. Pichagam was stringing the chrysanthemums with the roses and the green fragrant leaves and had to hurry up. Her mother was dressed in the festive silk saree and she grabbed the last few flowers from Pichagam and told her to go and get dressed, while hurriedly giving finishing touches to the garland. She didn’t use any needles or thread for the garland, but knotted the flowers tightly together with fibre from a banana stalk. When she was done, she took it to the prayer room and placed it at foot of the altar along with the fruits, long needles and hooks, a pot full of milk and the special “prasadam”, sweet offerings made in the morning with jiggery and rice. She bent her head low and mumbled her prayers, as her husband walked in dressed in a yellow mundu, a traditional cotton wraparound garment with a red border. His forehead was smeared with the sacred ash and he prostrated before the altar before picking up the garland, the needles and hooks that had been placed alongside the prasadam. Pichagam picked up the steel pot full of milk and placed it on her head to the chants of Shanmuga, Muruga, and headed out of the house, followed by her father and then her mother. They walked barefoot to the nearby temple where the elaborately decorated wooden contraption was ready with its hook holders. The father’s friends and other well-wishers were already there with a large bowl of the sacred ash and they took the needles and hooks from him and smeared the ash liberally on them. And then invoking divine blessing, they garlanded him and then proceeded to strategically pierce the needles and hooks onto the father’s bare torso. For the first few pricks, the father grimaced, but kept chanting and thereafter, he took each needle pierce with a louder chant – to drown out the pain. And then the helpers, held the wooden contraption up and connected the hooks and checked to see if it was well balanced over his shoulders. Chanting one more time loudly, they then proceeded to embark on their long journey on the hard tarmac street to the temple dedicated to the Son of Shiva. Pichagam carried the pot of milk on her head and she followed her father as they trudged the 4 ½ km long walk along the streets of the city to the temple dedicated to the Son of God. The sky was still dark, but the streets were well lit and there were hordes of well-wishers and passersby who hailed the people walking to the temple. Pichagam and her family were part of hundreds of others who were walking this trek that February morning. There were chants along the route, but the walk was not easy. The hard tarmac and concrete roads were rough on the soles, the needles pierced harder if the walkers moved faster, or lost balance. The heavy wooden contraption only felt heavier with each step and the tiring walk made them thirsty every few steps. But no-one stopped, nor did they have any mishaps along the route.

Even D Street was a lit up early in the morning at this time of the year. There was a lot of hustling and bustling as the D Boyz entered the street. Each step they took was with a clear objective in mind – to keep going straight and making balancing the SENSEX on their shoulders,; but the needles and hooks that pierced them from time to time reminded them of some traditional processions in Interior Tamil Nadu – where devotees of the Son of Shiva would take this pain to offer gratitude for boons granted. The street was not straight – there were obstacles like rough streets, which at times would send the D Boyz off balance. This would result in some more needle pierces or hooks tugging at their skins. The delicately balanced SENSEX would sway from side to side – sometimes up and sometimes down. That was the route the D Boyz took to seek divine intervention to protect them this year. And the D Boyz don’t know if their prayers will be answered – because the SENSEX started at 27855 and climbed all above 29500 before retracing its steps and rebalanced to 28183… all in a span of 6 weeks of the year and there are 46 more weeks to walk on.

Pichagam’s mother was by her side, wiping her forehead of the sweat, as she walked along the route. The crowds swelled as they neared the temple and the morning sun was blazing strongly through the leafy lanes that led to the temple. There was a specially cordoned street that was specially arranged for their entry and the temple volunteers and local policemen managed the crowds that had gathered to watch the spectacle. Many were devotees who also paid obeisance to the carriers of the contraptions. Though most of the crowds were Tamilians, there were quite a few Caucasian tourists who also took photographs of the event. Many Chinese and Malay students joined their Tamil friends to line the street and take in the festive atmosphere in this multi-racial island country, far away from Interior Tamil Nadu.

Have a great year ahead … cheers.

Legends of the Lamp


Update for month of October 2014 (ended 26 October)

I am the lamp – Deepa. I am lit in many Indian homes prior to the onset of winter. I am usually made of clay – and at times decorated and filled with the oil of the region – sesame in the south, groundnut in the west, mustard in the north and the east. When lit, I can fill an entire room with light, bringing joy to all around me. I have been lit for over centuries and ages and I will tell you the various legends that have been witness to. Let us go back at least 5000 years to the age of the naughty blue cowherd. He was known to be as naughty as he was fearless. His village folk by the Younger Sister River trusted him a lot with his ability to keep away danger. This blue boy was so skilled with his fingers whether it was with playing the flute or lifting mountains or twirling discs as he was with exposing evil plans of killer moms and helping cleanse poisonous rivers (read https://riteriterite.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/kanha-and-the-cowherds-the-yamuna-curse/). And my legend goes to the days when hell’s gates opened up – perhaps due to the shifting plates of land as the modern world was forming and causing myriad earthquakes in that region resulting in the hot lava spewing out with its venomous gases from the centre of the earth or what people referred to as the netherworld or hell. The gases would choke the cattle that dared to roam about near the chasms and the searing heat from the molten lava would further aid the vaporization of the gases to travel afar. The Blue Cowherd happened to be near one such chasm which was still spewing steam and venomous gases out of the opened up earth. The heat and the steam rose into the skies and the changing weather patterns at that time of the year (after the end of the great rains and before the start of the great wintry months) meant that the winds were not strong. The clouds that formed over the river banks grew larger and larger. Everyone in the village was terrified. The clouds spewed out lightning and its thunder rumbled on for hours. The lightning streaks bolted down from the skies and set afire to some drying leaves and bushes and the village folk were too frightened to venture out and put it out. The blue boy grabbed some thick branches of the tree nearby and broke it. He rushed to the fires with the branches and swept over them to smoulder the flames. The young flames died down soon, not only because of the swift sweep and strokes of the branches, but also because the leaves and bushes were still fresh and not so dry after a bountiful rainy season. He then looked heavenwards and shot out an arrow into a low cloud which burst into showers. This triggered a chain reaction in the clouds as the lightning and thunder intensified and with it also the rains that descended on the smouldering earth. The hot earth hissed like dying serpents as the rains poured onto them and the deadly gases were consumed by the heavy raindrops. The blue boy was wet by now and he pulled at his bow and plucked the string to send out the last arrow skywards. The metallic arrow seemed to have been charged as the lightning broke out fiercely striking it and it glowed over the dark grey skies. The villagers who cowered in their huts and cow sheds, saw the glow in the sky and they knew that this meant something important to them. They recognized the arrow shape as that of the Blue Cowherd. They feared for his life and prayed to their gods to protect him. The rains lasted a whole day and the hissing around them stopped at the end of it. When the skies cleared up, they looked heavenwards and the villagers were overjoyed to see the clear skies studded with twinkling stars, a sight they had not seen for days and months and they knew that the monster from the netherworld was tamed. Now they had to look for the young blue prince. They saw him walking home in the dark – it was one day away from the new moon. And to help the blue prince find his way to the village, they lit a thousand or even more of me, the Deepas…. I was lit on the window sill, on the doorsteps, next to the barn, in the courtyards. The heavens had competition that night from the villagers by the Younger Sister River, there were perhaps more twinkling stars of deepas on the ground than there were in the skies above. The villagers gathered outside their homes to welcome back the triumphant blue boy!

After the heady days of September, when the D Street Boyz rejoiced at the greening of their street, came the grey clouds. The hot October, perhaps the hottest that the street had seen in a decade, sent the SENSEX sweltering down. The Boyz of D street did not know what ailed them; was it the global uncertainties or was it the strengthening greenback. One day they heard their continental Caucasian cousins were going bust, and the next day, they heard that it was not so. They were so spooked by the volatility – almost like the blue boy and his villagers who did not know what monster from the netherworld was disturbing their environment. And then one of them decided to take the “bull by the horns” and lead it up the path and get the SENSEX revived by the lights and Deepas of the season. They even chose a fair dark kohl named girl to come and ring a bell on their festive day. She came dressed in shiny yellow festive clothing, almost the colour of the traditional Deepa flames and did not know that she had to strike the gong – she just stood dumbstruck and spreading her toothy smile until someone led her to the charging bull statue on D Street. Even there, she did not know what to do – so she remembered her Tamizh film hero who had once fought a bull in his movies and decided to do a rehash of that. She enjoyed it … at least on D Street, she had more importance than in the movies she did down south! The D Boyz cheered on as they saw their SENSEX revive to an honourable 26 851; up from 25999 in Mid October, though still below the 27206 in end September.

It was early morning, by the time the blue boy walked home. His mother awaited his arrival and with tears in her eyes, but joyous smiles on her lips, she welcomed him in. He was wet and perhaps tainted by the poisonous gases and liquids that poured down on him. To purify him, she used her time tested special oil; laced with special herbs and spices. She invoked the blessings of the family deity and asked the eldest member of the house, her husband, to anoint the young blue boy. She knew that this oil had the purifying qualities to cleanse his body. She then prepared his bath with warm water and sprinkled a few drops of the Great River into it. Though the Younger Sister was the source of their regular water, it was now slightly polluted by the poisonous rains of the previous night. The magical qualities of the Great River could always purify any source of water and so was precious, yet abundantly available. She then set about to make the blue boy his favourite food treats ……. Including a special herbal mix that he had to ingest at the start to cleanse his insides as well, lest he swallowed some of that poisonous rain. The blue boy did all that his mother asked him of and looked forward to the grand feast that was to unfold that day. It would be one of his favourite days……. And I was there that day to witness perhaps the first Deepawali our land has known. I continue to light up Deepawalis across the ages and even in your homes. Thank you for your hospitality.

So tell me how you enjoyed your Deepawali. Do you have another legend of the lamp that you would like to share with me? I have many more…… that the Deepa has told me. I will tell you all sometime soon.

Cheers….

Festival Time


Narayan:

Here is wishing all my readers a fantastic Diwali season ahead. I am sorry I have not been able to write as often as I would like to, so I chose to send you this interesting Diwali piece that I wrote a few years ago.

Hope you all have a safe and joyous Diwali with your near and dear ones.

Cheers

Originally posted on Making Sense of the SENSEX - Blog:

 Update for week ended 4 November 2010

The brooms were out of the closet, as were the dishcloths and other pieces of rags quickly bundled together and kept handy in the red bucket. The woman of the house donned her pants and T-shirt and shouted out her instructions. This was the Diwali cleaning operation across the entire country, as every house got out their cleaners and sponges and detergents and stools (four legged varieties) to get their walls, ceilings, fans, windows all sparkling and squeaky clean. Sunday was the day to ensure that all members of the household lent a helping hand to the Lady of the House – so everyone got into the act. The hectic activities and discovery of muscles that many thought never existed, tired them out and they just plonked themselves on the closest couch, chair, bench, doorstep to relax. And then they had a simple…

View original 704 more words

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…