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...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Garden Tea-Party ... Butterflies invited

You are cordially invited to the Hornets' Tea Party.

Date : October - November
Time : Sunrise to sunset
Venue : The Pink Cassia tree (Cassia javanica), Mumbai
Dress code : Wings compulsory

Vespa tropica
(Greater Banded Hornets)

Every year, my Pink Cassia trees are the venue for the biggest party in all of insect-dom. In October, the Greater Banded Hornets get to work, chewing and gnawing at the bark of the Pink Cassia until they drill small holes.
They have a whole swarm of flies supposedly helping them, but mostly just looking on. Really! its so tough to get good help these days!

(Dont mess with them, these guys are huge! )

The frothy sap that trickles out seems to send a "come one, come all" call to all the insects in the neighbourhood.
Some ( like the Common Castor ) wait politely till the hornets are done

Others (like the Common Baron below) try to sneak a sip while their hosts are busy at work and not looking.

Others indulge in a bit of push and shove!

This being a classy event, the aristocrats showed up too. They, of course, stuck to themselves and were overheard commenting on the Cassia Sap served. The Baron (in brown) loved his drink, but the Common Nawab (wearing a dash of green in his ensemble) sniffed and said the Cassia Sap of 2007 was much better. This year's Sap lacked a bit in bouquet in his opinion.
He flicked his wings for a waiter to refresh his drink but the waiter was already too deep in the cups to notice.

The Baron got a bit too tipsy and was seen flirting with a Blue Oakleaf. She danced with him and then flew off. It's rumoured that she is seeing one of the Hornets secretly. Watch out, Baron!

By evening, the Common Evening Browns showed up and were seen catching up on family gossip.

A few butterflies who were not on the list were spotted looking very miffed! The Grass Yellow hid among the shrubbery. "How will I ever show my face again?" she cried.

The Hibiscus bush was the hiding place for this gorgeous beauty. I wonder why she was left out?

The Common Sailor, on the other hand, lost his way and couldn't make it to the party!
"No one told me that Mumbai is actually good ol' Bombay," he cursed. "I've been travelling and didn't hear about the name-change" .

A great time was had by all and the hornets were lauded for their hospitality. No one throws a party quite like the Greater Banded Hornets, everyone fluttered contentedly. The Hornets buzzed happily.

P.S. The Baron was spotted sneaking back ...

Someone really must do something about his drinking problem!