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


3 thoughts on “Green Stalk Amaranth

  1. Narayan, Your question in the end made me think if I know of any Kanagambal. Unfortunately I dont. I do know that there are many Kanagambal in our midst but yet I dont make any effort to see them or to think, remember or care for them, busy in the midst of my own dream and struggles (perceived and real). Makes me wonder if I need glasses myself to see the world around me.

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