Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Market day

I love markets for their excitement and the lovely produce available. Tuesdays are market day in Sawantwadi when vendors and shoppers come from all the neighbouring villages. Mum and I visited this week; here are pictures.

The vendors on the main street were large sellers, who bought produce from several farms and created huge mountains of lusciousness on the road. In the photo from left to right: jackfruits, jackfruit in the foreground with Totapuri mangoes behind them, and pineapples.
Inside the market are the more interesting stalls. On the periphery are the permanent stalls run by farmers. Since the next day was a festival, the stalls were selling banyan twigs (a sad indicator of the decline in these majestic trees) in addition to the usual fruit and vegetables. Inside is where women come by with whatever they have harvested from home. Each has in front of her an array of items that speaks of the wonderful diversity of Konkan farms and of the hard working people. 

In the central image, the woman in the foreground (orange saree, green blouse) has one small sack each of polished and parboiled rice, three jackfruits, one bunch of bananas, one packet of kokam, a bag each of two different types of mangoes, and one of pulses. Others were also selling flowers, seeds, and saplings. And just so you know its not all homegrown, there’s a stall with the ubiquitous plastic. Reassuringly, it’s also selling brooms made of coconut fiber and leaves.
What did we buy? Assorted saplings and seeds, mangoes(Mankur: my favouritest in the world), breadfruit, tender groundnuts, Sonali bananas.  And a 10Rs bottle of nailpolish for me.

Monday, June 20, 2011

tree lore

Gardens are important here in the Konkan. The coast might not be productive in terms of adding to the Nation-state’s stores of food, but it provides its residents with plenty of varied and nutritious food for the body and flowers for the soul. The thrifty Konkani woman also loses no opportunity to earn a few extra rupees. The markets are full of garden produce- a small basket of flowers, a few seeds, a couple of pineapples ; the sales are not enough to justify a trip to the market, but a nice addition if one is going anyway.

And so, gardens are important. The monsoon rains bring with them an orgy of exchange of cuttings and a frenzy of planting. With this has grown a lore of garden plants. Seeing me work at planting a couple of headloads (Yes, I kid you not) of woody cuttings, a neighbour offered to help me dig.

‘Well, maybe the big hibiscus plants’ I told him gladly.

‘Oh, flowers? No, no..women should plant flowers. They desire flowers to adorn their hair with, and that desire makes them bloom faster’ he replied.

‘Grrnf’ I said, wielding the pick-axe again.

And the coconut tree is revered more than any other. Every atom of it is used, and traditional Konkan life would be impossible without it. When the priest delivered the tree, he also gave me a careful lesson in how to plant it. When Rajan came by to plant it (it requires a 1m deep hole, I did not volunteer), he added his advice. As the daughter of the house, I was required to actually do the planting with my hands. I noticed him silently pray to it as I did so, and realized afterwards that I had missed my cue to do the same.

For those who are interested, a coconut plant needs a hole that’s 1m by 1m and atleast the same deep- the deeper the better. On the downhill side of the planting hole, make a small horizontal tunnel sloping downwards; the roots rot quickly and drainage is essential. Place plenty of sea sand at the bottom; if not sure of where the sand is from, add a couple of handfuls of sea salt. Rotting leaves and fish heads are good too, but we didn’t have any of the latter. Cover with another layer of sand, place plant in, ensure it is vertical. Bed gently with soil till the coconut is covered, but no further. As the plant grows, the hole is filled in. This ensures a good length of root-bearing stem and consequently, a stable tree. In the photo, the hole is filled up, but that’s because we were planting out of season. In the monsoon, the hole would be filled with water and the plant would rot. Instead, we will be banking earth around the plant as it grows.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The 20’s Parisian salon

That’s what my sis and I joke that mum has created in her ‘quiet retired home’. In addition to our old friends, she has amassed a long list of people who live in the neighbourhood and care for her. I was overwhelmed on the day she had the formal opening of her house by the sheer number of people who came- especially by the number of gallant men she seems to have milling around.

Take last afternoon for an example. I had run out of dry clothes and was lounging at home in a shirt and not much else while my clothes attempted to dry in near-100% humidity. You’d think a secluded home belonging to someone who ‘does not like company’ would be private, wouldn’t you? Hah!

First came the local priest with a coconut plant he had grown from seed for her. Then came an autorickshaw driver with sweets his wife had cooked. An artist friend came to chat and presumably, to check if the painting he had given her was hung yet. A group of impossibly handsome keralite well-diggers came rushing over to tell her the well they were working on had struck water. A neighbour came to check if the leak she had complained about was still there. Seeing that it was, he repaired it.

Me? I huddled under a sheet and wondered when was the last time I needed to fend ‘em off with a stick.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Simple Life

That’s what my mum has decided to adopt here in Sawantwadi. And it is pretty much, the life of my dreams. It’s low-impact, calm and friendly. My mum wakes at 5 and sits watching the birds come to her garden and looking for any flowers that might have blossomed overnight.

A big part of this simplicity is her desire to be as self-reliant as possible. So we have a compost pit which will be just fine once the rain stops sloshing down, she’s growing some of her food, and she’s harvesting her water from the skies.

The Konkan in the monsoons is never short of water. So far, we have been managing just fine with a couple of buckets in rotation: one being used in the house, one under the downspout which gets filled every 5 minutes. This necessitates a lot of running in and out of the downpour with buckets, and is not something I want mum to do when she is alone.

And so the home-made rainwater harvesting system. Rajan (a chap who comes around every couple of days to do odd jobs in the garden) and I fixed a pipe to the downspout using willpower- it is too wet to use a solvent glue. This was steadied with a post. I then stole mum’s cleanest dish towel and used it to make a rough filter. We slipped a collapsible pipe over it, tied it on tight, let the other end into her water tank and then the real work began. This was the gentle nudging out of all kinks in the pipe so that it would carry water instead of storing it. An hour or so in the rain and now it seems to be working.

It definitely is not as pretty as a rainwater harvesting system can and should be. In some ways, I feel like I cheated it of its potential- wonderfully aesthetic and functional things can be done by playing with various downtakes. But it was done in a morning, my mum can dismantle it whenever she chooses, it filters and transports her water, and it was done for a total cost of Rs600 /- . Not too bad.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Travelling Light

One of the long running joke-arguments between my mum and me concerned the concept of traveling light. I prefer to travel with a small backpack- the same one I usually carry to work. In it are a couple of changes of clothes, a book, a pen and journal, and just enough toiletries to prevent me from being a bio-hazard. If I do carry any gifts, they are always small and foldable, and I take no souvenirs.

My mum, on the other hand, travels with the kitchen sink. I get distressed at the amount of stuff she considers it necessary to tote around, and explain to her- loudly and shrilly- that life is much easier with less stuff. 'you can buy everything everywhere. You don’t need to carry things from one end to the country, there are professionals who do it for you!' has been my constant refrain. What my sis and I find endearing and exasperating is mum's tendency to carry plants everywhere. When we go to pick her up, its always easy to see what seat Amma is in- it's the one with branches jutting out of the window. We have told her that it is an unnecessary cause of stress and discomfort. 'Look at me, I travel so well' was my unspoken message.

Until now.

I am visiting my mum this month, and I traveled here with far too much. All my gifts were bulky and perishable. And to top it all off, I was carrying a tree. I was also carrying lilies, but they were discreetly tucked away in my suitcase. The tree, on the other hand, needed to be planted in my berth, from where it benevolently spread its branches over the rest of the passengers.

I discovered three things during this trip. First, I am turning into my mum. Second, traveling light IS better. Most important, I discovered that a tree possibly trumps a dog as a conversation magnet. Just so you know.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The lush life

There's a reason I've been away from the net for so long. It's not you, it's me. I am currently in Sawantwadi, spending a month here with my mum as she moves into the new house she's built. A whole month at home- wow, and bless my boss.

It's gloriously lovely, of course. I had almost forgotten how lush and fertile the Konkan is in the monsoons. Life springs up everywhere. We have two resident frogs, with two very different personalities. One is staid and well mannered and prefers to spend all his time meditating in a corner. The other is a tree frog with clearly poor navigational skills who spends all his time leaping from bedpost to wall and agitating my mum by threatening to crash into the table fan each time.

I spent a night sitting on the stoop of the house my mum has rented watching fireflies flit about in the forest next to it. It has been so long since I've done something so simple and so magical. I have seen fireflies a time or two since my adulthood, but not in their hundreds. Here, they filled my world.

It has been exactly seventeen years since I last did 'real' gardening –in the earth and not on concrete. I am enjoying scrabbling about in the soil like the pig I would quite like to be. We have planted jasmine, mogra, roses, hibiscus, cashew, jambhul, breadfruit, pepper, turmeric, and a dozen other unidentified pretties. I've been putting my soil conservation skills to some use, and exercising muscles that had totally forgotten they have a purpose. My nails are dirty, cuticles torn, arms bitten, back sunburnt. I am clearly, enjoying myself.

This comes with a price. As I type this into a document file, I have no way of knowing I'll be able to post it. I got me a internet connection, the 15-minute connection took me 5 days. On the sixth day, I learnt that our house and the rented one are both blind spots when it comes to this network. And despite my image of myself as a low-tech person, I am dependent on the internet. My blog, my work and most of all, my communication with friends and the Mian are all at a standstill..i am clearly not enjoying this bit.

Stinkin' rich and poverty stricken at the same time.