Thursday, April 14, 2016

Celebration Lilies

 Easter lilies are so special. They almost always bloom on April 14, which we celebrate as 'Vishu' or New Year's Day. There would be a vase full of them in my mother's 'Vishu Kani'.
My mother remembers that when I was very young, I'd  pluck all the buds which were just about to open. She and my father would be waiting  to see the flowers and all they got was headless stalks.
 I must have been a monster of an infant. Thank God for parents who brought me up anyway - and passed on their love of flowers to all of us.

What joy to go around a new garden, checking what plants there are! And what joy to see Easter lily leaves, to know that there will be flowers in March or April. Those few days when they bloom are enough to keep you going through the year.

Our garden at Moraghat Tea Estate had both red and white lilies. The reds bloomed first and then the whites. Once the flowering was over, we planted the bulbs out in rows - something we carried on doing for the fifteen years we lived there.

The nuns from St.James School and Holy Cross School at Binnaguri would drop in to collect lilies from us to decorate the church on Easter Sunday. We shared our bulbs with them too and in time to come, they had enough lilies in their own gardens. I did miss their annual visits!

                                Moraghat Bungalow                    

                                Bhatkawa Bungalow

Our next bungalow was at Bhatkawa Tea Estate, and my garden there didn't have a single Easter lily! I moaned about it for all the three years that we were there. You don't find Easter lilies in nurseries, you get them from friends. My friend in the neighbouring garden didn't have any in her bungalow either, and between us we knew no one in the district on whom we could descend to beg for bulbs.

There are several Easter lilies in the garden where we now live and I'm grateful to the people who must have planted these. They bring back so many memories.

 A good way to start another New Year, giving thanks for life, for family, for friends old and new.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Reflections of An Evening, written 2007

In Delhi, in the seventies, we used to look out for sunsets in the monsoon and post-monsoon months of August and September without fail. In a big and dry city like Delhi, rain was incredibly energetic. It was always a bonus; it brought high spirits, and it spelt romance. Spells of rain never lasted too long, and when they ended by evening, we got the additional treat of a sunset to enjoy and remember.

Evening curfew for a young girl like me in those days was lighting-up time. As soon as the street lights came on, I had to be home. What lovely late evening twilights we had. The light would fade slowly and grandly out of the sky, lingering until the clouds and trees were dark silhouettes. In my imagination, those banked up clouds on the horizon, black and purple masses, were mountains. The return home at the street light hour was followed by prayers in the back verandah. The puja was in the store room that opened off it. The back verandah would be lit only by the fading daylight and the storeroom was beautiful in the dark. It was comforting and yet exciting, and there were many smells that filled it: the sharp smell of the scrubbed brass villakku or the smoky smell of burnt oil wicks, the scent of goodies stored in big biscuit tins, and agarbatti, which dominated, and then took over my senses with its calming effect so that my troubles -- homework undone or a test the next day-- would be washed away. Only the comfort and the safety of my parents' home would remain.

It was remarkable that one could connect to nature in such a profound way in the heart of Delhi.

That was a long time ago, and the habit of enjoying a few quiet moments gathering one's thoughts at the end of the day remains. On some evenings, the day seems to die, and it has a melancholy feel. On other days, there is only a feeling of peace. Today, I was sitting outside our house and looking at the Bhutan Himalayas, purple and black masses against the Northern sky, and I dreamed they were the clouds of my Delhi childhood. One peak stood out sharply defined, perfectly symmetrical, and in the foreground, a gulmohar leaf swayed in the silent breeze. It could have been a calendar picture of Mt.Fuji with a leaf etching in front.

It rained all afternoon after an incredibly hot and sticky morning. The thunder was deafening and it was a really dramatic, high intensity storm. It cleared the air magically. By four o'clock, the sky was washed blue and the hills stood out in clear relief. I walked down to the National Highway -- a straight road leads to it from my house - at about five o'clock, with my head turned right to see the hills. They were silhouettes; I couldn’t see the trees on them at all, but I could see the ranges layered out distinctly. Where the sky met the hills, it was a lighter blue than anywhere else; almost whitish, and luminous. The silence that settled around this spectacle made me imagine it was a pre-dawn scene, as if something big was about to happen soon.
Back from my walk, I sat outside on a swing, with our patient and undemanding dog Simba at my feet. There was a gentle breeze blowing. Birds had returned to their nests and fallen silent. A truck rumbled past on the highway, but it wasn’t an unwelcome sound.

The sound of children playing somewhere in the distance was missing today. It is a typical evening sound. Once I was among children who played in the evenings out in the open, watching anxiously for the lights on the lampposts. Then, as a young adult, I remember sitting and daydreaming on the front steps in the evening and listening to a sad song about a lonely man watching the children play. I sit alone now and the children who played in this garden when they were little have left home. Home and childhood may seem very far away to them too. The complete tranquility and simplicity of those childhood years is lost for ever, but at moments such as these, one can recapture traces of it. 

Published here in my blog in 2007

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Fresh Skin!

After two cold, windy and rainy days, the sun showed up at around noon today. We always tread carefully on the lawn because there are creatures that bite and sting, but I didn't notice what was there until the mali pointed it out to me.

I was not the only one who'd come out to enjoy the sun!

We thought that the frilly bit was where the head must have been, but when the malis turned the skin over and unfurled it, this is what we saw:

The snake mush have been over five feet long. Look at the head :

  All the revulsion I'd felt at the sight of the skin was gone.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Smelling of April and May

When the drought is over and we've had some rain we get to feast our eyes on these signs of moisture. It's a surfeit of flowers and new leaves everywhere. No need to plan out beds or plant seeds like the cold weather, because what's already in the garden starts blooming. There are lilies, hibiscus,hydrangeas, magnolias and gardenias. The grass is green again.

Thank you to the person who planted these hydrangeas. They're pink and lilac in one border and blue in another.
Almost like a forest floor under the mahogany trees.

Delicate blooms of bougainvillea.

Heady and intoxicating, the fragrance of the magnolia blooms - alas, I can't capture that!

Gardenia - what I choose to call myself on this blog.

There are many fellow creatures celebrating life out there. I captured the most eye-catching of the lot.

I salute the Maker!!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Grand Trunk

The season of storms is here again. A biggie hit us last Saturday night. I was in the verandah trying to make a phone call when a huge gust of wind blew everything out, including the lights . We could barely stand against the force of the gale, but I tried to save pot plants and the odd unstable table here and there. Branches snapped unseen above us and came flying about at top speed. I retired from rescue operations and went indoors, much to the chowkidar's relief.
We woke on Easter Sunday to see the lawn littered with branches, twigs and leaves.  The bungalow has five magnificent mahogany trees, and everything that the wind blew down was from these trees. They are the most striking feature of the bungalow and when seen from certain points they seem to frame and define the house. They're old trees, and I'm glad to think they will probably be around for a long time.

All through the cold weather, my chair was placed under the mahoganies. When the leaves began to fall, I was told that seed pods would fall too, and it wouldn't be wise to sit there any more. I saw little cone like pods high up in the branches. Soon falling leaves covered the entire compound. The lily beds underneath the trees were like a forest floor. With leaves fell the hard outer segments of the pods. They looked like extra large dried orange peel. Our bungalow boys said they made excellent fuel for fires. The inner segments of the pods were beautiful and we scooped up handfuls to fill up our pot pourri bowls.

The branches were bare in the space of a week, and within another week, buds formed and new leaves began to appear. It is amazing how leaf fall, bud break and the appearance of new foliage are all compacted into such a short span of time. With new leaves, new birds came into our garden. 

The bottle brush above the lily pond attracted a kingfisher that dazzled our eyes everytime it swooped and dipped into the water. A barbet, almost the exact colour of the new mahogany leaves, sat pecking at the trunk of one of the trees. 
The seed pods remained hidden until the storm blew them down.

 We marvelled at the design. How effectively the seeds are contained, and how well protected they are until they mature! Mohan has collected and distributed a good number for propagation.
I'm waiting now to see the flowers. The trees have put out buds and so have all the orchid plants growing along the trunks.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Baba ... Black Sheep?

I don’t like to make any comments on ‘godmen’, spiritual leaders or faith healers. There are believers and there are sceptics. Baba Ramdev, who came into the limelight some years ago, has attracted enough attention from each category.  Apart from lessons on spirituality, yoga and faith healing, the Baba ran a line in traditional medicine. The medicines (like Baba) became a rage and soon news channels on TV were afire with the story that they contained traces of crushed human bones. It takes more than a scandal or two to destroy a success. The noise died down the way it always does.
Baba Ramdev has been called a rogue, a charlatan and a Casanova. He tried his hand at politics, but he made a quick exit. You can read about it here and on Wikipedia.
The Baba hasn’t made news in some time now. It turns out he makes much more.
Last year when my daughter had come home from Delhi she was on the lookout for a ‘Patanjali’ shop here in the Dooars (the tea growing region of North Bengal).  Patanjali, she informed us, sells a range of products including soaps and toiletries made with natural ingredients and free from harmful chemicals. And it is owned by Baba Ramdev.
My husband laughed outright. ‘Powdered bones,’ he said.  I didn’t want to take sides, and I kept my thoughts to myself.  My daughter had brought home a bar of Patanjali  ‘Multani Mitti’ (Fuller’s earth) soap.  It looked good, in that it really looked like clay, and it smelt wonderful. I washed my face with it after she asked me to give it a shot, and I was ‘converted’.  Now this is the dangerous part when the reader begins to think this is an ad, after all.

 I expected to see a price tag of Rs.85/- at least, because that is what fancy ‘natural’ or ‘herbal’ soap bars sell for. This one was priced at Rs. 35/-. An ‘I told you so’ hung unspoken in the air.
Now, scepticism gone, we went in search of a Patanjali shop. To our surprise, there was one in Hamiltonganj, a small town close to the tea garden where we lived at the time. The shop had a stock of Multani Mitti and much more, including biscuits priced at Rs.10/- for 100 gms. Those biscuits were fresh and crisp. The ‘Neem Kanti’ soap at Rs. 13/- for the bar - around half the price of a standard bar of soap-  was even better than the Multani Mitti. One single use was enough to convert the husband.

   The gentleman at the well-stocked Alipurduar Patanjali let me take pictures.

I found it absurdly delightful that there was an outlet in Hamiltonganj, but there is one in Hasimara too, and that is an even smaller town. After my eyes were opened, I’ve seen shops all over the Dooars: in Binnaguri, Jaigaon and Alipurduar, in Mal Bazar, Chalsa and Oodlabari, all small towns dotting the countryside around tea gardens. Every shop has a large poster of Baba in orange robes with arm outstretched, as if calling out to customers while blessing them.  
We found an outlet close to my sister’s home in Chennai too, and we’d thought the Baba only ruled in areas where Hindi is spoken!
The shampoo and hair oil are every bit as good as the soaps and I’m saving money on these purchases as well as my dishwash and detergent bars. All our old brand loyalties have gone out the window. It’s simple: Patanjali provides  quality products at reasonable prices. Instead of pitching the product at a high price for the privileged few, it chooses to attract the common man – or the thrifty woman.              
There is one outlet in our part of the Dooars – no names - where we stopped to stock up last month. A shop assistant packed our stuff while his boss was busy dispensing medicine, advice and attention to a group of women who were hanging on to his every word. He had a good supply of words in at least three of our local languages: Nepali, Bengali and Hindi. His audience was giggling and shrieking with enjoyment. When my husband went up to pay for our purchases, he took the money and handed him his change without a break in the patter.
Make no bones about it, soft soap sells.