Sunday, March 29, 2009

All's Well That Ends Dry Spell

The first drops of rain we got after a four-month long drought came with a lot of special effects. Strong winds started blowing at around eight in the evening. The verandah was like the set of a disaster-on-board movie. Anyone who wanted to stand straight in there had to cling to a pillar. No standing around however, it was all hands on deck as chairs, tables and flowerpots had to be got out of the wind to safety. There was some rain, which we sensed more by the sound it made on the roof than by sight. The drops disappeared into the dry earth as soon as they fell. My husband spoke to the Company Saab in Kolkata and held the receiver up so that he could hear the raindrops on the roof.

It was over in a few minutes. We went to bed, and after a couple of hours I woke up to a racket. It sounded as if an elephant had entered the labour lines. People were bursting crackers and shouting, and dogs were barking madly. My husband spoke to someone over the cell phone. About two hours later, there was a crash that sounded like the end of the world. There was a flash of green light - now I know what Harry Potter felt like - and then everything went dark. Mohan knows how courageous I am, and how calm I remain in a crisis. So he was already holding both my hands and telling me not to worry. There was a mild burning smell around us. Mohan went out with a torch to check for damages. There didn't seem to be any. Our lights didn't come back for twenty minutes, by which time it had started to rain. The relief of hearing falling rain and the lights coming back were enough to send us back to sleep.

The next morning, Mohan reported that there'd been very little rain. But he was all smiles. The drought was over. What other news, I asked. Plenty. The elephant had crashed its way through the fencing around at least four houses, eating all the bananas planted there. No one in the garden was upset. The elephant was lucky for us all, they said - it had brought rain! One Assistant reported that when the lightning struck, the main switchboard of his bungalow had caught fire. Luckily, he managed to put it out. In our bungalow, the burning smell had been coming from the plug-in adaptor to the cordless phone. It had burst when lightning struck. Oh yes, and the water pump had died in the night.

It was a cheery morning. The sun shone in a sky that was blue for the first time in months. The bungalow was alive with activity. An electrician was fitting a substitute water pump. The Malis - gardeners - were sweeping up leaves which were strewn all over the compound. A boy started washing carpets, something he'd been putting off because of the dust haze in the air. The only sad faces I saw were those of the hollyhocks in the garden - they were all laid down by the storm.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

And Pretty Maids All in A Row

My mother says hollyhocks are always Late Latifs. Well look at these, strutting their stuff now,when the rest of the garden is going into a decline. Hollyhocks bring memories of the garden of my childhood home in Delhi.
My sister Viji would walk me around the lawn, and she would would make a 'doll' for me using a flower and a bud. Can you imagine how thrilled a little girl would be to get a doll which looked like a princess with a flowing gown?

This is the first time we've managed to grow hollyhocks like these. It's a joy to share them here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dry Days and Fakkar Baba

I wait for my husband to come home from his evening kamjari and say those three little words that mean so much to both of us: 'Let it rain. Let it rain. Let it rain.' It is now 140 days since we had rain in the Dooars. The forests look like they could turn into Australian bushfires. The sky is a sickly dust haze. Days are hot and the nights turn unpleasantly pleasant, ruling out all chances of a cloud build up. 'Coming home looking like a thundercloud every day won’t help', I used to tell Mohan some weeks ago, but I don't have the heart to say it any now.

Garden people have this habit of consoling themselves with saying that the next Puja on the Indian calendar will bring rain. So everyone starts off with cheerful assertions about how it will rain on Saraswati Puja (January). The wise ones don't stay disappointed for long, and they start to say, 'It will rain on Shivratri for sure.' That comes in mid-February. Hmm. 'Fagua' is the next cry that goes up. 'Surely Fagua/Holi will bring rain.' That's mid-March. It just went past. What now?

Fakkar Baba of Oodlabari was well-known all over Dooars. He died of cancer some years ago. Baba was a devotee of Lord Shiva and was said to be a seer. He smoked hard all the time. Whatever he smoked early in the morning had him in a trance, and people said that was the best time to consult him. He was known to predict promotions and transfers of Chhota Saabs and Burra Saabs in the Dooars gardens with some accuracy. If he ever predicted who'd get the sack, they never told. Rain was his area of specialisation. The Baba had devotees who'd invite him to their gardens to conduct special 'Pujas' for rain.

(Also pulished on

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Just Dandy!

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We bought these lily bulbs when we visited Gangtok last March for the International Flower Show. Mohan planted them, and we had one flowering plant last summer. This one has bloomed earlier than we expected. No one's complaining.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Flowers From My Friend

Manashi's Garden

Antirrhinums: 'Madame Butterfly'

Nothing gives me a bigger kick than other people's gardens. When I look around my own, I see dead leaves somewhere, an unwatered plant somewhere else, weeds, or something to do. Other people's gardens offer a complete break from thought. You just look, enjoy, and absorb.

Manashi's garden was wonderful when it peaked in February with dahlias everywhere. That was more than a month ago. Now that the dahlias are gone, the 'late latifs' are having their day.

Phlox were late in all our bungalows. These pink beauties are like little rosebuds, aren't they?

Carnations brave the Dooars weather! I have never succeeded in growing them!

The drought in the Dooars is alarming now. Manashi told me that she'd heard some crackling sounds coming from the garden yesterday afternoon. When she went to the verandah to check, she saw one of the big bamboos at the edge of the compound had caught fire! (You can see the bamboos in the first picture).
Over 120 days - that is four months - without rain. The husband, poor man, found a forecast by the BBC which said it would rain tomorrow. It's brought him some comfort. The BBC, he tells me, actually records daily temperatures in Siliguri, a place that other major news channels ignore.

Manashi's Bungalow at the DBITA

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Breather in Kolkata

Victoria Memorial, Kolkata

The tea planter and his wife love a quick getaway to the heart of the city. One little whiff of urban life is good for our lungs. It refreshed us before I returned to my station on the verandah and the husband to prepare for the season, and to fight the drought.

...and Queen Victoria's Statue

City walks were good fun, but the pavements in Park Street finished off my 'stout walking sandals'. I sought comfort in Flury's coffee and confections.

Isnt it lovely here? Even the decor is all caramel, coffee and cream! Service comes with a smile. Went back again for breakfast (hash browns, rolls, muffins, and coffee). Mmm.

The window display reflects Park Street. Well, they wouldnt let me photograph it from inside. I loved the old baking tins and moulds on display, and I wonder if the cocoa pods and beans are visible.
So that is my world this week, and do see other people's worlds here.

Monday, March 09, 2009

No One's Safe?

My husband Mohan was a little late back from office today. I heard the horn of his Gypsy near the back gate - he seemed to be pressing it with some urgency. Then I heard raised voices. Oh no, I thought. Holi is still two days away, and someone's wandered into the bungalow compound, drunk out of his senses.

It wasn't an intruder, but someone had blocked Mohan's path into the bungalow. That's why he'd sounded the horn. He needed help, not for himself, but for the poor creature that was making its way across his path in some pain.

It was an injured snake, a 'dhamna' or rat snake. Mohan saw it in time, and stopped his vehicle while the snake crossed slowly to safety. When he took me back there to take a look at it, it lay still. As we began moving away, it started trying to move under cover somewhere. Someone had probably stepped on it, or thrown a stone at it. It's spine was broken, and we could see an open wound.

Mohan called for the Factory Assistant, Kingshuk Chakravorty. Kingshuk is gifted; he has a way with snakes. He picked up the dhamna, and it allowed itself to go limp in his hands. However, he said we couldn't save it. He left it in the tea area, where it could lie unseen until the end.

Kingshuk examines the snake

Monday, March 02, 2009

Sshh! Exams are Here!

When I was in school, there was something called 'Martyrs' Day' on January 30. That was the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's death. A siren would sound all over Delhi at 11 a.m., and we'd maintain two minutes silence.

I can't remember when that practice was given up. 'Martyrs' Day' came to mind recently for a reason that has nothing to do with Gandhiji. Our neighbourhood seems to be going through a period of self-imposed 'state mourning'.

In our North Bengal, 'Chakka Jam' (Freeze the Wheels!) is the cry that goes up everytime a political party calls a 'Bandh'(strike) and life grinds to a halt. At this time every year, it is 'EGG-JAM!' that puts an end to all movement. And no, it has nothing to do with avian flu. Do read on.

My husband asked a young couple whom he met in a shop, 'How's life? Where are you, we don’t see you at all these days!' To which both husband and wife pulled long faces, looking almost like cartoon characters in their mock dismay.

The husband answered, 'My daughter's exam is there.' He sounded so tragic, as if something terrible had happened to him. The daughter is a student of Class One. When my husband laughed out loud, he was told, 'You don’t know there is so much competition, it is very tough, very tough.' 'Syllabus is too much' wailed the wife, and went on, 'If we don’t sit with her, she won't study. And if she doesn't study, where will she go tomorrow? There is so much competition in every area! We have to think of her future also.' My husband said 'Goodnight' as soon as he could, and made his escape.

For the last three weeks, one has heard of nothing but exams! Jokes apart, something has to be done about what final exams do to children and their parents in our country.

1. I cannot understand why parents are called to school to take home their children's progress report cards two or three times a year. Invariably, there is a session where the teacher presses for improvement in several areas, and the parent goes away feeling that all spare time should now be directed to supervising the child's study hours.

Suggestion to schools: Call only parents of problematic cases to the school. Do not allow parents to compete over compared report cards, and do not expect every child to score 80s and 90s.

2. Parents, especially mothers, 'teach' their children at home after school, and 'make them do homework.' They end up making life at home a nightmarish extension of school for the poor children.

Suggestion: Schoolteachers should instil a sense of responsibility in a child. The child should know that she/he has to complete the day's homework and bring it in the following day. This can be done if -:
(a) learning exercises are completed in school - e.g., oral question and answer sessions to test understanding, after which (b) only one or two questions are assigned as written homework. In some instances, the oral tradition should be revived, and no written work assigned at all. (For example, learning multiplication tables).

3.Children who are 'forced' into supervised study sessions will never do their own work unless supervised, and will never learn to take the responsibility for any of their actions.

Suggestion : Parents, get a life! Find something else to do with your free time! Rebel against the 'mourning period' and go to a party.

4. Coming first in Class 2,3, 4 and 5 are not going to count in 'today's competitive world'. Do you want your child to burn out early, lose interest in studies and turn rebel?

Suggestion: Exams come every year. Childhood never comes back. So are you going to take your loved one's childhood away?