Friday, December 26, 2008

Cradling the Sun

The last few days of the year and I've been on a nostalgia trip. Cradling the good memories, clearing out the bad and disturbing ones.
Holding close ... laying to rest. It seems to go hand in hand these days.

I watch the flaming sun misting over with gray clouds. Covering its glory ... yet in a way, embellishing it and making it blaze even brighter.

And one last ray peeps through the enveloping clouds to light the way for a bird to find her way home.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

'Tis the season for unexpected gifts!

This seems to be truly the season for unexpected gifts.
The refreshing chill in the air of normally-hot 'nd humid Mumbai is gift enough. But, this vibrant Cardinal Ipomoea stopped me in my tracks . I had thought it was dead after an infestation of caterpillars had stripped it to its skeleton some months ago. But here it was, thriving again and beaming cheerily at me. It had clambered over an overgrown rubber plant growing in our neighbour's garden and was sharing its cheer equally among all.

Then, while scrambling around the far corners of my garden, I suddenly discovered this tiny gem suspended from our fence. It was a wild creeper of some sort which had grown from the wilderness that has taken over our neighbouring property.

And as an unexpected bonus, I got this ... a Common Pierrot came visiting. I had never seen one sit still before in my garden. So seeing one perch on this tiny wildflower was the crowning moment!

This bright red bougainvillaea (I hope I spelled that right... too many letters!) was grown from a cutting that I got from my childhood garden. The mother plant was easily 30 years old at least. Maybe even 50. Does that make it an heirloom?
It has climbed up a towering Michelia champaca tree and blooms its head off every winter. It's a fantastic combination ... the heady fragrance of the champaca alternate seasons with the fiery blooms of the bougainvillaea cascading thickly down the tall tree.

Then I got a visit from this friendly little Whitebreasted Kingfisher. He was after butterflies, not fish. He flew onto a tree close to me, snapped up a butterfly and then decided this rock was a better perch to view the world go by. He was not too bothered about my getting close enough for this shot. Friendly! He even left a couple of brilliant blue feathers for my children to marvel over.

A big surprise was seeing these coconuts sprouting as healthy as you please. These dry coconuts had fallen off the tree but our regular buyer is more interested in buying tender coconuts which he can sell for the delicious juice. So these had been put away to use at a later date but then I don't use much coconut in my cooking so they lay there for a real long time. Long enough to decide to finally get a move on and grow!

And then there is this final gift I gave myself .... these brilliant-red Pentas. A just-because gift. Always the best kind.

A Merry Christmas to all my friends in the blogging world. I hope you have a wonderful day filled with the joy and comfort of friends and family.

I will be away for a few days , so I dont know when I'll get to see any comments that you may post here. But please dont let that stop you; I thoroughly enjoy reading them.

See you soon!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mumbai : City of Gold

They call Mumbai the City of Gold. Looking at these photos, do you doubt it?

Even a fisherman can cast his nets in a molten sea that ripples with golden highlights.

Can a cloud dim the splendour of the fiery sun for long? He will just burn his way through them.

Palm leaves can be the perfect frame for a masterpiece in shades of gold and gray.

And a homeward-bound bird can find his way guided by a golden path glimmering from sea to shore.

These photos were all taken on the same day this week.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Crafting magic from a garden

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother cajoling me to go for a walk in our rather extensive grounds. I say 'cajoling' because I would have rather been flipping the pages of a book than walking.

What was there to see anyway? We never left our own private grounds and all there was to see were acres of coconut trees and mango trees bending over with fruit. There were only a lot of other fruit trees of just about every tropical species, passionately collected by my grandmother (a true plantswoman if ever there was one). At least 4-5 of them would be in bud or flowering or fruiting at any given time ... but who wanted to see that? Not me!

Finally, I would give in and we would set off. I wonder whether you can picture us? A very reluctant child dragging my feet behind my mother, our numerous dogs in tow and wondering when I could possibly say, "okay, now let's go back".
But she would linger, plucking a weed ... and then admiring its flower... pointing out a bird or a squirrel... and all the while she would be fashioning some little craft of her own from the wealth of greenery around us.

(the tribal necklace )
Pulling a leaflet out of a drooping coconut leaf, she would soon turn it into a toy watch and a ring for me. Another would transform into a magical necklace that a tribal princess would have coveted.

(top to bottom : ring, watch and necklace )
A coconut leaflet pin-wheel would join the treasure-trove and then enthusiastically tested.

And then she would pick up some baby coconuts which had fallen off the tree. A quick tug to remove the 'cap' and she would fit the top of the coconut with some looped and interwoven coconut-leaf ribs. Ta-dah! There was a whirling, twirling toy complete with music (of sorts).

You wanted music? She would quickly roll some coconut leaves into a make-shift trumpet. A blaring sort of music, but still, music all the same ... with a little stretch of imagination.

This was in the pre-TV, pre-PC days with no cartoon programmes or High School shows which become compulsive watching. All I had competing for my attention was a huge pile of books and comics.

Her impromptu crafting finally worked... it got me to look at gardens at least twice. And then, thrice. Until a time came when I got my own garden and decided to see if I could coax some of that beauty and enjoyment from it.

And, when she visits us now, my mother continues to work the same old magic on my city-bred, too-old-for-toys daughter. Some things never change... and thank God for that!

All photos except the first one were taken by my brother, Jagan. All rights reserved.

Friday, December 12, 2008

December skies

The skies over Mumbai have been putting on the most spectacular shows these last few evenings. It's almost as if it is trying to make up for the haze of grey that has been covering it for most of the day. Around 6 p.m., the setting sun tears open the veil that is shrouding the city and... ta-dah!

Sometimes the sea joins in with a symphony of its own and the waters glitter and ripple in reflected glory.

No two days are the same. Sometimes the clouds paint the sky in designs of their own. Sometimes the sun wins through. And on and on they go, till the weary sun drops below the horizon in a last flash of brilliance.And as it slips, screaming defiance at the approaching Night, it paints the sea a brilliant hue and whispers, "Remember..."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Elements of a garden

What are the basic elements of a garden? Why, the same as for everything else ... Earth, Fire, Air, Water.
They keep showing up in everything I plant or see thriving in my garden.

Earth-hewn fungi, daughter of the dark monsoon days.

A blaze of red-hot French Marigolds burning the flower-beds with their intensity.
A dash of fiery chillies ... the smaller, the spicier.

A cloud of Skyblue Clustervine billowing over fence and gusting over trees.

Look! they even have stars in them!

Cool, cool water in a natural rock bird-bath for hardworking Magpie-Robins to splash in before heading home.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Morning has broken ...

Have you ever seen a garden wake up?
It doesn't leap up as if an alarm bell had gone off in its ear and it's running late for work.
There is no frantic rushing to dress up and run out without breakfast.
No desperate hunting for keys and praying there'll be no traffic on the way.

Instead, a playful sunbeam will peep in. Wake up the sleepy birds and remind them of new tunes to sing, and wriggly little things spotted near a grassy patch. And each memory brings a new "cheep" that builds into a crescendo of melodies.
Loud enough to wake up sleeping flowers and to shake the dew from the fresh green grass. Petals unfurl, testing the new air. Layer by layer, colour by colour... the garden shakes the night's dreams from its face.

Then there are those who've just finished blooming in the night. While the rest of the garden was sleeping, they turned their charms to the cool night air. And now, all tired out and totally wrung out, they just cant wait to curl up for the day.

Bright sunbeams tease the sleeping beauties; no matter how they close themselves up a tiny little ray always finds its way in and blows the sleep away.

A flowerly yawn and stretch can work wonders to work the crinkles out of petals.

As can yoga and a surya namaskar salute to the sun.

It's a brand new day! Time to be up and doing.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Smile over Mumbai !

Believe it or not! This is the photo of the sky over Mumbai tonight. And, apparently, over most of India.

My brother, who lives halfway across the country, excitedly called me up to take a look at the moon tonight. I dejectedly cursed the polluted Mumbai skies and glanced outside and ...! There's a smilie over Mumbai tonight!

Ravaged, weary, dejected, embattled Mumbai has won a natural smilie.
Isn't that the most fantastic phenomenon?! A crescent moon and two stars (or are they planets?) have created this especially for us.

There's a healing moon smiling over us, Mumbai!

Incidentally, these are not manipulated photographs. I wish I had a better camera and better photographic skills to take a more convincing photo though.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai : 26th November, 2008

(sunset over Mumbai on 26th November, 2008)

I am still too dazed with the horror of everything that has been happening in Mumbai since the 26th of November.
Young men, just a few years older than my teenaged son, have unleashed a crazed dance of death in many places in Mumbai. Busy railway stations, hospitals, cafes, luxury hotels ... all have been visited by these deranged men . Locals and foreign tourists, the poor as well as the super-rich... all have fallen prey to them.
I just can not comprehend how anyone can set out to murder innocent people so brutally, whether it is in the name of a cause or religion. I grieve for all the victims of these terrible attacks and their mourning families.
In the midst of all this sorrow, the bravery of the policemen, the commandos and everyone else involved in the rescue of the hostages, makes me feel so proud. To bravely go in to face danger and death while rescuing people who are total strangers, is to me the height of valour.
Just as commendable, if not more, is the bravery of the staff of the two hotels where the attacks took place. Reports are still pouring in of how the staff, most of them untrained in any kind of rescue situation, were instrumental in leading so many people to safety.
Even as I write, the siege is still going on. It is not over yet.
I hope and pray that this is the last we see of such terrible, mindless attacks but my mind tells me that this is not going to be so.
Man was supposed to be God's finest creation, wasn't he? Or is he turning into one of the fallen ones?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Which should be the Olympic plant?

The 2012 Olympic Games in London is going to see something that'll make every gardener smile. I read that they're going to be presenting the winners with potted plants instead of bouquets!
What an absolutely fantastic idea!
Imagine an Olympian being able to point out a potted chrysanthemum or geranium to visitors and say "yes, that's from the Games of 2012".
What a thrill to be able to touch, nurture and cherish a beautiful symbol of their victory and felicitation for years. Unlike a bouquet, no matter how exotic, which would last for just 1 month max.

It is fitting, isn't it, that this tribute to their talent and years of hard-work should remain fresh for years? Of course, they would have their medals but those are normally locked away behind glass or in cupboards. Not like a plant, preening itself on the windowsill or dining table. Or having pride of place at the entryway to the house.

Every great idea usually comes with its share of glitches. Athletes are often on the move, travelling all over the world while participating in various tournaments and other events. Who would care for the precious Olympic plant then?

The spokesperson who was interviewed said that they would be choosing a locally grown plant. But which plant?
Would it be a small one like a geranium, with a shorter life span but more compact and easier to fit into sometimes tiny homes?
Or a sapling of a tree, maybe oak, reaching higher, growing stronger in the true Olympic spirit?
Or a vine, ivy perhaps, climbing and rambling faster, ever faster?
Laurel? Maybe ... but the Bay laurel, which was the original victory wreath of the Grecians, may face competition from the English laurel in the land where the Games will be hosted in 2012.

And, what if the presented plant is just not suited to the climate of the athlete's homeland? Imagine presenting a cyclamen to an athlete from Mauritius. It would be cooked by the time it got off the plane!

Or what if, horror of horrors, the proudly gifted plant is a weed in the athlete's homeland? I can imagine at least one such plant - mimosa pudica - which is grown as a novelty plant in UK but which is slashed and burnt as a noxious weed in India.

When I read the news report, I immediately thought of roses (the thorns would be a problem though), chrysanthemums and geraniums as possibilities . These are the plants I usually associate with the UK but given that I've visited London only once in my life, I'm likely to be way off mark.

What do you think? Which should be the Olympic plant in your opinion? If you were the one deciding which plant would be presented to the winners, which one would you choose for the Gold medallists and the Silver or Bronze winners?

Incidentally, the photo at the top is of a Powderpuff Plant, or Calliandra.... looks like the Olympic Flame, doesnt it?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ground Cover? I've got a snaky feeling about it!

Now you know why I avoid growing any ground-hugging plants in my garden .
What? You still didnt get the picture? Okay, first click on the photo to enlarge it, then look at that 'stick' propped up against the flat rock. Then look down to the left of the rock. Did you see it?
My own Rat Snake sun-bathing in the early morning light!
She was so big that when she decided to look for warmer spots, she took at least 5 minutes to pass that rock.
Okay, so I'm stretching facts a bit here but honestly, it seemed like 5 hours to me until I was sure she wasn't a Cobra.
Actually I'm still not sure, but this sounds better, doesnt it?

Rat Snakes are welcome here in my garden. They are fantastic at getting rid of pesky rats (bet you guessed it from her name, right?) and so must be saving me the trouble of putting out a lot of rat-traps, I'm sure.
And she really works hard for her dinner! I've seen her on top of a coconut tree (which is way over 30 feet tall, by the way) hunting for nesting birds or rats.
Much obliged, but don't you dare fall on my head, you hear me!

I'm not so happy about my garden playing host to Cobras, though. Yes, they're around and so are some Russell's Vipers. Both poisonous and doubly dangerous because the nearest hospital with anti-venom is a good hour or two away (or three, if you add Mumbai traffic to the equation). But they, or rather, their ancestors, have been here before I was born so I guess they've earned squatter's rights.

The next time you see any of my butterfly photos I hope you'll appreciate the fact that I'm running blindly behind them, not bothering to check if I'm stepping on a twig or a snake.
The things we do to get photos for our blogs!

I'm only half-joking because my snakes are basically well-behaved. When they hear me clumping around, they stay out of sight.
The Cobras are beautiful! They seem to pour themselves from one spot to the next, unlike the frantic zipping of the Rat Snake. The Vipers worry me though, because they dont move away. They just hunker down and hiss like a steam-engine when annoyed. Most of the time one doesnt even notice them because they blend so well with the landscape.

Now, if you think that I spot snakes every day in my garden, that's not true. Its only more like every other month.
I've even seriously considered turning my garden into a Snake Park, but with a couple of active dogs running around, the snakes have decided that the vacant plots of land nearby are much nicer hangouts. They visit and stay for dinner but don't live here. I think ... I hope...

Every once in a while, they leave their calling-cards. I wonder if this was from Cobra Junior ... there seems to be a fang-like thing attached to the skin (bottom right of the photo).

These papery bits always give me a jolt when I see them in places where my children run around. So I decided long ago that there will just not be any plants growing so low that any slithery being can hide in them.

As much as I like that lush, bountiful look of a garden brimming with plants and even more plants grown as ground cover, I'm sorry, but no way in my garden. And, I try to make sure that holes and gaps in the wall are quickly filled in before it looks like an invitation to come and stay awhile. The grass is cut low and it is so closely planted that even an ant would find it tough to move around in it.

Just about the only plant that has challenged me so far is the Gotu Kola. It's supposed to be such a powerful memory - enhancer that I'm reluctant to get rid of it (hey! I can use all the help I can get in that department) but the tiny little patch that I had planted has widened to cover a big corner of the lawn. Big enough to conceal serpentine dreams. Okay, I've got to trim that down. Sigh!

Low bushes are out of the question too. Unless they're planted far apart and annuals are planted in measly, thin rows. None of that voluptuous look for my flower-beds.

But having seen those photos, and imagining all those photos that I was too electrified to take, I'm sure you'll agree that I made the right choice, dont you?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A November Lullaby

November hums in shades of brown. Gleaming bronze ripples and glitters in the sussing breeze. Summer's gone and the browns intervene.
Earthy, no-nonsense, fertile brown.
A quiet brown ... a lying-in-wait brown.

Soft, whispery, feathery beige flutters and shivers in the dying rays of the sun. Waiting and hoping for all that is yet to be done... all that is yet to come.

The seeds have launched in the late afternoon breeze that tugged them up and told them to fly. Away, away, before its too late. For the winter chill threatens even in a tropical clime, you know.
A fallen log is cradle enough to cosset a nursery of baby fungi. Furry pale fans timidly brave the wild world and hold it at bay.

On top of the sky-clawing Mast tree, a pair of tawny Pariah Kites scout with laser eyes. Grounded by that most basic urge, for home, mate, and off-spring; its nesting time for these high-flying aliens.

And under the leaves, the sapote shivers, for the chill will call and it knows no choice. Cower and hide, or wither and fall.

Brown can look beautiful too, whispers the butterfly. The Rainbow had no room for it so she gave it to me.
Tawny, russet, sepia, bay
Cinnamon, auburn, amber, hay
Bronze, berry, walnut, tan
Try and top that if you can!

Butterfly - shutterfly! Are moths any less glorious? Look deep into my caramel eyes and you will see a world of infinite possibilities.

Weeds are flowers too, as every Psyche knows. The fragrance has faded but the form holds true. "Remember those days?" she sighs, and shivers in delighted reverie.

"November is ours", confide the mushrooms . Earth-grown, earth-tone, hugging the bones of the dying year.

We dont forget, murmur the trees. Our dreams take wing in blooms of wooden hue. Deep from our core we wrench them, colour them in the earthern shades of November .
Just so you will remember...