Monthly Archives: July 2012

Garlands of ixora and holy basil

Update for week ended 20 July 2012


Parukutty Amma was the typical Nair matriarch. Devout, devoted, caring, yet firm with her household. She lived on a large estate and her house, at the centre, looked like any other Tharavad, a Nair ancestral home, with its whitewashed walls, red Mangalore tiled roof sloping downwards in all four directions, and the Burma Teak pillars holding up the frame at intervals (styled like large elephant legs) with a Burma teak main door – embellished with brass carvings and the ubiquitous brass handle. Parukutty Amma or Paru Amma tended to her gardens with love. Her back yard had the typical plantain and banana cluster – typical because it was inauspicious to grow these in the frontyard. And legend has it that when the great saint, Shankaracharya’s mother, Aryamba died, he could not get any wood for her pyre, and through sheer devotion and inner strength, reached out to the banana plant trunks to be used a firewood. But this is Paru Amma’s story and how she tends her front yard. Her front yard had shrubs of all hues and sizes. These were interspersed with the omnipresent coconut and areca nut trees to provide the garden with shade. The shrubs near the garden wall were the gregarious hibiscus with its waxy green leaves and pretty red flowers. And next to it was the shrub of the Mandaram, Bauhinias or Apta, with its palm sized circular leaves. And closer to her house were the ixoras, with its green leaves and red balls of inflorescence. And near the entrance of the house is the Mandapam, the altar like place with its Tulasi, holy basil bush. Every evening, Paru Amma would bathe in the pond in the backyard, and after oiling and loosely braiding her hair, she would proceed to this little flower patch to pluck flowers in her little brass basket. Most often it would be the delicate, yet hardy ixora bunches and sometimes in summers, it would be the jasmine. She would not forget to pluck the basil. She would leave the basket on the doorstep, while she found her way to the bakyard to her trusted banana plant. By tugging at the outer covering, she would strip out a thin strand, about 3-4 feet long and head back to her front entrance doorsteps. She would then string the ixora into a tight bunch, and then would intersperse it with the basil leaves. All the while, she would hum a song for the occassion, and on this one it was the Thecchi mandaram tulasi pichaga maalaga …….  in that husky shaky voice. How tranquil the setting was. 


The D Boyz have been forced to get their botany right, what with their exposure to reds and greens on alternate days this week on D Street. So they learnt that the red flowers on the street shrubs were a decorative and miniature version of the ixora. Of course, they recognised the streetside holy basil plant that was tended to by the local paanwala. And along their paths, they crossed between the greens of the monsoon weeds and the reds of the monsoon flowers, like the hibiscus and ixora. The ups and downs on D Street took their SENSEX also through the greens and reds to end the week at 17158 – 55 points down from last week. 

Paru Amma had made the garland with its alternate red and green and she wrapped it in a wet towel. As dusk approached, she asked her eldest daughter, Ammini, to light the traditional oil lamp, before setting out to the village deity temple with her offering of the flowers. This was her regular ritual and she reached out for her walking stick to help her negotiate the uneven ground outside her house towards the temple. Everyone in the village knew her and greeted her warmly and also wanted a peek into the towel covered basket. But Paru Amma would not let anyone touch it. She walked into the temple, slowly ambling through the stone entrance and headed towards to the sanctum guided forward by the hum of the Melshanti’s evening prayers, Head Priest’s mantras. She left the brass basket at the head of the short three steps that led to the sanctum santorum which was lit only by oil lamps. The Melshanti picked up the perfectly strung garland and placed it on the idol of the deity and even in the low light of the flickering oil lamps, one could see how meticulously it was strung together and how symmetrically the greens and reds juxtaposed each other. The Melshanti, after performing the rituals of the evening prayers, then stepped out and as was the practice, just left behind the prasadams on the steps for the devotees to partake. These were flowers, basil leaves and an occasional banana. Paru Amma stayed away from the scramble, as some kind lady or the other, each day, would bring her a flower or two, some sandal paste and a banana. Paru Amma would bow reverently at the deity before receiving the prasadams and look at Him with her vacant eyes. How she wished she could see the Lord, but that was fate, she rued. As long as she could still come to his holy abode and listen into the sounds of the temple, she was happy. Paru Amma lost her eyesight as a child due to an illness, but never missed her temple trip every evening, and always brought her perfectly symmetrically strung garland with her.


If you know of a devout and devoted woman or man like Paru Amma, please write in. I would be eager to read about her as well. And if any of you know why the Southerners never grow the banana plant in the front-yard, do let me in to the story.


Have a nice weekend and week ahead…..



The European Language we all Speak

Update for week Ended 13 July 2012

When a tall and lanky Britisher is playing on home ground, it is but natural for the crowds to root for their hero. They yelled with joy when he won some sets, and gave him some cat call moments between serves. The net referee had to quieten the crowds quite often. However, it is difficult to keep champions down, and despite the loud cheers for the Britisher, the cool Swiss guy still managed to hold his stead and came out trumps. The crowd did not hate him for it, because he had been their darling for ages, but emotions sometimes overcome reason, and that is what happened last weekend. And the rest of the British Empire felt that slight gloom on the next day – just as did the once shining Jewel in the Crown. Despite the fact that most of the real Jewels in The Crown are from this Eastern country, the “natives” still revere the British or the “Gora Sahibs”. And to keep that tradition on, they have even anointed a few amongst themselves as “Brown Sahibs”. So clipped Ox-Bridge accents are bandied at old clubs, where women still nurse their gin and tonic over a game of rummy in the afternoon, while men don lounge suits in the bar while sipping their sundowner, who cares whether the temperatures outside are a tad under 40 C. Don’t be mistaken that stop at the British, for them an American or an Australian or even a Continental European is a “Gora Sahib”. And the Swiss have a special place in our hearts as they have a special place for our wealth. And everything Swiss is loved, as long as there is a Stuttering Hindi Film Hero serenading a Senorita in a Bada Desh, large country (and would Switzerland count in that category? But who will explain that to Adi?). But now, all eyes are on London for the Olympics as the largest ever Indian contingent prepares for the event later this month, however the only hope of a Mixed Doubles Tennis bronze medal seems squashed as 2 men fight over one woman, not unlike many Love Triangle Hindi movies, including the first Indian movie shot extensively in Central Europe, where many cultures Confluence into each other, like the famed rivers at Allahabad. And although Indians like to cheer themselves sometimes, by thinking about the prophesied 2 gold medals this year, the falling gold prices can quickly take that grin off their faces. So now they brace themselves for the season of prayer and vegetarianism, that commences next week.

On D Street, the tennis fans amongst the D Boyz were feeling low as their bet went wrong, and the Brit guy could not make it to the top, and this led those D Boyz to let the SENSEX slip down on Monday. But on Tuesday, they returned to the street after watching the Swiss Tourism promo from the mid 90s, that had a mandolin playing protagonist, a Large hearted guy wooing his Bride away, the 259th time since it first released, and the D boyz just prepped up the SENSEX 259 points up that day. But on Wednesday, they got contemplative about the weak Rupee and the Indian exports in the software sector and stayed soft, until the next day, the Information Systems just announced a weak outlook in results – plunging the Boyz looking for the computer cables under their desks, and in that scramble, they just pulled the SENSEX down with them. Although another section of the D Boyz felt that the death of well known wrestler spelt doom at the Olympics Wrestling events, and that may have caused the sudden death of the SENSEX. And although there was some cheer that the lakes near D Street were filling up, the fact that the water cuts on the Street will continue took that cheer away as the Boyz let the SENSEX a little. And at the end they brought it down to 17213.

But one thing you cannot fault in an Indian is his ability to be a polyglot, and travel a lot he or she does, these days. So while in Rome, he speaks Roman, and while in Latin America she would like to learn Latin. And on return to India, he has the best American Accent that a German could possibly have!

So what European treat are you going to give yourself this weekend?  I am trying to get seats booked at this ever in demand Michelin Starred chef’s restaurant serving Dosai (that international dish). If I get the reservation, I will surely tell you about that experience. Please don’t mind my American accent in the next blogpost.

Cheers and have a nice weekend.

Life in a Metropolis

 Update for week ended 6 July 2012

The Krishnans wanted their child to grow up close to nature. Both of them were working in a metropolis and travelled from one part of a concrete jungle to another, encountering wild and tame animals of a different type during their travails and travels. While they toiled like the hardworking mules of the Himalayas, their bosses at offices always growled like a fierce bulldog. During their office commute on the local trains, they felt like the packed sardines that their neighbor Valsamma sometimes bought in cans; whilst the men in the compartment adjacent to the Ladies coach would behave like mad monkeys trying to peer through the mesh window that “separated” the ladies from the general coach. Their maid was feline looking, and a stickler to her routine that at times, Mrs Krishnan likened her to the leopard that never changes its spots! So Mr krishnan started scouting out for jobs away from the metropolis to get some peace and tranquility, but unfortunately could not get a job that would have paid as much as his current one. And then they chanced upon an ad in the papers of some housing project in the green lung of the city bordering the Milk Colony on one side, the National Park on the other and a stone’s throw away from fresh water lakes (and not ponds mind you … some of these lakes also provided drinking water to the citizens of the metropolis). So they went to see the houses and were surprised not only by the environment it was set in, but also the price they would have to shell out. Mrs Krishnan could not take her eyes off the row-houses near the hillside and she already started dreaming of the wonderful forest birds that would sing their shrill cries at dawn, while she sipped her cup of strong “degree coffee” on the lawns, and how in the evening, she would have to keep her gate closed, lest the spotted deer came to chomp at her dahlia and zinnia flowerbeds. Their minds were made up and they booked the house. In three months, the Krishnans had moved in with their 6 month old Annapurna. And for Mrs Krishnan, much of her dream was enacted within couple of days of moving in. the parakeets created a pandemonium at dawn, and the starlings imitated them at times. Once she also heard the long “piyooo” sound of the peacock or peahen, and she got to tending to her little garden to attract more of the fauna. And time passed, and like they sometimes say, flew at times. And little Annapurna grew in to a precocious three year old, who would start going to school after the summers. She had the luxuries many children in the metropolis rarely enjoy – a little garden to play around in, or ride her tricycle, or swing on the garden swing. It was Saturday and a hot one at that. The monsoon season had begun, but the rains played truant and so Annapurna played in the garden by herself, rode the tricycle and when she felt thirsty, went back  into the house for a drink. She then walked to the French Window overlooking the garden and sipped slowly at her colourful glass of water. She looked out and was surprised to see an animal that she had never seen before in real life, only in books. It was like a big cat, except slightly yellow with large dark spots all over its body. It was ambling along the verandah overlooking the garden and sniffing about the tricycle. Annapurna called out to her mother and pointed to the leopard outside the window. Mrs Krishnan froze when she saw the big cat, but her sense of adventure overtook her fear, as she reached out to her wardrobe to fetch the camera. And despite the poor light at dusk, she clicked away at the animal that did not pay any attention to its window spies. It just ambled along and then leaped up onto the creeper covered wall separating her house with the next one and after a while, jumped down and out of sight. Mrs Krishnan called all her neighbours on the phone and warned them about the prowler amidst them.

The D Boyz sometimes complain that their life is like a wildlife show. Their D Street is like some zoo a times. When the moods are low, everyone on the street looks like a towering bear. And sometimes the cheery mood attracts the horned bulls. There are always rumour mongers creating pandemonium on the street like the parakeets at Mrs Krishnan’s garden. The D Boyz, most of whom hail from Gujarat, as times wonder why they left their homes to work here like donkeys…. So they go about their work in search of peace and tranquility within the urban jungle. So when the bearded and turbaned old man in Delhi asks people to get into their animal spirits, the D Boyz cheer that and jump up with joy – taking their favourite SENSEX up. And when Spanish Bulls are stopped in their tracks by Matadors, they go running to hibernate like the bears. But what they never expect is a real animal in their midst, least of all a carnivore with sharp claws and canines. The news from the Tigrish Central Banker of the slowdown in growth – stirred up so much fear amongst the foreign D Boyz, they behaved like they had seen a real tiger in their midst!! And with the seesawing Rupee, the SENSEX also see-sawed its way this week to end at 17521…

The neighbours were shocked to hear what Mrs Krishnan told them. They got their children in, locked all the doors and called the Forest Department officials. But all of them also ran to their respective French Windows to get a glimpse of their uninvited guest!

Have a nice weekend and please be safe. For citizens of the Metropolis shared with the spotted leopard, it is likely to be a dry weekend, although for the rest of the peninsula – it will be wet. Delhiites must be looking forward their showers to cool off after the harsh summer. And thank you all for your inquiries and requests to restart the blogs. I do hope you will share your feedback.