Friday, January 30, 2009

Mumbai : Sunrise to Sunset

Dawn breaks over Mumbai and the first fiery clouds reach out to shake it awake. From my apartment window, I look out at the Umbrella tree on my left and the tall Palmyrah tree on the right, silhouetted still against a brand new day.
I suddenly realise how much time I spend looking down at flowers. The sky is something I usually enjoy only at sunset because we have such flamboyant sunsets here. Then I decide that today belongs to the sky. So here is one day in Mumbai, from sunrise to sunset.

The spaghetti-like cable wires connecting every home to its daily fix of television, are also a great perch to watch the world go by. Or in this case, to watch it come awake.
Crows are so intrinsic to the Mumbai landscape that I just can not imagine this city without their all-pervading presence. Independent, street-smart, survivors to the core, and yet with such a strong bond of community ... I could just as well be talking about the average man in this city. With one difference. The average Mumbai-dweller is way more colourful and interesting, with stories to tell that would fill libraries.

A fleet of clouds sail across the brightening sky, quickened by a chill breeze that is Mumbai's nod to winter. They seem to bring with them the rumours of snow in Kashmir and the memory of glorious Himalayan wildflowers.

Also sky-watching with me is the Pariah Kite, nesting in the Palmyrah tree. Can you see its silhouette perched on the thick stalk of the fan-shaped leaves ? Junior is almost ready to fly from the nest and the anxious parents seem to be keeping watch almost every minute of the day. Or is it impatience at his dawdling that I sense in them ?

In the evening, I drive by Bandra Bandstand with its spruced-up palm-lined promenade and its kissing rocks below .
Why do I call them kissing rocks? Because courting couples in this privacy-starved city have adopted this spot as one of their own. True, there is no real privacy here but for a few minutes or a couple of hours, a romantic couple can evade intrusive stares and dream a while. The Arabian Sea swirling and tugging at their feet must surely add to the magic of those stolen moments.
Looking at the sky, it reminds me of those scenes in movies where the heavens open up and some divine proclamation is made to the awe-struck faithful!

It's close to sunset now and we decide to go for a walk on another beach about 20 kilometres away. This is the first time I've walked here as I always thought that it would be very crowded. And I thought that there would be too many fishing boats pulled up on the narrow beach to make walking here pleasant.
Well, there were no boats, I think they were all out at sea. And, crowded it was, but with such a glorious view that I didn't really care.
I think I've got my revelation ... I need to do this more often!

Do you like sky-watching too? See what sky-watchers all over the world are posting here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Blue Oakleaf on a Pink Cassia

Okay, this is going to read like one of those puzzle pages, but .... guess the odd one out in this picture. The one that just doesn't belong here. No way !
No? Need another clue? Okay !

Is that better?
Hmmm..... could it be the orchids which are actually in bloom? No-o-o , they're looking good for a change, but that's not the answer.
Could it be the hairy strands winding around the tree? No again, that's just the roots of the orchid, clinging on for dear life.
Or that big fat fly on the orchid cane?

Look closer! That leaf ... why on earth is that leaf just stuck to the tree like that, defying all the rules of gravity ?
And that tree is a Pink Cassia. Which has lovely feathery leaves. So why am I photographing a leaf... a dead leaf at that? AND making such a big issue out of it?

Okay, I like to tease, so here's another look at this amazing leaf.
Hold your breath while I flirt with danger now (hornet stings can be fatal, you know).
Drum roll, please !
And ... Ta-DAH !!!
Isnt she absolutely gorgeous! Feast your eyes on Miss Blue Oakleaf, the reigning butterfly beauty to beat all beauties, in my opinion. The Blue Oakleaf .... South Indian Blue Oakleaf (Kallima horsfieldi) to be precise ... belongs to that special class that every gardener should love. She's a Leaf Butterfly!

I usually see her in my garden in Mumbai around October and then she lingers awhile. Her favourite haunt seems to be my Pink Cassia tree. Remember that grand party which the hornets threw ? It seems she is partial to Cassia sap. What an interesting leaf!

Vibrant indigo-blue flashes and winks at you every time she fans her wings open. At rest, though, no one would give her a second glance. Wings folded, she's perfectly disguised as an uninteresting dry leaf, complete with midrib and veins! She even has a slight curve of a petiole to help to complete the disguise. She certainly fools the hornets into letting her get up close and personal.
Beauty with brains ... I bet James Bond would've loved her !

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Making a difference

When I first stumbled into the world of blogging, I had no idea just what I was in for. I was a bit worried that my posts would skim the cyberworld, unread and unloved. It didnt help that it had been years since I had written anything other than grocery lists and leave notes to my children's teacher.
Come to think of it, I didnt have much of an idea what a blog was either.
It most definitely didnt help that I was blogging about something that was on very shaky legs ... a brand new garden in a totally new environment. Gardening in a tiny little apartment in a city smothered with dust, pollution and hordes of marauding pigeons and sparrows, was totally different from my older garden .
Anyway, I pushed out my first two posts to test the air. And waited. And then it happened! The very first comment on my blog, from Barbee lifted my spirits like nothing else ever could. Suddenly I felt, " hey! this person actually likes what I wrote. This is fun". And all the reasons why I always enjoyed writing came rushing back to me and I was on a roll!

I discovered blog directories and Blotanical and all of a sudden I was networking and linking up to other bloggers like the most energetic vine in the garden! Throwing out little tendrils of friendship every time I found an interesting blog and finding great supports to climb and bloom on . But Barbee has always remained special! The first fellow-blogger who reached out and pulled me into the charmed circle of garden bloggers.

The legion of garden bloggers is a truly amazing one. Every time I see their generosity in handing out great advice and help with projects, I'm touched by their warmth and friendliness. Not only do they have stunning gardens, they want everyone else to have them too!

Kanak is one of these very generous souls who reached out . At that time I felt that finding another Indian garden blogger was as close to a Nobel-deserving discovery as it could get. Apparently we are a highly endangered species with just a handful of us around ! Kanak's post about the famous Bhut Jolokia chillies of Nagaland got me enquiring about where to buy their seeds. And what do you know? Not only did Kanak dry some of these chillies for me to sow but last month she sent me a parcel of the Bhut Jolokias as well as another of the famous Assam chillies. Talk about generosity!

But wait! I'm not done yet! She phoned me to say that she had got more of these wonderful chillies ("a better quality one" was the phrase she used, but Kanak, I was already in heaven over this first lot !)
Sure enough, the courier delivered a pretty pink box all dolled up with a cheery blue bow , in total contrast to the fieriest-of-'em-all chillies inside. Thank you, Kanak! I can never thank you enough for this.

Trudi first posted a comment as Titania and I spent a long time surfing up and down Blotanical, searching for a Titania. Since those days, I've used up a lot of internet time devouring her information-loaded posts. I am so totally intrigued by her garden filled with fruits and plants so alien at times to what I've ever seen before that I'm absolutely captivated. But its not as captivating as the lady though! She's a fount of information and her witty comments crack me up. Recently she offered to get me some seeds of a tree which I had fallen in love with but the import authorities have strict rules that play spoilsport. So heartbreaking! I keep imagining what could have been but .... What I did get though, is a wonderful garden-buddy whose love for plants shines through every post and whose appreciative comments on my blog put a smile on my face .

Kate overwhelmed me! Her wacky humour had me giggling one minute and snorting the next! She said she was new too but she taught me quite bit, especially on how to navigate through Blotanical. And she taught me about 'tagging'! That particular experience really got me sweating! Finally, spilling the beans about myself was quite a cathartic experience but one I wouldnt care to repeat for a real long time (what! and reveal what a boring ol' fuddy-duddy I really am? No way!)

Kerri taught me how colourful a blog can really be ! She took great pains to mail me repeatedly and walk me through the finer nuances of blogging, especially where photos are concerned. So much so that I refer to her as my blogging guru. I think that's an apt title for someone with so much patience.

Now for some non-garden bloggers. Abraham Tharakan's posts, always a great read, were a great introduction for me when I just got to know about the intriguing, addicting world of blogs. There is such a vibrant blend of everything from local history to culture, nature-watching, traditional recipes, personality sketches, architecture and very perceptive news analysis that it's almost magnetic. I just had to keep checking in every day to see if he had posted something new. But more than anything, his e-mails with a lot of practical advice about blogging techniques and even collections of articles about the subject, keeps me engrossed.

I met Raji on Abraham Tharakan's blog and was quickly drawn to her warm, friendly personality. If you read her blog you'll know what I mean. One feels as if they are drawn in to her closest circle of friends, even if they've just read her first post. We mailed each other a bit and she even awarded me with my very first Arte y Pico award which I never ever acknowledged with as much fanfare as it deserved (which she very generously overlooked like the wonderful friend that she is). Believe me, she is someone I wish lived closer to where I do.

Shaheen is possibly the youngest of this group of bloggers but we get along like a house on fire! We first started mailing each other when she was trying to identify a fruit on her yummy food blog. And from there we started these quickfire conversations (ummm.... e-mail, actually, but as good as yakking away ), mainly about plants and food but touching on almost just about everything . This is definitely one blogger-buddy who makes me feel very young again. I love the fact that we think alike on so many things that our age is never a factor in this friendship.

But why have I been listing out these wonderful people, Oscar-acceptance-speech style ? Kim surprised me the other day by presenting me with this lovely Friendship award. She is one of the nicest people I know on the blogging world and I love her beautiful posts filled with mindblowing photos and sensitive writing . She's always there with a lovely comment that makes me feel really good. Thank you, Kim, for the award and just for being you ! And, as asked for, these are the chosen ones whom I choose to pass the award on to.

This doesn't mean that I don't value my other blogger-friends who have not been named here. It's just that the award is meant to be passed on to 8 other bloggers who have reached out and touched other bloggers. And though I treasure each and every one of you for so many different reasons, there is a number limit. I had to go through my old posts and Blotanical mail and these are some of my oldest friends. I have purposely not mentioned many of my other really good friends but please dont hold it against me. After all, you deserve your own special mention in the next post when I need to name more friends again !

So once again, here it is. The Friendship award goes to all these lovely people who've made a world of difference to me, and whom I request to award 8 deserving bloggers in their turn :

Barbee of Barbee's Blog
Kanak of Terra Farmer
Trudi of Yesterday Today and Tomorrow
Kate of The Manic Gardener
Kerri of Colors of the Garden
Abraham Tharakan of Song of the Waves
Raji of Raji's Ramblings
Shaheen of The Purple Foodie

Saturday, January 10, 2009

In Search of Paradise

One of the best things about winter in Mumbai is the number of interesting birds that check in, fleeing the increasing cold in the lands further north. Some others choose to reveal themselves now to take advantage of the booming bug population post-monsoon.

One of them is the Paradise Flycatcher ... a small, absolutely gorgeous but extremely shy bird. The females are a rust-and-white combination but the males! You just have to see the males !
Jet black head with a tuft of spiky feathers on top, and a white body. As if that were not striking enough, he has two extremely long tail feathers that ripple and flutter in the air, like streamers being twirled !

Very often, the fluttering tail feathers are what gives away their presence as they swoop and chase small flying insects through the garden. But just as I run behind him and try to get a photo or at least a closer look, he's off again to another tree at the other end of the garden, or even into my neighbour's garden. Oh-h-h ... the aggravation!

The other day, after many days of chasing him around the garden, I spotted him zip into the banana grove next door . Perfect! The grove is at a lower level so I could get a better view of him from my garden. And there he was... flitting from one broad leaf to the other, snapping up flies and mosquitos in quick sallies.

He had found an old dried-up leaf which had fallen across another plant, so the stalk was like a great viewing perch and launch-pad. From here, he would cock his head in every direction till he saw a tasty-looking insect... swoop! and there's one less insect in the world. I really, really like this bird!

Uh-oh! Looks like he's spotted me now...

And he's off again ....

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Bee Happy!

I've never noticed so many bees in my garden before . Well, I never actually went looking for them but I'm sure they noticed me! But by all accounts, my garden seems to have got the Bee Stamp of Approval.

My birdbath seems to be their favourite waterhole with its rocky sides and shallow ends. And they're not even possessive of it . They're always ready to share with the resident mynahs, bulbuls, magpie-robins, and all those migratory birds who stop over on their long journeys from Siberia and other frozen lands.

I discovered a hive swinging from a teak tree. This seems to be a new one.
Earlier, they used to make them on our coconut trees and every time our coconut buyer used to send someone up the tree to havest the nuts, they would also clear the tree of old leaves and debris. And, down would come another hive. Surprising, but I've yet to hear of anyone being stung while doing this, though.
Well, it looks like the bees have smartened up and switched to teak trees. No one's likely to disturb them there for quite some time.

I dont know what kind of bee this is but she's a real cutie, dont you think?

She was so tiny that the drying curl of a Spathiphylum leaf was a great hammock for her. I had to use the Macro setting on my camera to capture her.

And then there was this little fellow. He had found this Brazilian Button Flower (Centratherum intermedium ) and was getting drunk on it. He kept weaving in and out of it and in the process, was getting thoroughly coated with its pollen.

It's nice to know that in a time when gardeners and farmers are worrying about dwindling bee populations, my garden is seeing a population boom.
Or, maybe all those other bees have moved in here?
All I can say is, "Welcome!"

Friday, January 2, 2009


Do you think that a high-gliding Pariah Kite sees the same sky

that a sky-searching Crimsonbreasted Barbet looks up at

that I in my sunset dreaming hours do?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Welcome 2009 !

Here's hoping 2009 brings with it peace and happiness, all the good things of life, great health, fantastic company, good fortune and great climate!

Here's hoping that your garden is brimming over with beautiful blooms and tasty veggies. And also that it attracts all the butterflies in the land but the caterpillars choose to nibble elsewhere !

And here's wishing that in the future, all of us will look back on this year and say, " I hope the new year will be like 2009 !"

Happy New Year, my friends!