Saturday, April 21, 2018

Coming of age

It's Saturday, and you know what that means. Today is when The Propagator hosts his 'Six on Saturday'- a meeting place of gardeners who show the six momentous things that are in their garden today. A bit of boasting, a  bit of confessing, a  lot of fun.
And here are my six:

1. HoneysuckleS!
I have shown off the honeysuckle I planted around my house so many years ago. This is the star of spring, and never lets us forget it. In case you have forgotten what it looks like, here's a pic.
 All these years, I  have also been keeping an eye on a honeysuckle plant that suddenly appeared near the spot where I later built my compost toilet. And now, it has flowered. Lovely, aren't they?
The scent does not have the same knock-your-socks-off quality that the porch honeysuckle has, but is faintly sweet and almost musky. I love it!


2. Sweet Williams.
 When I moved here, I inherited a small clump of dianthus.I fell in love with  its clove+sugar fragrance and have been dividing and taking care of it since. I also sowed a packet of very dark dianthus 'Sooty'. And so I had two.
Last year, for the first time I sowed seeds. And now, I have four types!
My original had a deep pink colour, and sooty is a velvety liver. The 'new' ones are a speckled deep pink and a speckled salmon. I was first not sure I liked the salmon- had a urge to smoke it rather than caress it. But now I think it has grown on me. What do you think?

3. Jasmine buds! Three years ago, a dear friend gave me a star jasmine plant after I admired hers. All these years I have nursed this plant. And now I am rewarded

4. Colour schemes.
Since becoming a fan of Gertrude Jekylls, I have been trying to keep in mind her admonitions to not have garish colour clashes in the garden. It  is still a work in progress, but slowly, I see my garden getting there
I inherited these roses too, but planted the iris. I think they look good together! And in the bed but not photographed yet, are more in the same grey-purple-pink scheme. There are geraniums, cheddar pinks, foxgloves and Himalayan balsam. Sounds a bit of a hodgepodge, but it actually does work well.

5. Donuts.
When I photographed the rose and iris bed, I noticed this.

Another sign of age, but not as heartwarming as beds coming together, or creepers beginning to bloom. This is the dreaded donut of neglected rhizomes. Post flowering, in the monsoon, I need to have a iris dividing orgy. It will be nice to replant them so that they form drifts of colour like Jekyll advises.

6. Cheer.
These little birds come visit us every spring, just around when the aphids arrive. And they are so good as they eat all the bugs on the fruit trees! Watching them probe and snack on the aphids and white flies that plague me is a joy. And it helps that they wear those absurd little masks- like children playing bandits.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Elephants and memories

I am not sure where this story begins.

Maybe it begins when my sister was in primary school, and was instructed to write an essay on the Circus. 'Elephants are my favourite', she wrote.  'No', said her teacher. 'You must write that clowns are your favourite.' I am not sure what happened next. Maybe, as is likely, she decided that professing a love for clowns was one of those school rules that a student is expected to follow.

What  I do know is that she never stopped loving elephants. 'They have kind eyes' she always says.
But maybe this story does not begin so long ago.

Maybe it begins when she had a baby, and those two would call themselves Mamma and Baby elephants.

Maybe it begins in another place altogether. Maybe it begins at our house in Chatola when Mian and I decided that we were all growned up now and should have Real Art on our walls. We kept our eyes open but quickly became unhappy with the art that we came across. But what does this have to do with elephants?

Maybe this is a very short story, and begins just last summer, when the baby elephant suddenly became a young woman and went off to the USA to do her PhD.

It was around this time that I became addicted to Arati Kumar-Rao's website and her lovely photos. And there was one in particular that struck me hard, at that time when my niece was leaving her nest. It was a image of two elephants, a Mamma and a Baby, walking off together. I knew that if anything would help my sis through this time of saying bye to her baby, it would be this image.

I wrote to  Arati then, but somehow it never happened. I got busy, the logistics of it all was too much, and the photo never made it to my sister.

And so I got very excited when several months later Arati announced that she has opened an online store. I went there and scrolled through the images, but the mamma and baby were not there. I reasoned that as artists do, she might have reserved some pictures for a book or an exhibition. Rather than make her feel forced to share it with me, I did not mention it.

Instead, Mian and I found one that we decided was of the two of us. It's being titled 'Together' could only be an good omen. And even more months later when a payment I was waiting for finally came in, we bought it.

'I've sent you a little gift', she wrote. I expected a postcard and got all excited about it.

Instead, along with our print was the mamma and baby one that I had coveted so much for my sister. It is then that I began to cry. See, it is not just that a full-size, autographed, fine art print is a truly magnificent gift. It is that nearly a year later, she remembered the one I had asked about in one email and took the trouble to get a special print made. The extent of this generosity is overwhelming.

Fast forward a few more months and I visited my sister. 'I  have a friend', I said. 'She is a spectacular environmental photographer and she has sent you a present." And then I told her the story. After I finished, I unrolled the print and showed it to Acca. 'It is us!' she exclaimed, and then she wept.

I might have said this before, but I am truly blessed with friends.
It is also difficult to know where this story ends. The main story is about my sister and her magnificent gift, of course. But when I returned from that visit, I took my print down to the framers. It is 8X11, I said confidently. No madam, said he. And proved it. Arati had sent us a larger print.

Spoiled rotten, I am

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Colour and Scent

The garden is waking up. Wherever I go, I am welcomed by fragrance. And since it is Saturday when The Propagator hosts Six-on-Saturday, his weekly show-and-tell, here are six bits of my garden today.
1. Iris! Last week, I exulted about the first few flowers. And now they are all in bloom. Not the kumaun iris, but the other two- the lavender and the smoky one- each have a distinct fragrance. Here are photos


2. Honeysuckle : I have planted this at all four corners of our house,and I am so glad I did. Right now, I am sitting in my bedroom and writing this. Every time there is a breeze, I smell  the honeysuckle. Absolute bliss
3. Greed. Well, let us call it planning. Remember the magnolia whose first flower I was so enchanted with last week? Well, now I have decided that one is not enough. I am making more. There were four remarkably convenient branches for layering, and that's what I have done. If all goes well, next
monsoon, I will have not one,but FIVE magnolias!
4. Red rose: I have spoken of the rose outside my bedroom wall before, but here it is in full blossom. Not scented, sadly. But the colour is almost enough.
5. As for this rose, I am not keen on the colour, but the fragrance  is  classic ittar of roses. For that, I would give it space even if it was fuchsia with ochre stripes!
6. And Project.
I have this wall. It is lush with ferns in the monsoon, but the rest of  the time it is just meh. I planted some succulents,but they look forlorn and not happy at all. And yes, there are thistles.

But now, I hope to  change that. Am planting what may be a bergenia,but again may not  be.It grows wild here and I love it.
And I am also planting this, also a wild flower.I have no idea what it is,but I lubs it  I do. Can anyone identify this?

If you want to participate in this rather fun thing, here are guidelines.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Flowers!

Finally! My garden is still largely  brown,I am afraid- the chickens see to that. But there are some splashes of carefully protected colour.
Let's take a look, shall we?
1.  Freesia: My first ever. And while the scent is not very strong, it IS lovely.

2.Magnolia. I was given this shrub four years ago, and this year it has flowered. A luscious winy colour, the nuances of which I cannot capture and a even more enchanting lemongrass fragrance. I am in love with this!

 3. Erigeron. Probably bellidiodes. A more cheerful flower I have never seen. Its ubiquitous nature means that most of the people here sneer at it, but I simply cannot get enough! Over the last few monsoons I have been slipping a root or two here and there, and am now well rewarded.
4. Iris. They are out! or atleast in the process of blooming. Still a week or so to go before the peak, but there is this one variety, which is very common here and the first to flower. So far, I have four varieties and am eager to get more.  Here is the flowering iris
And here is my iris bed..eager to have them all flower!
5. Amaryllis. As common as mud here, with every house having a bank of these. And the colour is a little too garish for me. But I have gotten used to them, and will miss not seeing their shouting faces in spring. And so they stay.
6. Roses! The ones outside my bedroom window have begun to flower
 We just have a couple now. But look at all these buds!

As you probably guessed from the numbering, this post is part of the 'Six on Saturday' hosted (and initiated) by The Propagator, a man whose mad propagation skills totally justify the capitalization. Please do go over to his blog to see him and other gardeners detailing six things from their garden.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Stinkin' rich

On Saturday the 31st of March, Mian had the first sales from his bakery 'Pao'. We went to two places with bread in our car, and he sold bread to those who had read his email announcing where we would be and when.

This  day has been a long time in the making. Arranging the simplest things like reliable fuel and ingredients has been incredibly difficult. To top it off, he has had to fit in this work as and when he could find time from his other work.

And he has done it.

 I am incredibly proud of him. Our neighbours? They were jubilant. Scarcely half an hour after he sent out that email, the first replies came pouring in offering congratulations,  expressing joy, placing orders for bread.

One friend, the first to reply, wrote that she wished us well but would not be there on Saturday; she was leaving for Delhi at dawn. No matter, we said. There is always another time. But on Friday evening, she and her husband called. We can't leave without your bread, they said. Have you baked some yet?

Yes, Mian had.

And so  those two, in the middle of all the work that leaving home for a week entails, walked down to buy bread that they would then lug to Delhi. Because Pao was opening, and how could they miss it?

The happiness from that visit carried us to the first halt, where very soon,a party sprouted. They all came. All the people that we have known over the years and have been looking forward to the bakery. They brought friends. They stopped and chatted and gossiped, and shared their delight that they now have a fine bakery in their little mountain village.

My heart overflowed with joy and gratitude when  a large car overflowing with a larger German Shepherd pulled up. This was A,an octogenarian friend of ours and who I want to be when I grow up. She had come all the way from the next village to buy a few loaves from Mian. She bakes bread at home, we were planning to stop by her home and drop off a loaf or two anyway. There was no need for her to come. But she did. Of course I have to come, your bakery has opened! she said.

At the next stop, we had miscalculated times and realised that it was lunchtime when we were there..very few people would come. We were not the only ones who realised our gaffe with the timing. A neighbour came at the start of the time when we had said we would be there, and stayed on, ostensibly chatting, for the next hour till others showed up. We had no time to feel nervous.

And there is another dear couple who have been a support since the start. They were a large part of how I overcame my fear of tearing up such  roots as I had set down in Dehradun and moving up here, and have been close always. In all the years that the bakery was taking shape, they have been our go-to for  advice, for encouragement, and for venting.

And I knew they would not be able to come. They live far away, they make their own bread, they are crazy busy, and they have no transport. Besides which, they had been so much a part of the setting up and are so much a part of the future plans, I imagined that this one day was not important in the scheme of things. And I was content.

Precisely ten minutes before we were scheduled to wrap up, Mian's phone rang. I heard his answers.. He said that 'the day had gone well'. 'we sold most of the bread, very little is remaining'. He listed the loaves that were left. And then he began laughing, "you are too much!"

He hung up and told me what had brought that smile to his face. "He told us to wait a bit, he's taking all the remaining bread. We are not to drive back home with any bread in the boot." It is then that I teared up.

I am both  humbled and euphorically happy to see the friends that we have. Friends who genuinely care about us, who take the effort to show their support and love.  I am also extremely proud  of  Mian; friendship and love both need to  be earned. If he has such love showered on him, it is  because he too gives it.

In all probability, the bakery will do well. With Mian's knowledge and our friends' appreciation,  with his hard work and their support, it hardly has any option but to do well. But in my opinion, we are already stinking rich with friends.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Forgive us, Mahabali

The Hindu mythology I grew up with was the old version rooted in the lands south of  the Vindhyas. In these stories, there were the three levels of  people- the gods  in their heaven, the people on earth, and the Asuras in the netherworld- just as in the Gangetic Plain version of the stories.

But the North Indian version is strictly in black and white, and the South Indian version is in a glorious mix of greys. And this brings us to Mahabali, whose story is my favourite Diwali legend. Mahabali, the Great Bali, was a good and great King. So good, in fact, that his subjects no longer sang the praises of the gods or propitiate them with sacrifices. Angered by this,the gods sent Vishnu to kill him, which Vishnu managed by using Bali's goodness against him. At the end, Bali knew what Vishnu was upto. But rather than go back on his word, Bali allowed Vishnu to send him to the underworld. He requested only one boon- that he be allowed to return for one night every year and check on the wellbeing of those he loved.

And so on one night, for the last few thousand years, a loving king walks across his land visiting his people. And his people? Well, they know that while Bali is concerned about them, he also cannot help them trapped as he is. Rather than sadden him, they want to make his one night here a happy one. And so, no matter how financially worried or sad we might be for the rest of the year, on Narak Chaturdashi we put a happy face on matters. Every family, no matter how poor,has something sweet in the house. The houses are lit up with even those in mourning keeping a lamp lit that night. And i have always loved this concept, of the whole country conspiring across centuries to hide their unhappiness to reassure someone they love.

However in recent years, the mythology of the Gangetic plains has become the dominant one and we are losing all the regional festival stories. I was grieved two years ago when my mother told me, with tears in her eyes, that the people of Sawantwadi has begun to follow the North Indian custom of burning an effigy of Narak Raja (as Bali is known there) and abusing him as an Asura.I was sad too, but there was at least the reassurance that my mother and I welcomed Bali with love.

And today, when my mother and I were talking, she began to insist that Bali was an oppressive king, that he laid waste to farms and forests, that Vishnu did a good thing by killing him. At an intellectual level, I am angry about the rise of a dominant narrative that is overruling the many complex stories that the Hinduism I grew up with. But I have realised  that a part of me always believed  in Bali,and that part is deeply grieved at what he must feel when he visits us these days.

So sorry, Mahabali, forgive us.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Rain!

Our little village is supposed to have one-two weeks of snow in the winter, and a week or so of rain in February. This winter, we had half a day with a light smattering of snow, and two days of rain. Last night, we had another day of rain.
And of course, a day of gentle rain in middle march means all the seeds hear the starter's pistol. When the dogs and I walked in the garden today morning, we saw many self-sown seeds- borage, parsley, sunflower, marigold that had emerged overnight.
And with everything sparkling and lush, it is a good time to share six things from the kitchen garden for this Saturday.
But first, a peek at the orchard.

1. There's vetch there, and clover, and grass. And despite that, the hens still prefer to scratch around in my seedlings. So every morning I walk them to the garden, and every morning, they follow me back home. But they are very scenic.


2. Potatoes. I have never planted them before. Actually, I haven't planted them yet. Mian wanted home grown potatoes, and G wanted to please Mian. And so one day I walked out to see G planting potatoes from his store.

3. Peas. These I definitely had a hand in planting. I used the last handful of last year's peas yesterday. Now it is time for more. These are just thinking of setting flower buds.

4. Lettuce. Merveille De Quatre Saisons. and truly a Merveille. This is our third year of planting them and they never fail to please. With a bit of frost cover, they keep chugging along through the winter, and are just beginning to bolt. Need to eat them up then.

5. Tomatoes! Brinjal! Chillies! All seed I had saved (except the brinjal). And now they are just beginning to sprout under their covers.

6. Garlic. And self-sown coriander. The garden gnomes alone know where the coriander came from, but I don't mind at all.

The 'six-on-saturday' meme is hosted by The Propagator. In his words, it's "Six things, in the garden, on a Saturday. Could be anything – a flower, a pest, a success, a project, a plan, an abject failure – anything at all!" So if you want to find out what's happening in other gardens, do go on over to his blog!