Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Post-modern India

Born in my time in India , I can easily imagine the lifestyles of one entire generation split into two totally and almost contrasting halves. This is a poem I jotted a few months back to remember the days.

Festivals would be grand in India; Uncles and
aunts flocked from all over in advance. The males
having had a long hot bath sat around in their new
vests and lungis discussing politics,
monsoon and elopements. While the
women busy in the kitchen preparing
the grand midday lunch, fondly
sliced their variably coloured vegetables- tomatoes,
onions, cucumbers, catching up with their dose of gossip.
We children roamed around draped
in our new crispy clothes and pride,
hollering and running about; generally
being kids until the late evening
feature film on the good old
One day it was tawaif.
Being the inclined in such matters, I asked the
elders gathered what would tawaif mean ? Many of them, It
is likely, did not know but they did enough to
hide it from a ten year old. Those who knew,
made disapproving nods, and broke on to
a monologue about immoral influences
of television on kids.
So naturally
I thought it was a bad filthy
word, bad enough to be safely stored for future use(if need be).
I guess it was next morning at the school, a girl
made me angry over something I cant
recall now -- so in my rage it came to me
to call her tawaif. Naturally again,
she presumed it was a bad filthy word
and covering her gaped mouth with her tiny hands, promptly
reported to the bespectacled teacher. Miss Daisy
although did not exactly catch what I had said, scolded me
for being bad filthy and told me to write
an imposition to the effect that I would not repeat it.
so I ended up apologising
for something I did not know.
It took a good few years
to realise that tawaif meant
a dancer dancing for others
pleasure. Oh!! just like Jennifer Lopez ,
I thought
switching on the MTV.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Holi and the Flame of the Forest....

"I think I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree
Poems are made by fools like me
But only God can make a tree" - American poet Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

(Kilmer was killed in the trench warfare of World War One)

Spring is in the air. The Semul or silk cotton tree (Salmalia malabarica or Bombax malabaricum) is on flower. And so is the mango. "Aam kay ped par mor aaye hain" I overheard a young girl tell her grandfather. The flower of the mango tree is known as mor (peacock) in Hindi. And the most beautiful of all trees is the Flame of the Forest or Dhak. It is also known as Palas, Bastard Teak, Parrot Tree, Porasum (Tamil) , Khakda (Gujarati).The battle of Plassey was fought near a forest full of these trees. And I have seen villages named Palasiya in Madhya Pradesh. I recommend a google search for all those of you who are do not live in areas where this tree grows naturally. I remember boiling the flowers and making colour for Holi when I was a child and my Dad was posted in Mhow.

A naturalist from Pune had once written an essay on this tree in Bittu Sahgal's Sanctuary magazine and he had claimed to have seen more than twenty species of birds on this tree in a short time span of 3 or 4 hours. I love the feel of the trifoliate leaves when they are green, it is like touching suede. I have often seen squirrels and parrots eating the seeds from the pods. I used to collect these pods, one had to get to them when they fell down before the squirrels did so. Even succeeded in making some of them sprout but they died and I felt heartbroken.

I remember taking some photographs of a clump of these trees from a moving train while travelling from Indore to Jabalpur almost ten years ago. I wish a serious effort is undertaken to make this tree more popular. Whenever I see the Flame of the forest on flower I remember these words of the poet Ezra Pound :"The difference between a gun and a tree is a difference of tempo. The tree explodes every spring."

On March 3 I went around town on a moped with a young man named Shyam who I borrowed from a photographer's studio and who was wielding a digital camera. We were taking pictures of a small stadium and on the way back we took a few pictures of a Flame of the Forest tree. I am including them in this post so that all of you can also enjoy this sight.

p.s. In the last picture you can see a male purple sunbird. A parakeet was also sitting on this tree but we disturbed it so it flew away. Maybe we will have better luck next time.