Friday, March 27, 2009

Molten days of March

March leaps in with an explosion of colours, and April scorches in close behind.
Blazing bright, samba hot.

Fiery reds, vibrant oranges, sizzling pinks, cheery yellows... throbbingly, pulsatingly ALIVE !
Pastels shy into the background, whites struggle to make themselves heard.

Along the seething roads of Mumbai, trees cloak themselves in summer hues . Fire outside, cool shade within ; was there ever a more welcome paradox?

The Pink Cassia blushes in bloom, more apricot than pink. And high among its feathery foliage, the drongo serenades his sweetheart. Singing ever louder and more joyful ... as if the spirit of Summer has infused him with all her passion.

The tree joins in the fun and scatters flowers at her feet, a floral carpet to rival that of any queen.

In my garden, juicy mulberries bend down, begging to be plucked. Sink your teeth into them and let their tart juice drizzle in, a blood-red invitation to snap awake .

Awake; who could not? When showers of gold spread their glory as far as the eye can guess, when every hue is a paean to Life ... thrilling, exhilirating, rejuvenating!



Molten ...
If this is the simmering month of March, can the sizzle and fury of April be far behind?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Unexpected guest

Guess who wandered into my aparment the other day? This tiny wisp of life that carries a name bigger than itself, a damselfly!

When I was small I used to think that damselflies were baby dragonflies. Ha! This one had enough gumption to stare me in the face and sneer,"just who d' you think you're calling 'tiny'?"

This damselfly, the very appropriately-named Wandering Wisp*, was lingering near my phalaenopsis orchids. Maybe it was hoping something tasty would come crawling by. It would've had to be a very tiny something, though!

After sometime it lost interest and flew off to inspect my curtains. Maybe it thought it had better chances among the embroidered flowers.
Click on the next photo to see its expression.

"Eh, what kind of new-fangled flower is this?"

* thanks Amila for the ID

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

36 - 24 - 36 ! Hot ?!

Read that in degrees Celsius... and drag your mind out of a beauty pageant or the gutter, as the case may be. That's the temperature swing in Mumbai nowadays.
For those who don't want to do the maths, that's about 96- 75 -96* F !

Men look for reasons (other than the nudge-wink ones!) to stay back in their air-conditioned offices, women keep checking inside their freezers every half an hour and kids, well, kids always have a zillion reasons why they should eat ice-cream ... even in winter!

And in the midst of all this, are my Phalaenopsis orchids. They've been in spike since Jan. and now the initial nubs have lengthened into long, elegant stalks with buds on them. I think the green buds are going to be either white or yellow flowers.

For the first time, I managed to bring three of these phals in bud over to the apartment. They're normally kept outdoors in my other garden but I couldn't bear missing out on the fun of watching the buds grow every day. So I carried them on my lap all the way here and kept hissing at my husband everytime he drove into a pot-hole.
Considering the condition of roads in Mumbai, there was a lot of hissing done as each slim spike wobbled around dangerously like a drunken giraffe running the 100 m.

Now that they're here, my main job is to make sure that the window on whose sill I've lodged them, is opened just that much, enough to let in fresh air but not enough to make those greedy sparrows comfortable enough to flit in and snack on phalaenopsis sushi. Sparrows are weapons of mass destruction, I'm convinced of this.

This couple was busy building a nest right next to the air-conditioner unit. There was a tiny gap between it and the wall into which only a sparrow could fit. And in true-Mumbai style, the space for one sparrow soon became enough for Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow and a whole nest of little ones on the way. So far, so good. Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow made quick trips to the coconut tree conveniently close to their new home and got all the basics for their home.

Then, Mr.Sparrow started getting ideas. He thought of feathering his nest ... with my asparagus fern! I had been diligently training it over the grill outside my window, hoping to look out at green, delicate foliage instead of ugly buildings when along came the Sparrows and that was the end of that!

No way am I allowing them to feast on my precious Phals too. So in spite of the increasing heat , this window is closed to flying traffic.

I think the heat is getting to me ... I dont know why I'm feeling so aggressive and hostile.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Coppersmith in the garden

The reverberating "tuk-tuk-tuk..." echoing from every corner of my garden sounds like a hundred smiths busy at work.
Smiths? More like a Coppersmith Barbet to be precise (please see the Post Script ).
I've been looking everywhere for him but his call seems to come from every direction at the same time, making it difficult to locate him. To make it worse, his green feathers camouflage him so well among the trees where he loves to hang out.

I finally managed to locate him on this gul mohur tree. I was almost startled that this small, dumpy bird, hardly bigger than a sparrow, could produce a call that rings throughout the entire neighbourhood. The almost monotonous call, repeated every second or so (for what can seem like forever), sounds like a coppersmith hammering on a sheet of metal ... and that's how he got his name, Coppersmith.

Incidentally, he doesn't open his beak when he's calling out. Instead, the skin of the throat puffs out with each note. That, coupled with the difficulty I had in pinpointing his location, convinces me that we have an accomplished ventriloquist here!

The Coppersmith is one colourful bird ; he has a crimson forehead and a crimson patch like a necklace too. And a yellow face and throat with a black stripe near his eye. It's almost as if he's trying to make up for his dumpiness and stubby tail !

The Coppersmith Barbet is considered one of our more common birds in urban gardens but I'm sure not many people in Mumbai have spotted him. His ringing "tuk-tuk-tuk..." calls, on the other hand, must be familiar to everyone who's lucky enough to have a tree or garden in the vicinity!

I wish I could have shared clearer photos with you but if you go over to Wiki, there are some excellent ones there.
Or even better, head over to Walk The Wilderness and see these absolutely stupendous photos of the Coppersmiths.

Post Script : This post has been edited . I had an e-mail from a reader who informed me that the Coppersmith Barbet and the Crimson throated (fronted ) Barbet are different birds. Now, since I had got the information for this post and the ID for the bird from the book 'The Book of Indian Birds' by Dr. Salim Ali, I was quite reluctant to believe this correction. (for those who are not familiar with his name, Dr. Salim Ali was considered the leading light of ornithology in India).

So I double-checked with Thomas at 'Walk The Wilderness' who has posted about Coppersmiths (see the link above) and he confirmed that what I've posted here is obviously the Coppersmith Barbet as the Crimsonfronted Barbet does not have yellow around the eyes or on the throat.

So there you have it ... this is the Coppersmith Barbet but he doesn't answer to the 'Crimsonbreasted / throated / fronted' tag. I'm so sorry for the confusion.
Thank you so much, Nits, for pointing out my mistake. And thanks to you too, Thomas, for taking the trouble to clarify my doubts.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Crafting : Oh my gourd-ness !

What happens when you have planted more veggies than you know what to do with, and then idle Net browsing hits you with a walloping idea ? Look at the photo above and you've found the answer.

Monsoon is the season when all of India goes into sowing-planting-growing hyperdrive. The soil is so fertile that seeds just beg to grow. The moist air means that the farmer/ gardener doesn't have to exert all that much to get a healthy crop.

In my garden in Mumbai, some of the best-growing vegetables at this time are the gourds of every edible kind. Ridge-gourd, bottle-gourd, bitter-gourd, ash-gourd ... the list goes on and on. I think it's because they are so easy to grow in this season that I usually go overboard and plant more than we can possibly eat or gift. That has to be the saddest part of growing ... having vegetables that are past their prime and you don't know what to do with it.

And so it was that I found myself stuck with some of these globe-shaped bottle-gourds (you can see one in the background of the photo) , no longer fit to eat. They were already past the tender stage when they are such a tasty filler in any dish. So they remained on the vines which had clambered up the fence, steadily dryin,g and I had chalked them up as seed material. Until I came across some internet articles about crafting with gourds.

What fun! This appealed to my interest in crafting with stuff found in the wild (or rather, in my garden ). And it was something I had not seen much here in Mumbai, at least . So I started off with just a vague idea of what had to be done and how it would turn out .

I knew that gourds are used by tribal communities across India too but I have no idea how they decorate them. My inspiration for the very first one I worked on was the Warli style of art.

The Warlis are a tribal community who live near Mumbai and I love their simple but very eloquent style of art. They normally paint the walls of their homes with these figures depicting village life, their deities, Nature, and everything connected with it. I thought it was very fitting that I use their motifs (click on the photos to get a better view. And ignore the white stuff ... that's a bit of monsoon fuzz ).

My interest in gourd-crafting grew but I had hit a big obstacle. In India or rather, in the seed shops in India, the more interesting gourds are not available. The gourds which are usually used for crafting have thick skins, but the ones available in India are grown to be eaten and are the thin-skinned type. Which not only meant that I have to be extra careful with the gourds when I work on them but also that my designs are limited.
But I've overcome other limitations before and with some luck, maybe I can think of a way to overcome this too. Some day.

Other obstacles? Trying to place these gourds in a home shared with sporty, growing children, and where rumbustious pets charge through at the slightest suspicion of a snack ! Yeah, more than a few have smashed, or at least, got a big crack running down it.
Never mind... I'll just grow some more .

Monday, March 2, 2009

It's official ! Summer is here

It's all over the papers ... yesterday, March 1st, was officially the first day of Summer here in Mumbai.
I'm sorry if this seems like sheer injustice to so many of you who are still listening to the howl of Winter, but this is life in the tropics !

Oh, and did I forget to mention that it was about 37*C here yesterday? That's almost 99*F ... and it's just the first day.
Who's crying now?