Saturday, August 31, 2013

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Page from A Monsoon Diary in the Dooars

Does guava jelly keep monkeys away? I decided to find out when I saw that the guavas on the tree in the corner were beginning to ripen. They were small and woody and not worth the picking and eating. Those guavas can give the strongest tummy terrible aches.

Parrots and monkeys love these fruits. Parrots are okay, but monkeys! We have never been plagued by monkeys as we are here. We could handle regular visits by elephants who routinely destroyed our crops of corn and trampled or uprooted palms, banana and jackfruit trees. Elephants, we’ve seen, are destructive without any provocation, but after having suffered monkeys, I feel like putting out welcome mats for them.

We thought the monkeys would keep away if there was nothing to attract them so we picked all the guavas off the tree. Into a big vessel they went one evening and by morning the juice was ready to be made into jelly. We got one small bottle of a richly coloured jelly.  I smirked at having put off at least one monkey raid.

Yesterday the rogues were back. This time there were young ones too. Two or three sat on the swing, and they got it going. I could swear a couple more were pushing the swing. Maybe I am losing my mind. Another couple of little ones were on top of the slide, waiting to come down. Some had already torn flowers off the bushes here and there. I give up. I don't see myself making allamanda wine or hibiscus jam to keep the demons away. Any suggestions?

There are days and there are dull days and there are days when the excitement arrives just when you are about to drop off. A python entered the section behind the bungalow. It scared the wits out of Margaret, the ayah, and the chowkidar who saw it crossing the road as they were going home.  We heard about it at around 9.30. Mohan and the chowkidars made sure the cows and the calf were safe in their shed. I was worried about the calf, especially after reading about the two little boys killed by a python in a pet store owner's apartment in Canada.

Mohan popped up at 11.30 p.m. and told me not to feel scared about the python entering the bathroom or anything - that was really nice of him, considering I had forgotten all about it. Goodbye to all sleep for me that night. In the morning, we were all still excited. The python could be hiding under the bungalow. A gardener sprinkled some strong smelling insecticide all around to drive it away. Later, the estate chowkidars said they knew about the python; it lived in a section near the pump house and had been there for a long time. After a couple of days of being on the lookout, we guessed that it would have gone back there.

August is almost over, and by now we should all have been fed up of eating corn. We'd have it steamed at breakfast, or roasted on the cob on rainy evenings. It was a staple in the monsoon months when green vegetables were hard to come by.  All that is in the past, I now realise.  We don't grow corn any more, because the monkeys won't let it rise. We couldn't find any to buy either, and that was a mystery! The last time I found any in the daily 'haat' was in the month of May. I have now learnt that the Railways have forbidden the growing of corn anywhere near the tracks, and the Forest Department has forbidden the cultivation of corn anywhere in the region - that is, anywhere in the neighbourhood of the Buxa Tiger Reserve.

It's obvious that the Railways don't want any elephants wandering about near the train tracks. Corn is fodder, and it brings them into inhabited areas. With no solutions yet to the human-elephant conflict, the Forest Department and the Wildlife Department must put their faith in these short-term preventive measures, I suppose. And it is obvious that we must learn to eat frozen packed corn.

(Published in The Sunday Statesman and on

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Delhi Heart

I spent my growing up years in Delhi: more than half my life. I went to school and college there and worked for one year before getting married and moving to the Dooars. Yet when I go there I don’t know the city as well as I should know my home town. It doesn't seem as if I understand the layout of the city at all. That changes – or it seems to - every few months. There are new buildings everywhere. New flyovers come up, necessitating new intersections, U-turns and approach roads.

And then there is the Delhi Metro that has sliced up the city. Some roads, intersections and even buildings have vanished. Still, it is something I admire. I love seeing the stations, the escalators, and the trains arriving every two minutes. Delhi's people are making good use of the Metro service. It is the one thing that has helped me to feel a little independent when I’m there. It's freed commuters from hours spent in traffic which never seems to move, and from bargaining with auto drivers or paying criminal amounts to hire cabs. I was always comfortable in the Ladies' Compartment, right up at the front of the train. I revelled in the Arctic air-conditioning of the train itself. A Metro Rail Card freed me from long queues at the ticket counter. I could go to places like Dilli Haat, the sprawling crafts bazaar, directly by Metro. I could make meeting points with friends or with my brother who would always have a car waiting to pick me up at a Metro station in the less crowded parts of Delhi.

The overhead Metro line is a bit of an eyesore, though. It's sad to see it going past my old college. One can’t see that lovely building from the road any more.

'Running house' (my daughter’s flat) was great fun in Delhi. I enjoyed having the kitchen all to myself. Oh the audacity of being able to go out and buy what I wanted only when I needed it! No stocking up on potatoes, onions, oil, eggs or sugar for fear of being caught up short. Here on the garden the bawarchi and I buy stuff as if we're preparing for a siege. His lists look like detailed horoscope charts, long and scroll like as they are.

For many years, my husband and I longed set up house and live in Delhi. We thought it would be so romantic. Madness? Not really, because the Delhi we remembered from childhood was quite another city; it stopped in the eighties. We longed for a life free of all the complications or 'jhamela' of living in a tea garden. What little grass grows there in Delhi always seems greener to us.

(Published in The Camellia magazine)