Black Magic

I can never forget mum meticulously grinding whole spices using a mortar and pestle and cooking Meen Kuzhambu (fish curry) in rustic looking manchattis (earthenware). Mum loved cooking fish in clay since it retained nutrition and made the dish flavoursome.

As a tribute to the good old days, one of the first things I did as a married woman and novice cook-in-charge of an entire kitchen for the first time, was to purchase a manchatti. I resolved to carry and pass on mum’s traditional ways. This was my favourite piece of cookware until I was introduced to Longpi.

I first read about Longpi in a blog post. What drew my eyes to the article were beautiful pictures of black earthenware with cane trimming. I was intrigued! I quickly dialled the numbers mentioned in the post and got in touch with Ms. Priscilla Presley. As luck would have it, she was in Bangalore at the time and had an exhibition-stall at the famed Chitrakala Parishath. The very next day, I met Priscilla, who enthusiastically introduced me to the history of Longpi stone pottery.

IMG_20190316_165954__01Traditionally called, “Loree Hamlei”, this pottery was historically used exclusively by the royal and noble families of Manipur. The original name is derived from the village of Longpi in Manipur where the Tangkhul Naga tribe specialise in creating this pottery.

The materials used are called weather rock and serpentinite found in abundance along the river banks of Longpi. The two rocks are crushed together and mixed in the ratio of 5:3, using very little water, and are then kneaded and shaped by artisans with bare hands and placed in moulds. This makes it one of the rarest forms of pottery as it does not use the potter’s wheel. Once it is dried and hardened, the mould is placed in a kiln and fired for about 5 to 7 hours till the temperature reaches 9000 C. It is then removed whilst still hot and rubbed with a local leaf known as Machee (Pasania Pachiphylla).

These vessels get better with age and can easily go from cookware to serveware due to their elegant and simple designs. They can also be popped into the oven and microwave provided they do not have the cane accents. Additionally, they can be easily cleaned using a mild soap solution.

Today as my cooking improves (slowly), I beam joyfully whenever guests ask me about the origin of the black beauties laid out before them.

To learn more about Longpi pottery you can contact Priscilla at 9902370318.

–Sudha

PS: Intrigued when I saw her collection of this pottery, I requested my friend Sudha to do a piece. Meena.

Sweet Potato Garden

First it was Green Tea.

Then Quinoa.

And now, the latest magical health food—the humble Sweet Potato.

All these years, I knew of only two ways to eat it. Boil, peel, cut, eat. Or roast, peel, cut, eat.

Now the net has tens of recipes. Outnumbered only by articles which list the benefits of eating sweet potatoes.

IMG_20190311_091629__01So were we excited when someone told us a super-simple way to  grow them! Just cut the bottom half off (cook the rest!). And put this bottom half into a container of water, partly submerged in it. Put the container in a place with good light (outside for a few hours is good). Don’t forget to change the water every 3 days. And you will see magic in a week! Small leaves in shades of green, red and purple, then more leaves. Growing lush and tall

 

Once you see enough leaves, plant this in the ground or in a pot.

And voila, you will have your own sweet potato farm!

Be green, have fun, eat healthy!

–Meena

PS: Apparently, bandicoots and rats love sweet potatoes. So I think the first part involving the container is the easy part. Who knows what will happen when we put them in the ground!?! But we will be optimistic.

PPS: A joint project of Anuradha, Sudha and Meena.

Institutional Campuses: Biodiversity Havens

Those who sanctioned academic, scientific and other national institutions in the days of yore, were generous in their land allocation. So you have such organizations sitting of tens, and sometimes even hundreds of acres of land.

Some institutions have built up on much of the land. But in others, the land is either landscaped, or left wild. Or a witting or unwitting mix of the two. Any which way, a boon in today’s rush for land development. Often, because these institutions are under-funded, they are not able to maintain lawns etc. and let the land go wild, which is also a good thing. These campuses are like havens, where both green cover and biodiversity thrive.

To take just one example, I go back to the campus of IIM Ahmedabad (see also my blog of last week, ‘Living in a Louis Kahn’).

I had commented in that piece that there was no landscaping to speak about on the campus. I was mistaken, as comes out from this personal communication from Prof. Marti Subramaniam, eminent academic, in a comment on the piece:

‘The high point of my contact with Kahn’s work was when I spied him with Kasturbhai Lalbhai, early one morning, walking right outside the house where we lived as students.  I quickly followed them to overhear their conversation which went roughly along the following lines:

Kasturbhai: What trees should we plant here, Louis?

Kahn: Of course, in one line they should all be of the same species.  Otherwise, how would they talk to each other?’

So in fact it seems, a lot of thought had gone into the landscape! My ignorance indeed!

IIM A campus is a mix—from the manicured lawn of the Louis Kahn Plaza, to the utter wilderness on the edges. And this mix, it seems, has given rise to a good deal of biodiversity. And the great thing is, that as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Institute, these have been captured and documented in coffee table book called Natural World at IIMA.

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A work of love and passion indeed! Close to 200 pages of colour plates, documenting the flora—trees, shrubs, climbers, sedges, grasses and herbs; as well as the fauna—birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, spiders, butterflies and moths.

One hears of pressures on several institutions to ‘not let the land go to waste, put it to use.’ Or worse, institutional lands being taken away for other uses, including commercial uses. We need to resist any such diversions. These are among the few remaining islands.

And documenting and disseminating these in the form of books, databases etc., helps to communicate the value of this diversity, and is the first step in making the campus itself an educational resource. And a matter of pride and joy for alumni.

Here is to large, unmaintained campuses, and books on them!

–Meena

Ant Man

The other day my grand-nephew, not quite nine months old and just starting to discover the world around him, was crawling towards a line of ants on the veranda. Immediately there was a chorus of calls from the vigilant adults around him. “Be careful, the ants will bite him”. “Be alert that he doesn’t put a few in his mouth!” “Mind the ants don’t get into his clothes.” The little boy was picked up and taken away many times, and just as many times he determinedly crawled right back to the tiny creatures that were neatly marching away on their own business.

The ants took me back to my early days as an environmental educator. One of the first publications of CEE was a simple 8-pager called Ant. I was fascinated at how much one could write about creatures that were either not noticed, or when noticed, decried as pests! Further down the line I ended up putting together an entire teaching-learning manual on Insects. Besides opening up a whole new world this also led me to EO Wilson whose writings became a great inspiration, not just for what he studied, but equally for how wonderfully he shared his thoughts.

Edward Osborne Wilson is not just the world’s foremost authority on the study of ants (a myrmecologist!) but one of the founding fathers of, and leading expert in, biodiversity. His autobiography titled Naturalist traces his evolution as a scientist. Young Wilson knew early that he wanted to be scientist. A childhood accident left him with weak eyesight and hearing, so instead of focussing on animals and birds he concentrated on studying the miniature creatures. Thus the dreamy child turned into the focused scientist. Naturalist also reveals how these steps from daydream to determined endeavour involved a mix of random encounter, enthusiasm and opportunism.

My little nephew’s first explorations reminded me of EO Wilson’s words. “Why do I tell you this little boy’s story of medusa rays, and sea monsters nearly sixty years after the fact? Because it illustrates, I think, how a naturalist is created. A child comes to the edge of deep water with a mind prepared for wonder. He is like a primitive adult of long ago, an acquisitive Homo arriving at the shore of Lake Malawi, say, or the Mozambique Channel….The child is ready to grasp this archetype, to explore and learn, but he has few words to describe his guiding emotions. Instead he is given a compelling image that will serve in later life as a talisman, transmitting a powerful energy that directs the growth of experience and knowledge. But the core image stays intact. When an adult he will find it curious, if he is at all reflective, that he has the urge to travel all day to fish or to watch sunsets on the ocean horizon.”

In the current age of over-protective parenting, and educational systems that feel that rote learning is the key to science, EO Wilson’s words hold truer than ever: “Hands-on experience at the critical time, not systematic knowledge is what counts in the making of a naturalist. Better to be an untutored savage for a while, not to know the names or anatomical detail. Better to spend long stretches of time just searching and dreaming.” 

–Mamata

 

Tiger! Tiger!

Gujarat is aIMG_20190221_103219.jpgll agog with the news that a Tiger has been spotted within its political boundaries. Papers are full of speculation about where it came from and where it went. In the meanwhile the state has quickly laid claim to be the only one in the country with three big cats—lion, leopard, and now tiger!

The news led me to relook at a book the Matriarchs had done for teachers over a decade ago. Called Tales of the Tiger it was an attempt to create awareness and excitement about the tiger through providing interesting information and activity ideas for students.

Compiling information for the book was in itself an exciting and educative safari. It was not just looking at this awe-inspiring cat from the zoological point of view, but seeing it as an integral part of the ecosystem, as well as the social and cultural environment.

Beyond the roar to the lore, as it were!  Sharing a few fascinating facts.

Tigers do not simply roar, growl and snarl. They have a wide variety of vocalisations such as chuffing, hissing, grunting, and mewling. A ‘chuff’ or ‘prusten’ is a friendly and non-threatening sound made when two tigers meet. The ‘pook’ sound is a sound similar to the alarm call of the sambar, a favourite prey animal of the tiger. It has been variously interpreted as a way of locating prey, a mating call, or to announce its presence to other tigers. A tigress uses moans to communicate with her cubs. Tigers also use body (especially tail) language to show aggression, affection and curiosity.

Beyond the jungles, tigers have long been a part of folklore and literature in every culture. The tiger is variously feared, respected, admired, and distrusted, depending on the context. According to stories from Indian mythology the tiger is believed to have powers to do everything from fighting demons to creating rain; keeping children safe from nightmares, and healing. Tribal beliefs, arts and crafts often place the tiger as a central symbol of worship. For example the people of the Warli tribe offer a part of their harvest every season to the worship of the tiger. The people of the Bhil tribe believe that they have descended from tigers. Songs, proverbs and sayings in most Indian languages feature the tiger.

In India the earliest visual representations of the tiger are found on the seals and terracotta figurines on the Indus Valley Civilisation. A seal found at Mohenjo Daro, believed to date back about 5000 years shows a man sitting in a tree angrily addressing a tiger waiting below for him.

Even as scientists have studied and tracked tigers in an effort to understand them better, tigers all over the world are threatened and endangered. In India Project Tiger, launched in 1973, has been an important milestone in the history of tiger conservation in India. 

While the new sighting of the tiger may possibly turn into a contest of “Mine, Mine!” it may be wise to remember and respect that this magnificent cat knows no political boundaries. May it always walk in majesty, wherever it may roam.

–Mamata

 

 

Living in a Louis Kahn

A tribute to the architect on his birthday (Louis Kahn: Born 20 Feb, 1901)

When did it really strike me that I was living somewhere very special? Well, when one of my architect colleagues introduced me to his sister—another architect—as follows:

‘Meet Meena. She lives in a Louis Kahn.’

Wow! That’s the nearest I ever got to being a brand person! No one is going to ever accuse me of ‘wearing a Satya Paul’ or ‘carrying a Prada’. But this felt good!

I lived on the campus of IIM Ahmedabad, as a faculty-spouse for over 15 years. On an everyday basis, living in the IIM houses was/is about: ‘Oh God! The wall is seeping again’. Or ‘Why are these rooms so cold?’ or ‘This red brick is completely impractical for Ahmadabad. Look how they pit’.  I suppose it needs an outsider’s perspective and a bit of distance to help us appreciate things we take for granted or actively crib about!

Living on the IIM-A campus is something special—it’s being part of history and a special vision. A vision forged by the founders of the institution, and given physical shape primarily by the architect (because, frankly, there is no landscaping to talk about!!).

Some things about the campus never cease to surprise, for instance: How is that there are so many students around, but it’s still such a quiet and serene place? How is it that the lives of the families living on campus and the lives of students almost never intersect? The only time you see students is if you go to the bank or decide to walk the path going between the dorms to reach the main gate. The only time you hear students is when they do a particularly loud ‘Tempo’ shout. Considering it’s not a very large campus, how does this work?

The arrangement of houses is again something special. There is such a respect for personal space. At an everyday level, that translates to ‘You simply don’t have to ever see your neighbours unless you want to!’ But at the same time, there is the comforting feeling that the community is there when you need them!

IIM houses, are to say the least, quirky! Anyone who has lived in different ‘regular’ houses (and believe me, we have!) would know that it is not possible to take it for granted that door and window curtains are transferrable from one house to another. Why do measurements differ from house to house? No one I know has an answer! And the door from the drawing room to the rest of the house! Some houses have wooden doors, some glass; the position is a bit different in each house. That ‘below the staircase’ storage space bang opposite that door and how to screen it visually has perplexed one and all!

And the completely non-uniform lawns! We’ve lived in a house with the most luxurious 3-sided lawn; one which had decent-sized lawns on both the back and front; and one which had a shamefully tiny odd-sized strip in the front, and a lovely one at the back!

Nature is very much a part of life on campus! Butterflies, dragonflies, birds nesting in the bushes, bats mucking up the verandahs! On and off, monkeys were an active presence in our lives—they would jump on the cars, topple over the scooters and kick over the dustbins. It was as if all these had been set up as a gym for them to use! And the famous campus crow, which has been much studied by Prof. Venkat Rao, and which took a malevolent pleasure in messing up his scooter. We always had lots of vultures. But what with the general decline of the species, they almost disappeared from the campus. Hopefully now, with the banning of the drug implicated in the decline, the campus too is seeing a revival.

I’ve written only about the physical aspects of the campus. But I believe that this actually governs to a large extent the other aspects, and is what makes the IIM campus what it is, and defines the community. Detached but supportive. Making one feel a part of something larger, a grand vision. Quirky and individualistic. And just a bit impractical!

–Meena

This is about the old campus only. I don’t relate to the new campus, having left the campus by the mid-naughts.

Pomelo in My Yard

I marvel when I see the pomelo tree in my yard. It is no higher than 6 feet, and doesn’t have very strong branches. More a bush than a tree, almost. But the number of fruits it bears at a time, and the size of those fruits! I spanned one of the fruits on my tree and the circumference was upwards of 18 inches! And a tree may have up to 20 fruits at any given time. I really wonder how the tree takes the weight!
fruit

Pomelo or Citrus maxima or Citrus grandis is the largest citrus fruit, and all other citrus fruits have apparently been hybridized from this. The pomelo tree shares ancestry with the grapefruit.

The origin of the name ‘pomelo’ is uncertain. My mother used to call it Bablimass, insisting that this was the Tamil name. Probably a corruption of pampa limāsu, which means “big citrus”

Coincidentally, there is a GI link to the pomelo. The Devanahalli pomelo is a variety of pomelo (Citrus maxima) grown in the region around Devanahalli taluk, Bangalore Rural District, India and locally known as chakkota.

The Devanahalli pomelo is protected under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act (GI Act) 1999 of the Government of India, under the title “Devanahalli Pomello”.

The Devanahalli pomelo has a unique, sweet taste, unlike other local varieties which have a bitter taste. Five decades ago, this plant was crossbred with local varieties, and it was nearing extinction. A few old Devanahalli pomelo plants were identified in the area and then propagated widely, thanks to which the variety has been preserved.

A story goes that Mahatma Gandhi tasted this fruit when he visited Nandi Hills near Devanahalli. He liked its taste and suggested that the authorities conserve this variety.

I wish the pomelo in my yard was a Devanahalli pomelo. But due to the special soil conditions at Devanahalli and its GI status, mine is not and cannot be!

So though I am not more than 20 kms away, sadly mine is a Rajanakunte pomelo, not a Devanahalli one!

I only ever tasted a fruit from my tree once, and did not particularly like the taste. Oh, if only I had a Devnahalli Pomelo tree!

So near, yet so far!

–Meena

Promoting GI, Protecting Diversity

Last week, I happened to go to Goa (regretfully, not a holiday!). The airport, as many airports across the country, is full of shops.

Apart from the usual brand shops and the special Goa memorabilia shops, I came across a fascinating outlet here. It was a ‘GIs of India’ shop!

Oh, I have jumped the gun! GI could stand for any number of things. I am referring to Geographical Indication, which is “an indication which identifies goods such as agricultural goods, natural goods or manufactured goods as originating, or manufactured in the territory of a country, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of such goods is essentially attributable to its geographical origin and in case where such goods are manufactured goods one of the activities of either the production or of processing or preparation of the goods concerned takes place in such territory, region or locality, as the case may be.”. GI is a type of intellectual property right, which certifies a product as having originated in a specific geographic location—for instance, that the Mysore silk you just bought is indeed produced in Mysore; or the Jaipur Blue Pottery is indeed from Jaipur.

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Madurai Sungudi is GI registered

India enacted the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act in 1999. The first GI product to be registered was Darjeeling Tea. Now there are 330 GI registered products—a fascinating range, from the usual suspects to the completely unexpected—from Kanpur Saddlery, to Beed Custard Apple; from Coimbatore Wet Grinder, to Varanasi Glass Beads!

The shop at the Goa Airport was very new, just being set up. But the staff were extremely enthusiastic and eager not just to sell their products, but also share information on the concept of GI shops. They said that a large chain of these was coming up across the country.

Indeed an exciting way to create a market for these amazing products, and preserve the diversity, both natural and cultural.

I’ll be on the lookout for these GI shops, for sure!

–Meena

CityScape SnapShots

Air–the poison we breathe Ads that sell Aspirations

Buildings Business Busyness 

Concrete jungles Crash Clatter Clash and Clamour

Dreams that draw millions from far and wide Dust and Depression

Emissions foul from Energy sources

Fast food Fast life Fast lanes at work and play

Garbage Garbage Garbage burying the Greenery

Heritage Habitats Hotels and Hovels

Islands of heat Islands of Isolation Islands of luxury amidst seas of slums

Job seekers Jump starters Jugaad makers

Kaleidoscope of colours, cuisines, communities and callings

Landfills Landladies Latchkey children Lifestyles

Malls and Multiplexes Mobile towers and Middle class aspirations

Noise Nightlife Non-functional essentials Nature in decline

Overload Overconsumption Overreaction…Over the top

Plastics Pavements that aren’t Parking battles where Parks used to be

Quality of life? Question mark indeed!

Roads with Roaring traffic Risks to Rare Ramblers

 Skeleton Scaffoldings Scavengers and Smog

Traffic jams Towers grow where Trees once stood

Ugly urban settlements Unplanned spaces Unruly crowds

Vendors Vandals  Vistas Vitiated

Windows that look out onto other Windows Water more precious than gold

Xerox shops at the corner X-ray shops   Xamination-prep shops   Xtremes of everything

Yuppies Yearnings Year-end discounts

Zero tolerance…road rage, warring neighbours, violence in speech and deed.

–Mamata