Saturday, January 23, 2016

Chapatis and Ikedori

I shun anything like a manicured garden. Mian and I have a lived-in, comfy garden. We have food for us, for the animals, and the bees, for most of the year. There are much-awaited seasonal events like the first irises, the sweet william, the first frost, and of course the great narrative of the fruit trees.

None of these have been planned. Nature has her plans, we bow our heads and receive her gifts.

And that is why it is odd that I have a great admiration for Japanese gardening. This love was sparked by a lyrical book, 'The Garden of Evening Mists'. In it, one of my favourite passages is  where the protagonist bends down to sip water from a ladle, from a small stone filled with water. As she sips, she raises her eyes and sees a mountain that would have remained hidden otherwise.

This effect is a planned one, using the concepts of ikedori/shakkei- to 'borrow' the outer landscape into the garden and aware- sense of haunting about the ephemeral nature of things. I am charmed by these concepts, but know I lack the skill or the inclination to adopt them.

But I underestimated how  generous Nature is.

I was making chapatis today for the Bhaloo who has begun to refuse rice. As I was bent over the rolling pin, I chanced to look up. And just below  the eaves, where I would not have seen it had I not been rolling that chapati, I saw this:

Serendipity, Nature- thank you.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Remembering love

A working meeting of friends is a great way to remember a loved one, I thought. I was there for an all-India gathering of people, on the day one of their leaders had died. I listened as people walked up to the mike, reported on the work they had done, mentioned their plans and ended with 'Inquilab zindabad'. In all those talks was a mention of B and how she had suggested this, and encouraged that.

I felt their love, but it was when her husband spoke that tears stung my eyes. He was calm; there was no catch in his voice, no tears. It was what he said.

'Our friends were right when they said they could not capture all of B's personality. There were so many facets to her. I was lucky enough to be in a position to study her closely, I always kept trying to understand more of her. Everyday I would see a new side to her.'

'I still consult her when I am trying to do something. It is a habit hard to get out of. I relied on her so much for advice, for inspiration.'

'For the last 10 years, I have been living with the shadow of her death over me. But not her. She absolutely was not afraid of death. At the same time,she had not given up. She wanted to live. She loved her life.'

He went on, smiling as he talked of her. He laughed sometimes, was stern sometimes, as he gave instances how she had acted and how we should now.

And that is what I want for myself. That someday, Mian remember me with this love and affection. With tenderness and admiration. That he continue to 'consult his comrade because he's gotten into the habit of it'.

But for that, I need to become someone worthy of it. I need to be wise, and patient, and strong, and uncomplaining, and passionate, and committed, and fun, and so much more. Time to get to it

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Free Stuff

Yesterday my sister sent me a message. A 16year old girl committed suicide. She could not afford a bus pass (for school, I should assume), her farmer father had a debt of Rs.12 lakh.
There is so much behind those flat sentences. The despair, the denying of self, the hopelessness. I recognise that the bus pass is  not why that child killed herself, but it was the trigger. And how much  must it have cost? Not more than a thousand rupees, certainly. How easy it is for some to satisfy a need of that magnitude. I was uncomfortably aware of this as I settled down in my fancy 3AC berth. The journey I was on was costing me about 6000 Rupees; without sacrificing much comfort, I could have done it for a  sixth of the price.
And I was to be made even more uncomfortable during the night.
Around 10 pm, some people entered the compartment, perched on a berth where a man was already sleeping and began talking loudly. They were paid meeting attendees, employed by political parties to turn up at meetings and demonstrations. They spoke of  criss-crossing the region, of sleeping in trains.
And soon I realised that they did not purchase tickets.
Now I understand travelling ticketless when desparate. I understand needing to get home, and not having the means  to do so.
I do not understand these men. They were 'too good' to travel in the general compartment. But they could enter an AC compartment and occupy someone elses berth. They were too poor to buy  tickets. But  they were comfortable abusing the TC and laughing at him. They would not drink the water from the station, but they figured out where water bottles are stored on the train and stole some. Not that they would call it stealing of course. They were entitled to do all this, they were convinced.
And near my destination, a child was dead.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Nothing makes a garden happier than the sound of hardworking bees. And that is why Mian and I have wanted a hive for a  long, long time. And just this spring, when I was out travelling, I got a phonecall from G.
"Some people turned up at our house with bees. What should I tell them?"
"Don't let them leave!" I yelped. "Whatever you have to do, just get those bees into our hive."
And he did.

Busy bees
Kumauni beehives are very different from the wooden boxes you see elsewhere. Those are too cold for the bees in winter, and the mountain sense of hospitality necessitates that they live in the house with you. The beehive here is  a small alcove constructed  into the exterior wall. From the outside, it has a small hole for access. The 'back' of the hive, the part that is in the house, has a wooden board that can be removed to access the honey.
The 'front' of the hive,which the bees use.

The 'back' of the hive,opening into our bedroom

For me, the honey is secondary. I get a tremendous amount of pleasure hearing the loud busy buzz over my salvia, my buckwheat, my flowering parsley. Garden planning is now centred around extending the flowering season for the bees.

'Don't worry about them', says Ratanda, bee whisperer and guardian of mountain lore. "They go all the way upto the forests in the Himalayas." In fact, he told me, the Queen refuses to eat till one of  the  drones feed her a bit of ice from the high peaks.

He came by a few days ago to inspect the bees before the winter, purely out of regard for them. We had long discussions about what to do if the hive was  overflowing. As it turns out, we were a little optimistic.

The inside of the bee cabin, with a very modest hive.
"Nobody works these days" Ratanda muttered. Not sure if  he meant the bees or me.
Ratan (in the cap) and G- two hardworking people

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


I have been up at five every morning at home for the last six months or so.
The reason? We have a rooster.
His job is to till the garden and take care of his hens. The hens' job is  to lay eggs and till the garden.

Atleast, that's what Mian  and I thought till we realised their entertainment value. Having never had chickens before, I had no idea they have  so much personality.
The rooster for example. I have never seen him eat a grub he finds. Instead, he will call one of the hens (usually his favourite- the dark one- I am afraid) and give it to her. When a dog attacked, he fought it till the  hens got away. He's a good guy.
The hens are affectionate, in a chickeny way. They all (rooster included) come when I call. If they see me with something in my hand, they race over in a chicken waddle. They are supposed to live in a chicken tractor, but  post monsoon I've been letting them forage. There's so much lush  growth all over, it must be chicken heaven.
But no, they will come to where I am. Usually, this means the porch. Which means I either have to continually shoo them away or put up with chicken poop. They steal food from Madhu Bhaloo's porch. When she is sitting there.
But bless her, she's risen to the chicken guarding. When they give the alarm cluck, she's there before I am. She shoos her friends away from the coop. She's got a job, my Madhu.

The questions you might have:
Eggs? Yes indeed! two a day of the orangiest, yummiest eggs you ever saw. And yes, there  IS a difference between fresh farm eggs and battery eggs.
Meat? that was the original plan. And we intend to stick to it. Mian and I have been meat-eaters all our lives. It seems dishonest to say 'not these'.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Five years

And this little gang of cousins is all grown up now.  Well, almost.
Not too old to not be seduced by the magic of Harry Potter and his friends.
Here they are, 5 years after I last saw them.
Exploring castles together.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Beach date

"It was such an unexpected and lovely day; I just had to make the most of  it" said D."So we got into the car and went down to the beach together."
This attitude, of 'making the most' of  an available day and taking your love out for a date is a wonderful trait in anyone. But perhaps a little more so in D's case.
D's love is the lady I had written about earlier. The lady with the lovely smile and with the advanced dementia. D did not consider it a lovely day because of the  weather, but because she was awake and 'present'.
So he got her dressed, into her wheelchair, out of it and into the car, into the wheelchair again,and to an accessible boardwalk where the two of  them sat quietly looking at  the sea. After a couple of hours, he repeated the whole process in reverse.
When we met them a week later, he spoke with great happiness of the lovely day they had. We spoke  with her, "D told us you went to the beach. Did you have a good time?" Her face lit up. She nodded once, twice. Reached for his hand and stroked it.
These two have so much to teach me.