Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Astronomer's delight.

They say there is a star, a Christmas star. It is filled with light. It brings a message of hope. It inspires those it touches to be more than they dream. It draws, like tide, the inner courage to do more than they dare.

I know it as a myth. There is no such star. We have searched galaxies, the scientists and I, and never found it. We have scoured books and histories and never caught an echo.

Still, Christmas is around the corner and it's time to sing.

So I went to a Christmas concert at a retirement home, to watch my friend lead a choir of eighty- and ninety-year-olds. I watched her coax them into performing solos, words and melodies painstakingly memorised, into giving it their all, and they did.

I know her voice well enough to be able to hear her sing along with them. Hers is a beautiful powerful voice that could fill a hall on its own strength, but not tonight. Tonight she sang gently and softly, just loud enough to guide and support them, as they put on the show.

I watched them sing. They sang about that star, the one that does not exist. The one that disobeys the laws of physics, and follows donkeys on desert nights.

I have the facts. I could have turned aside with a smirk, but I looked at my friend instead. I watched her touch, inspire and love them.

I looked at her face, and I found the Christmas star there.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Rosie is my relative?!

Attempted cannibalisation of a distant relative
Nothing to do with that delightful book by Gerald Durrell, I'm afraid. Just a bit of trivia -  but one that I found fascinating enough to write about. And yes, it's gardening trivia.

So:  plants need nutrients - and there are all sorts of plant foods available that you can sprinkle around the roots, dig into the soil, or dissolve and water with. Someone (in case you're here reading this, Sathish, it's you!) told me about the different minerals that, when added, can help growth in specific areas of a plant.

Nitrogen - good for foliage (leaves and stems)
Potassium - good for fruit and flower development
Phosphorus - good for roots

And then Sathish mentioned how plants and animals have things in common, and similarities between us in terms of various mineral deficiencies. So I did a quick Google, and have come to the following conclusions:

1. My skin, hair and nails are my foliage. They suffer if I have a nitrogen deficiency. My muscles too (presumably my stems), and my blood (my sap).

2. My ovaries are my fruits. Well, that one was obvious. Potassium helps with things like ovarian cysts. Also the heart - apparently particularly susceptible to potassium deficiency. But the song goes, "Life is a flower" and I've got poetic license, so I've decided my heart is my flower. 

3. My bones and my teeth are my roots. They need phosphorus to grow strong and stand firm. Not too sure why the teeth fall in this category, so I am going to assume that something teethlike in plant roots chews up useful nutrients before sending them along.

Amazing. I love this evolutiony stuff.

Of course, I am no scientist, and yes, "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing". But sprinkle with some over-active imagination and water well, and it grows into something fun for me and my readers to enjoy (perhaps with a pinch of salt).


(That last paragraph, in case you hadn't realised, is probably the jolliest disclaimer I've ever written, and also a subliminal suggestion to go make yourself a margarita).

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Roses and farts.

I have made an interesting discovery. The most beautiful roses, the ones that look almost carved to perfection, the ones that seem to shout out, "Hey, look at me!" tend to have no scent.

It is the same with farts. The louder they are, the less lethal their odour. It's the silent ones that are deadliest.

Which makes me wonder ... do the most beautiful roses have the deadliest thorns?

An imperfectly carved, but perfectly scented rose in my mother's garden

Monday, 6 July 2015

Getting closer to my anthurium

When you have pots of brilliant anthurium, and a very nice camera on your phone, it follows that

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Roses, roses.

Roses are difficult to grow, they say. So it was only after a lot of googling that I finally got the courage to invest in a few rose plants last month:

Of course, they all look lovely to start with - one can't help but buy the plants with the prettiest blooms (and the most scented - which, oddly enough, is a hard quality to come by - a lot of roses these days look lovely but have no scent at all!) but the thought that's niggled my mind was what these beauties would look like after they'd been in in my hands for a few months!

All these blooms have now wilted, withered, been snipped off (at just the right point - which is just above the first five-leafed stem beneath a bloom) and made their way to the composter. I studied those shorn tips for quite a while, and quite nervously, but have finally been rewarded with two little buds appearing on two of the plants! I suppose only children and garden-lovers will understand that wild joy that comes with getting a stick in the earth to grow into something! I am both child and gardener, and am doubly joyful - or perhaps it's just pre-menopausal hormonal fluctuations that makes my heart flutter so!

I can't wait for them to blossom, and share my new home-grown blooms with you.

Friday, 26 June 2015

An unexpected delight!

Last evening I went to a handicrafts fair at Chitra Kala Parishat (the College of Fine Arts), and in addition to all the amazing stuff I saw (some of which I bought), I also got to experience this:

Folk singers from Rajasthan! I've always loved their music (well, not ALWAYS, just since the '90s), and together with the green and rocky setting of CKP, they made my evening magical. Just felt like sharing this with you, even though my videography leaves much to be desired.

There are two better videos but I couldn't upload them here, so have put them on YouTube instead. You can see them here:

The nicest video (also the most problematic to upload!)

The second-nicest video

They're singing Mast Qalandar, a well known Sufi song. It's usually sung in Qawwali style, and I think it became more popular after Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sang it. Here's another version that starts in quite a different style by another singer, Abida Parveen. Her intro is more Hindustani classical, with all the vocal improv upon a particular scale/raga.

I don't know much about it, and can only understand a few of the lyrics, but the song itself is about the Prophet Muhammad's nephew Hazrat Ali.

I like the way it sounds.

Canine genitalia? Buy one, get one free!

When I was a schoolgirl, I called them "dog's dick flowers". Anthurium were not as common as they are today, nor did we have all the different varieties and hybrids I saw in the nursery last week, just good old pink and white (yes, dog's-dick-pink). I guess I must be grown up after all, because their flowers don't seem as phallic as they did thirty-odd years ago. No embarrassed giggles, just a big beaming grin when I brought home all this:

Five beautiful colours - purple, white, baby pink, light orange and scarlet. (The one in the middle that looks different is a type of bromeliad - I'll have more to say about it, but not today. I'll also have more to say about the terracotta pots in the corner, which constitute my composter).

Apart from the bromeliad, my shopping strategy was "buy one, get one free", and so I chose plants that had already started to divide. From six pots of anthurium, I ended up with nineteen individual plants! And two pots of parsley aralia (at the bottom of the picture) have given me umpteen cuttings that I have already tucked in to bed and hope to raise more than enough aralia to make some pretty borders in the garden downstairs.

But back to the anthurium - nicknamed the flamingo flower - which apparently is native to Colombia. It likes humid conditions and good drainage, but not direct sunlight, which makes it a good indoor potted plant, as well as a pretty addition to shady areas in the garden. I stirred up a nice batch of potting mix with coco peat, soil, manure, home-made compost, perlite, charcoal and pot shards this evening, and have just finished potting my indoor anthurium. The charcoal, perlite and pot shards give the roots more air and space, and help keep the pot draining well, so the plants should like this. I even dampened some cotton wool and carefully wiped down the leaves to clean them. I'll only do that once in a while - too often would be too much. As with fertiliser - anthurium don't need any for at least a year after planting, if you use a good potting mix, they'll be fine on their own.

The ones for the garden will have to wait for the weekend, when I plan to plant some of them around one of our big old trees, and the rest to spruce up a rather pathetic and unloved long narrow plot round the back. But I'll need to enlist the help of Mr. Arasu and his good strong knees to get the plots dug and cleared and ready.

Meanwhile, the indoor anthuriums are all settled in, in some very pretty pots I picked up earlier this week - the white ones are all from my favourite haunt Krishnendra Nursery, and the other two I picked up from a roadside stall just outside the Catholic cemetery!

And here's what transformed my living room tonight:


Saturday, 20 June 2015

What is a gun?

What is a gun?
It's a medal for fear.
It says to the world,
"Don't come too near!
Don't give me your god, germs, or your DNA.
I don't want to feel threatened,
get out of my way."

The potential to hold one
against someone's head
is what keeps your bogeyman
safely under your bed.
If you'd only exorcise
your own fears instead,
perhaps there'd be less people dead.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Earth galore!

One of the reasons I haven't been blogging for a while, is my latest addiction:  gardening! After wasting a lot of time and energy looking for a new place to live, I decided to give the old place a second chance - and turned my attention to the common garden surrounding our flats. The building association does as little as it can, so the garden has been left to its own devices for the last few years, and the crazy cat lady whose home and clothes reek of eau de piss continues to live undisturbed (but that's another story)!

The garden was the more pleasant task to take upon myself, and so I have been digging, weeding, pruning, and repotting with much joy for the past two months, never mind the mosquito bites and undeserved attacks by the roses and bouganvilleas.

It's a medium-sized garden all the way around the building, so I've been tackling it a bit at a time. Here's some pictures from one corner that is more or less "done":

Before .. 
While it looked nice and green, most of that was weeds. There were some crocuses and lilies struggling in a corner, two resilient but not very nurtured dracaena (that's druh-SEE-na, on the left, with reddish leaves), and a lovely jasmine creeper my mom had donated a while back.

After clearing all the weeds (this is an on-going process, as I refused to use weed-killer, and obviously didn't get all the roots on the first round), and rescuing all the bulbs, I made little round plots for the bigger plants and invested in some ridiculously expensive fake plastic picket fencing and some delightful bright kalanchoe (kal-an-KO-hee). The crocus and lily bulbs were replanted in front of them.

 I found some lovely monstera (the big green leaves) growing neglected in a broken pot, and shifted them here.  The jasmine creeper started blooming madly within a week of all the attention!

The gentleman in the next picture is Mr. Arasu, my mom's gardener, without whom this garden would never have made it! We make a good team, and his knees are much better than mine, so he does all the digging and groundwork. He's ex-Lalbagh, and has years of experience (except with his pruning, which horrifies me), and gets very sad every time I ask him to uproot anything that clearly isn't a weed. Those are scented geranium (pelargonium) in his hands - they went upstairs to the terrace, to flank the benches there, where our senior citizens like to sit every evening.

The neighbours often asked what happened to the "lawn":  I guess green weeds look nicer than plain brown earth - but with Bangalore's water problems there's no way I'm putting a lawn - weed or grass - back in. So this is what I did instead, and we all love it:

I'm now keeping my eyes open for more discarded tiles, and also got my mind set on some lovely river pebbles I saw at a local nursery, so I can extend the pathway further down.

If you're wondering what's filling up the plot at the base of the jasmine, it's eucalyptus bark, which makes good mulch (unlike eucalyptus leaves, which have too much oil). We have two gorgeous eucalyptus trees growing outside our compound, so I get a regular supply dropped off daily: crunch it up and fill the plots with it - mulch that keeps the water in for longer, and also discourages insects and weeds.

But now the sun has peeped out - it's been a drizzly day - and I must take advantage of this to head back downstairs and do some potting!

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Saying good bye.

Don't you hate saying good bye to children?

Some of them go away
and some of them grow distant.

Some of them we leave (what fools we are)
and are left with a lifetime of remembrances.

Some of them die (only a few, thank goodness)
but the ones that don't, grow up.

To you that have the children,
I hope you know what you've got.

The future, changeable, in your hands,
something to treasure and tend.

Treasure, not topiary.
Do not prune, twist, or bend.