October 27, 2012

Missing links

Every now and then, I attempt to clean the toy tent (a toy house which is used for storing toys in part and in pieces; nevertheless it comes in handy during guest visits) and end up confused and disillusioned.

Toys with parts missing. Broken crayon pieces that I considered too precious to throw out during a possible cleaning session in the recent past (I go on a memory trail and think about that little piece of crayon I cherished during my childhood days. Lesser possessions; therefore more perceived value for gifts during those days). Jigsaw puzzle pieces. Dime a dozen pieces from 'return gift' kits that found their way home after various birthday parties.

Not to diminish the value of any gift per se, but most often, our homes are inundated with gifts and trinkets which we don't employ for anything in particular. They lie around the house, we keep shifting their position; not quite sure what to do with them. And inevitably as it turns out, these are made of plastic and at least some of us shy away from throwing them into the trash bin. They don't belong to any typical recycle category, so what do we do with them? Where do they belong to?

Then, there are the bigger toys which need to be assembled, and upon losing a part or two, they become part of the increasing toy trouble. In the eternal hope of finding that one missing piece, it gets added to the toy torrent. But in reality, for want of a single piece, the picture is never complete, the toy becomes dysfunctional.

Our times are definitely defined by excesses. But, with the bigger picture incomplete, the links missing. Where do we go from here?

July 10, 2012

Minakshi and Vishalagi at Washington DC

Stepping into the Medicinal Plants section of Washington Botanical garden, I was taken by a pleasant surprise. A huge life size photograph of two women, clad in traditional attire of Sari and Mundu; squeezing the sap out of some herbal concoction. More than the Ayurveda connection, it delighted me to see two typical neighbourhood women right in the middle of Washington DC, just a few minutes away from the White House and Senate Building. They looked every bit women next door, on the roads, in the bus, at the local market. 

Looking around, I saw many visitors eagerly observe the picture and read the descriptor below. Swelling with pride, I wanted to shout to the thronging masses that the picture represented the legacy of Kerala, my State. And that the picture was just a sneak peak into the vast possibilities of Ayurveda; so on and so forth. Even while showcasing a primeval form of treatment – squeezing the juice out of some wild herbs, the ordinary women in the picture were making a few facts straight for me. America acknowledges the pioneering role that Kerala plays in the administration of medicinal herbs. This meant that it also recognizes the science of Ayurveda.

Not that one needed to see this picture to underline the significance that Ayurveda has gained in the realm of holistic cure. Statistics lends credibility to the fact that Kerala is indeed at the global centre stage of Ayurveda cure; just like the picture taking centre stage in Washington DC. At an institutional level, much has to be done to reassert and retain the purity of this science which has been corrupted by several me-too players trying to duplicate the efficacy of this stream of medicine. However, it goes without saying that it’s best to leave the dynamics of this legacy to be managed by the concerned government bodies.

 While it’s up to the government machinery to review policies and bring about guidelines to streamline and legitimatize the Ayurveda practice in the State, as a Non Resident Keralite living in the US, the above picture and the medicinal plants’ showcase at the Botanical garden triggered a silent revolution in my mind - to learn more about medicinal plants and to encourage my friends and families back home to get back to medicinal herb gardening.

 After a few minutes of staring at the photograph, I walked across the narrow boulevards in the medicinal herbs section. Believe me, it felt like walking on a familiar village pathway back home. Even with limited knowledge of medicinal plants, I was delighted to observe that a vast majority of them could be traced back to the flora of our State. Very many little shrubs, creeping vines, branched out plants, and tall trees reminded me of life in Kerala. I noticed that some of the plants showcased were commonly perceived as weeds. Some others only adorned our frontyard gardens. Yet some others were part of our ancestral homes and sadly haven’t made it to the modern day home gardens. Needless to say, our authentic Ayurvedic practitioners would know all of them by their name and would know what use to put them to.

 A big pot nurtured a sizeable ‘Gandharaajan’ plant (Gardenia Gummifera). Underneath was written the antiseptic properties of this plant. It took me to my childhood days when there were a few very old plants in the frontyard of my parents’ house. Gandharaajan instantly reminded me of another similar flowering plant called ‘Nandyarvettom’ which was used extensively to treat eye conjunctivitis and for cooling the eyes. I remember, when it was in full bloom, it left no stone unturned. Early mornings, with its soothing, calming fragrance permeating the whole compound, stepping into the garden was as blissful as aromatherapy.

 At the end of a walkway, I noticed a thick bush from which familiar serrated leaves jutted out, crying for my attention. I shouted saying ‘Communist Pacha!’and instantly went back in time - yet another trip to days of childhood when for bruises we quickly crushed a few leaves and applied its juice, leaving the cure to Nature. And quite interestingly, this was done often, as a matter of habit, making no fuss about the umpteen falls and the resultant injuries.
Hibiscus, Ashokachethi and little formations of Mukutti, Jasmine, Thulasi, a coconut tree bearing bunches of the fruit, a cocoa tree with big cocoa fruits- these were just a few of the plant/ tree delights that welcomed me at every little turn that I took at the botanical garden. Visitors seemed to be in a state of awe reading the medicinal properties of some of the herbs. Many people clicked away pictures of the medicinal flowers as if it were a magic formula for good health.  It seemed like I was back home, treading some village pathway or walking in my backyard where weeds and plants co-existed.

 As someone who lived in Kerala all these years, not a day passed by without encountering at least a few of these medicinal marvels. I pitied myself not to have used them when they were well within reach. Here, Doctors who practise modern medicine refrain from prescribing medicines for common ailments. Many a time for a common cold or a stomach ailment, especially for children, I have wished for some of the green concoctions that my mother or mother in law made for the family, which I then snubbed with nonchalance. Medicinal herbs was for sure overlooked, but, today I really miss the many varieties of Thulasi and the lush formations of ‘panikoorkka’ leaves that spread to every nook and corner of the garden coming in handy for everyday ailments.

 The whole world sings praises to Ayurveda, to our rich legacy. We know for a fact that millions of varieties of medicinal herbs thrive in our tropical climate, in a variety of our soils, in brackish backwaters and even in jute bags kept in balconies of zealous Malayalees. Going back to our good old ways of backyard herbal gardens must then, be easy. The will to tap the potential of at least some of our medicinal herbs will then possibly unleash the next revolution. Eyes closed, with that parting thought, I stood under the yellow Chembakam tree in full bloom then; trying to take in as much as I could before I stepped out into the streets of Washington DC.

First published in Vibrant Keralam, a public diplomacy magazine.

June 23, 2012

Mango-licious Musings in Edison

They are called Marathon mangoes for a reason perhaps. They are so sweet that one would want to extend the pleasure and eat them out slowly, savoring each finger licking moment!

I was at my kitchen counter, peeling mangoes on a hot early summer afternoon. Ripe and succulent, as I was peeling the skin away, thick mango juice dribbled over my fingers turning them yellow and making me stop every split second to smack the irresistible juicy channels that I believed shouldn’t be wasted a wee bit.

                                                                    (pic courtesy: kungfudana.blogspot.com)

The Marathon box of mangoes came all the way from Mexico. The other day, I picked up the august Alphonso from Subzi Mandi. No second thoughts. As a Malayalee who grew up on Mangoes, relishing mangoes tantamount to one of my perceived birthrights.

When summer came down harshly upon Kerala, winter had already given way to spring here in New Jersey, US. Facebook pages of my friends were awash with pictures of mango tree climbing scenes, freshly plucked mangoes, mango pudding, mango souffl├ęs and what not. I patiently waited for the mango batches to make their way through the cold storage chains all the way to Edison. It did. Ceremoniously and majestically, the way it merits a real King. Masses thronged at the stores to get a peek at the boxes.  At the Indian stores, Mangoes are displayed right at the very entrance to the store (as if they needed a strategic position!) Given the weight of the mangoes and the space it would occupy in the shopping cart, shoppers prefer to pick up their boxes after their shopping, just before securing a place in the queue at the billing till. There was near pandemonium at the mango section. Talk about a sharp olfactory sense! I saw half the crowd smelling the mangoes and am sure it gave at least some of them a high; just by inhaling the nostalgic smell.

At my kitchen counter here, before even I peeled a full mango, I was home in Kerala. Blissful moments of mango picking and eating intermingled with images of the Mango tree’s transformation to the seasonal vicissitudes.

                                                (pic courtesy: :www.flickr.com/photos/knowprose)

At Alappuzha where I grew up, we had five mango trees at one point in time. As the season lifted its veils, the leaves turned tender. To me they looked vulnerable. Standing under a mango tree then, I felt one with its youthfulness; brimming out of its boundaries. To nurture and bring forth the pulsating life within, the tree grew far and wide with tenderness ruling roost in its leaves that they almost melted and shrunk in the heat of my palms. In its urge to get itself ripe to bear fruit, the leaves even changed colour from the darkest of greens to light lavender mixed with shades of crimson, pink and lighter hues of emerald and malachite. During this season in Kerala, even in purely urban settings in the thick of city life, it isn’t difficult to spot such a mango tree- as our homes are so incomplete without at least one mango tree greeting us right in the front yards of our homes! Early mornings, stepping into the delicate canopy of the mango tree was like walking on a soft bed of feathers. Cleaning the courtyard posed a challenge though, with the leaves turning heavy after the dew from the wee hours of the morning settled on them.

                                                      (pic courtesy: thisislata.blogspot.com)
Later on, the tree shed all its tenderness. The leaves turned green again, but a totally different, bold and confident green that filled me with happiness and a sense of prosperity. And then, one fine day the leaves made way for the mango flowers. They reminded me of creamy white pearls floating in a light shade of green. Walking towards my home from the road, the Mango tree in my frontyard looked like a huge bridal bouquet, with the whites and creams bursting out while the leaves were confined to the minimum, jutting out here and there as the spiky flowerets celebrated life. Not that all the tiny flowers bore fruit. The tree willingly shed at least half of its flowers to the whims and fancies of the summer sun that was round the corner.

                                                         (pic courtesy: muaaz.org) 
Looking closer, I saw tiny mangoes. Too small to even make their presence felt. But, together, they painted a new picture. The whites and the creams gave way to the green. When I thought the tree would bear a zillion mangoes, it cast off so many tiny fruits, every day for days on end. And then for a few days, the famous ‘Kannimaanga’ ruled over my life. They became part of my midmornings and laid-back summer afternoons. Adding spice to chutneys, they walked all the way up to the pickle factories.

                                                                (pic courtesy: indianrecipesworld.com)
By the time I had enough of the ‘Kannimaanga’ days, the fruits that decided to stay put started gaining ground. The tree, humbled by its own bounty, lowered its branches just for us to feel their presence in our lives; closer.  The mangoes started to change their colour. Diffusing their dark green hue, they borrowed a flaming orange tint from the summer sun that was by then making its presence felt. Soon it was Mango season!

                                                                           (pic courtesy: muaaz.org)
As the mangoes started to ripen, the trees in my courtyard attracted a lot of birds. On and off, I saw a parrot here and there, but mostly it was the ravens, the bats and the squirrels that shared from the season’s booty. Being the early bird, I visited the trees at the crack of dawn. The first few days after the ripe mango season began; I found fruits; some half pecked and half eaten, some fully eaten with just the naked mango seed tossed around. But I was always lucky to find a handful fully ripened fruits hidden inside the many bushes in the courtyard that escaped the birds’ attention. As more fruits ripened, there was enough and more for all of us. During summer holidays, at times after playing in the scorching sun, a siesta was in order. Upon waking up I headed out to the trees. With the fruits collected, I walked up to the backyard where I relished them sitting on the steps overlooking a dozen other trees.

                                                     (pic courtesy: readersdigest.com.au)

There are many more memories about mango picking - racing with my brothers, cousins and at times neighbourhood friends to reach the tree during windy days to stake my claim to the maximum number of fruits, and giving a hand to grand mom while she made mango-thera on ‘panampu’ (bamboo mats) or on ‘muram’ (the winnowing pallet).

Not that we don’t get to buy mangoes here. Here we are spoilt for choice. Mangoes make their way from various tropical climates to the grocers here. (Adding to the carbon footprints, and thus to our guilt too!) But, nothing beats the joy of watching the metamorphosis a mango tree undergoes as it transforms itself from a leaf filled tree to a fruit filled one! And eating the fruits from one’s own courtyard on lazy summer afternoons is a pleasure incomparable!

First published in Vibrant Keralam, July issue.

June 6, 2012

Rainless in Edison

There is an occasional drizzle here in Edison, New Jersey, USA. It starts with a mild shower of mist and ends up in something like a drizzle. I wouldn’t like to classify these sporadic spills of water as rain. More so because I belong to Kerala and I am an ardent lover of our rains, especially the monsoons.

                                                                       (pic courtesy: http://flickriver.com)

Last Sunday morning, when the rest of Edison was still under warm comforters, I stepped out for my morning stroll. The previous night it had rained quite heavily (for Edison standards) and I was eager to see and feel my surroundings, up close and personal. It was still raining mist. I bathed myself in a million tiny droplets of water, too small to even leave an impact on my hair or clothes. Even after I walked for good thirty minutes, at times stepping into the canopy of long lines of oak trees, I didn’t get to feel the rain on my face or under my feet. I came over to a small brook that flows through my apartment complex. Nearing the brook, I sharpened my senses, trying to absorb the sound of the flowing waters. From the sound, I could make out that the brook was fuller than its usual self. The night rain had certainly added to the impact created by the irregular April showers. I stepped on the wooden bridge over the brook, stood by the side of the fence looking for a wonder, a mystery that wasn’t there. The brook flowed by with more vigour than I had seen it to possess during my previous visits. A few warm, orange-breasted Robins tugged earthworms by its side. Many sparrows tweeted on the itsy bitsy branches alongside the brook. Grey furred squirrels tottered by. I saw my first Ground Hog of the season come out looking for food. I had enough company. But, I felt something missing.

                                              (pic courtesy: http://malayaleejunction.blogspot.com)

I don’t know when I will learn to come to terms with reality. The rains here are very different from what I have seen, heard and felt back home in Kerala. Every time it rains here, I try to enjoy whatever little impact it creates. However, I find myself traveling home; every single time the rains decide to come down.

                                                     ( pic courtesy: http://www.chitra-aiyer.com)

I grew up in Alappuzha. But, most of my holidays have been spent in the foothills of Chamampathal, a village in Kottayam District where when it rains, it’s magical, mystical. The Rubber trees change their avatar to remind me of ‘mudiyattom’ artists. Coupled with the furore of winds, they cast an eerie spell on me. Just after a few minutes of downpour, small water channels flow down the hill, making their way through the backyard to the front yard, in harmony with the contours of the land. Even when I confine myself to the Verandah, the raindrops don’t spare me. They respond to the wind like obedient children. They follow it wherever it fancies taking them. They lash on me. With much vigour, they come in through long, open Verandahs. They peep through half-opened windows and leave their imprints on the walls, and even on beds inside. They flip through pages of the book that I was reading, just to get a sneak peak. They blow off burning candles and kerosene lamps and nudge us to come out and be one with them.

                                                                ( pic courtesy: teambhp)

After the initial drama, they mellow down and then continue to rain for what seems like ever. In between when the rains settle (if at all they decide to), I step out and often get carried away by its impact on life around. I don’t know what to call the multifaceted green that greets me. Wherever I turn to, it’s the plushest of greens. If green can be multi-hued, it is in Kerala. Sprightly grass heads dance with little raindrops perched on their tiny heads. You walk under a tree, and if a wind decides to come by, the tree bathes you magnanimously in a zillion big, rounded drops of water. You could even ‘hear’ them coming down! You go stream-visiting after the rains and often stand by its side, taking in the sights, sounds and fury. By the sides of the streams or rivers, green takes on wild forms. With no axe to grind, they flourish and celebrate life in all its richness and vibrancies.

One of my most vivid memories of rain dates back to my pre-degree days. The day the University exams got over, three of us friends decided to explore Alappuzha. We walked by the side of the canal, near the KSWTC boat quay towards Punnamada. Just minutes after we started off, it started raining. And then, it poured for hours. Undeterred and determined to enjoy every bit of the moment, we danced in the rain and watched the raindrops meander out of our soaked canvas shoes. Jumping in the many muddy puddles on the road, we teased the silvery smooth water droplets out of the yam leaves. Some of the rain water settled inside the wooden cavities of canoes anchored on the sides of the canal. Trees, big and small, already green, turned magically verdant.

                                                       ( pic courtesy:http://impeccablez.deviantart.com)

Here, even while it rains, the flowing waters are missing. At times, I long for the rain to come in through my shoes. But, they don’t bother to. They settle down too quickly and disappear into oblivion and into designated underground channels. Though I try to take in as much as possible of the little showers that come by, I miss the loud, animated, vibrant rains back home. I miss the spontaneity of life in Kerala where often we are caught unawares by the rains that decide to come down at the drop of a hat. Even while trying to appreciate the fast advancements in technology here, the big leaps in convenience it offers, I miss not checking the ‘chances of precipitation’ on weather.com. I miss the camaraderie of the innumerable rain water strings that roll transparent pearls down our tiled crimson roofs in unison. (Here, they are all collected by efficient pipes that are too sleek to be even noticed, only to be gathered into the designated storm drains below.)

                                                   ( pic courtesy: http://www.karmakerala.com)
 Having seen a variety of rains in a handful of countries across the globe, I touch my heart and say proudly that the best of all is in vibrant Keralam. Be it the celebrated idava-pathi, the south western monsoons that catch us by surprise with its arrogance and sudden onslaught, or the thula-varsham, when rains befriend thunder and lightning to turn more sonant, or the retreating monsoon, the one that bears a forlorn, depressed outlook, or the venal-mazha, the one that comes with its occasional cool showers; rains in Kerala evoke a host of emotions and keep calling a rain loving Malayalee back home.

First published in Vibrant Keralam, June 2012 issue.

March 21, 2012

Ammachy's Kachimoru and Zero Food Miles


 Ammachy walked around the Ash Gourd vines near the hen coop looking for her perfect pick of the day. My little steps followed; admiring her Ash Gourd vine that had latched on to every possible opportunity in its vicinity. It must have been in its peak, for I saw Ash Gourds in plenty hanging from the carefree vines. After much deliberation, Ammachy plucked one low lying fruit.

In her brightly lit kitchen where pools of the summer sun added to the warmth and merriment, she stood by her earthen stove and started peeling the skin of the Ash Gourd. No cutting boards, no fancy knives. Using her index finger as the substratum, she sliced them fine. Off they went into her earthen pot along with a pinch of salt, turmeric, green chillies and water. As they simmered on her stove, I nudged the firewood in, occasionally blowing air with a wooden pipe; more for my own delight that I was lending her a big hand.

Ammachy moved onto her dainty little shelf from which she brought a big ceramic pot full of fresh yogurt. As she lifted the lid and kept it aside, even before the clanking sound of the lid faded away, I darted across with a little spoon to take a big dig! As I scooped deep, I noticed the two layers clearly. The top layer was the best with its light yellow tinge and heavenly taste! And the second, the milky white real yogurt! Yum! The beaten curd along with ground coconut mixture dolloped into the simmering pot. When her home-made coconut oil started releasing its heavenly aromas, I waited with bated breath. The mustard seeds spluttered away and the sliced shallots wilted away. The freshly plucked curry leaves along with a bit of fenugreek powder and red chillies took my olfactory senses to a heightened state. And then, the heavenly aroma of her Kachimoru wafted through the old wooden corridors leaving me drooling and impatient!


She had everything in the backyard or in the back of her kitchen shelves. Zero Food Miles. Looking back to my beautiful childhood days, I realize that its not a new fad or a fancy. Just that it has been long forgotten. Conveniently forgotten.

March 15, 2012

Falling in love!

                                                 ( Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

I am almost sure about it
I am falling in love; head over heels again
Not that this is the first time, not even the second time
I am not sure if I have lost count
When I am so enamored, why would I even take count of it
Rather than making the most of it, and taking it moment by moment?

This morning, as I was making crispy, lacy Appams in my kitchen, I heard a Shutterbug fluttering in the little balcony of ours. I turned and caught my better-half clicking away pictures of a tree outside. Looking through the fully opened kitchen window, I could only see the tree; barren and lifeless. I impatiently lifted the steamy lid of the Appam-maker and forced the not-so-crispy Appam out; just for that one time when patience really ran out of my restless mind. I had to see for myself the object of his visual exploration at the crack of dawn.

By the time I joined the Shutterbug, one of his objects decided to shift base. But, I was greeted by the excited twittering of a legion of birds that seemed endless.Mynahs, Robins, Sparrows, Pigeons, and Blue Jays of course. While the sleepy Pigeons were content tip-toeing and cooing on the roof opposite my balcony, the Mynahs were engaged in an enthusiastic rummage for food amidst the thick specks of grass which perked my spirits up! As usual, the Sparrows mirrored my restlessness, not able to be still in one place for more than a few seconds. Chirruping and constantly moving, they added sparks to my already bustling state of mind.

Zooming into the picture of a bright orange bird, the Shutterbug asked me if I knew which bird it was. A Cardinal? It looked even brighter. Both of us were pleasantly surprised and got carried away by the depth of the tangerine that shone so bright from the small screen of our digital camera. It reminded me of the little Mandarin oranges that we bought last evening from the Asian Food store.

This evening, I took a stroll outside. With each step, I felt the pull towards my Love. As I walked with my eyes cast down, I almost looked like a forlorn soul. But, for me, I was rediscovering a world of green. A world of new grass heads, name-less weeds springing up at the first drops of rain with little white feathery flowers at their tips, trying to make the most of their abysmally short lives. Before the weed-killers and the lawn movers took charge, they seemed to celebrate life; whatever little promise it held. As I walked back home, the birds decided to take charge of my life again. With their calls, chatter and songs filling my senses, I strolled home in boundless joy.

March 6, 2012

Blue Jays and Sparrows

                                             (Picture courtesy: Photographer and filmmaker Jim Brandenburg)

This afternoon, as I was ambitiously finishing some last -in- the- line errands in the house, my eyes caught some swift movements outside. A quick dash, an even quicker chase! In the stillness of the cold winter afternoon, against the backdrop of the bare tree tops, a few birds that seemed to come from nowhere suddenly filled up my chalice of hope, rekindled new thoughts and gave a fillip to my sense of positivism. I had never seen this kind of a sight before. A Blue Jay chasing a few sparrows! And the best part was we weren't seeing any birds for a few weeks now, except the V- shaped Geese formations that parade the skies during early morning hours.

Birds. They bring me boundless joy. I just need to catch a glimpse of a Sparrow in its flight. Or a twittering Robin trying to find its feet on a shaky little branch. Even as I was overcome with happiness watching the little power struggle of my feathery friends, I eagerly showed the sight to my Seven-year old and in unison we said in our typical sing-song style, ' Spring is round the corner, Spring is round the corner!'

March 20th is the official date for the advent of Spring in this part of the world. But, I keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best to happen. Last Winter; weather channels said was the coldest in a few decades. This Winter; they say is the warmest in a few decades. Last Winter, we saw nothing but snow. This Winter, we haven't seen snow at all. So, what is the reading on the wall?

A humble worshiper in Nature's shrine, am awed by the myriad ways in which life around inspires, rejuvenates, enlightens and what not. And it hurts to see the ease with which we take life away from Her. Looking around, am not sure, whether its ignorance or sheer carelessness that is the reason.

A few days back, we were at Coney Island. Weathering the cold winds, as we strolled around the waterways , much to our astonishment, we found at least a hundred mallard ducks, swans, geese and other birds cackle endlessly while eating bread crumbs! The first question that we asked each other was, ' What are these birds doing here at this time of the year? They aren't supposed to be here eating bread this Winter!' As we exclaimed thus, we thought we figured out the answer as well. First of all, weather patterns are changing across the world. These birds could very well be a confused lot. And second, if bread happens to be their staple food, what would that land them in? Research proves that it delays migration and impacts their natural instincts to forage for their own food. There were about a dozen happy souls feeding the birds from huge packets of breads and buns. Other than anxiously staring at their feeding frenzies, there wasn't much to be done. Looking back, I dread to think what the birds would do if they were stopped being fed bread, one day, all of a sudden?

Sad thought indeed. And I know not the answer. Whenever I think of Nature, I think of Her as nimble-footed. And so are her creatures. But, we must let them be. We must just let wildlife be. Its best to let them be in their own wild worlds, with their wild instincts.

February 9, 2012

Love for life.

                                                                (Picture courtesy: Alex. Clicked at Alappuzha)

As I gave myself into that genuine, warm embrace, I realized how much it comforted me. Though great friends for years now, it was the first time I was visiting their home in Brooklyn, NY. Alex and Hana. I have written about them in my earlier posts as well, but good two weeks after our visit to their apartment, I continue to think about their apartment where life thrives. Where love flows aplenty without the ordinary give-take equation in mind.They only give it, without expecting anything in return.

The living room reminded me of a pretty patch from the rain forest replicas that I had seen elsewhere. Plants or rather trees from Brazil, Israel, Costa Rica, Zanzibar, Peru...the seeds collected with love, carried over the continents with care, planted thoughtfully in huge pots and watered to their need. Within the confines of the four walls, they didn't seem to miss much, the way they embraced every possibility for growth. They were visibly in love with the huge window from which bright streaks flowed in and lit up the room, in spite of the green cover that seemingly attempted to block the crisp rays from lighting up the room. The leaves, there were of beautiful shapes creating unseen patterns as they mingled and merged with each other. 

The kitchen. Creepers, crawlers and lilies beautifully giving each other a branch or two to lean on. I entered the office room, the work room where except for the desktop and a small bed, everything else seemed simply surreal. Plants or trees again. They were given every possible inch of that house. And they filled every nook and corner with oodles of positive energy that I would find otherwise only in an untamed forest; not even in the most beautiful of the botanical gardens. 

As global travelers, Alex and Hana carry a bit of life, or the promise of it, from the sands on which they set foot. Without hurting anyone or burning holes in their pockets. Caressing a proud palm tree basking in all its glory and flourish, Alex narrated to me about 'him' or 'her' finding 'his' or 'her' way into US from some faraway land hidden in his pocket in the form of puny palm seeds. At times, it takes years for the seed to sprout. The patient gardener waters them and rejoices when the first signs of life make their presence felt.

                                                 (Picture courtesy: Alex. Clicked at Alappuzha)

Tourism is brisk business for many destinations. Most often, there isn't anything called sustainable tourism. Led by mere numbers and analytics, we often count the carbon footprint of tourists who travel by air and by personal means of transport for inland exploration. But, there is much more to it. Naivety at its best is manifest in tourism. Our national monuments stand testimony to this. Our waters get contaminated with plastic bottles that float in meaningless abandon. Amidst such nonchalance, I have enough to write home about. In the way my good friends take care of the fragile environment, the way they respect nature, travel strictly by local transport and give more than they could take; be it to the environment or to the local fabric.

Walking amidst souvenirs from about a hundred countries, I began to think about  the myriad cultures, traditions and people that make us a diverse world. Mermaids, fishes and dragons from Bali, dancing puppets and colourful cloth lamp shades from India and a host of others from Nepal, Peru, Guatemala, Mexico, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Mali, Cambodia, Laos, Israel...But even in our diverse ways, isn't there a thread that binds us all together?

January 21, 2012

How blind are we?

 The other day as I was putting in a fresh polythene bag in the trash can, I was hit by the sudden outburst of lemon fragrance. I was almost sure that it wasn't a thought-through decision to purchase the fragrant-trash bag pack, rather an involuntary one. I felt suffocated by the in-the-face kind of artificial fragrance that for sure was a result of some chemical concoction. As I got going with the rest of the errands, I realized that the trash bag episode had sparked off a debate in my mind.

Connecting strings of various conversations and observations, I was trying to arrive at some meaningful deduction.

Think LAUNDRY.  How can we not do with the detergent? Some of the recent detergent options have proven to knock off dirt in a jiffy! And then, we have fabric softeners. To induce some amount of freshness, there are fabric conditioners and fragrance inducers as well.

Think CLEANING. I happened to discuss washroom cleaning options with a Doctor-friend of mine. At least here, in this part of the world, we are spoilt for choice. We get cleaning agents that work on dirt, grime and mold to deliver results that can be equated to the ones shown in exaggerated advertisements. With the bleach sprays, which are, mind you, very fragrant as well, all dirt and mold vanish into thin air, in just minutes after spraying on the substrate! The dish-washing liquids/ powders am told are the strongest of all and carry some of the most potent carcinogens! Clogs in the drains? Worry not, for there are Clog removers. Just pour them in the drain, leave for a few minutes before you pour hot water down the drains. Even stubborn clogs give way in a few minutes.

Think HAIR HYGIENE. Shampoos for almost all kinds of hair and hair conditions. One couldn't ask for more! Conditioners of all kinds in all forms. Hair shine/ glow agents that help to set the hair and leave it undisturbed. And then, I have seen a host of other things, the names of which I forget.(Hair dye is another topic altogether. It gives enough dope for another post itself.)

There is nothing like stepping into a spic and span washroom, but, what if it's a hazardous chemical factory, in disguise? Unfortunately, all that matters these days is RESULT. And we must get them with the least effort and in an instant. Life has become easy with these products around. With life in the fast lane, it's just natural to embrace these convenience options. Even when there is awareness about their hazards, we turn a blind eye, out of sheer convenience.

WATER QUALITY. I dread to think about the deadly chemicals that we wash down our drains. I remember reading in a reputed science journal about how we contaminate ground water and cause irreparable damage with just our hair-cleansing products. While most of them carry active carcinogens, and if they seem to be mild on our hair, imagine the extent of harm caused by the strong detergents and cleaning agents? At the end of it, I come to the self-same conclusion. What isn't good for the environment is not good for our bodies.

Not that there aren't natural, environment-friendly options. There are enough and more for the mind that seeks. However, it isn't practical to suggest that we must stay away from convenience and go back to an era where people spent a lot of their time on cleaning and scrubbing. But, am sure there is a line in between, which we must will to find.