Monday, July 16, 2012

Holding a Handful of Happiness.....

Memories of my summer vacations spent at my Mom’s native village are still vivid in my mind. Those days of sheer guilt-free existence would never come back and that’s what makes them precious memories. Our native place is near the Vembanad backwaters with the swaying palm trees and lush green mangrove wetlands.

My dad loved to drive us down to our native place, a comfortable 222 km drive in our good old Jeep. Dad and Mom used to sit in the front row, while my brother and I used to fight it out in the spacious back rows with pillows and a set of suitcases for ambush. As our vehicle winds through the Sree Krishna Swamy temple square with its towering Ficus tree, familiar faces lazing around under its boughs, greet us with waves and hails of welcome. Dad always reciprocates with a customary smile. This marks the entry into our village. Another mile and it’s time to turn from the asphalted road to the red-soil paved village path along the sacred grove into our ancestral house. Guarded by 7 ponds and numerous trees, the house with its red tiled sloping roof seemed like a ruby nestled in an emerald jewel box.
The adults tend to slip off into a siesta during the summer afternoons, giving us kids enough time to explore the ‘un-ending-gardenlands’. The garden had a lot of flowering shrubs too, tropical flowers in all hues and shapes one could imagine.
Among all the memories that I hold onto so fondly, a particular ‘seed’ of a tree holds a special place in my heart. The Manjadikuru a shiny, tiny red drop of a seed. I don’t remember when did I actually start collecting them.

As a child, I used to clutch my mom’s hand as we go for a morning walk along the cleared path to the sacred grove in the mornings. On the way she used to tell me stories about the plants and the butterflies and the fruits and the rocks...sometimes even the botanical names of plants. Maybe my innate interest in Landscape Architecture, my present profession probably was shaped during those lazy summer days. On the way was a not-so-beautiful tree with clusters of dry, brown pods. From those pods dripped these beautiful seeds which we collected and stored in a glass jar. The glass jar was always kept above the wooden cupboard lest my younger brother, who was too small, then would swallow them. 

Manjadikurus are the seeds of a leguminous tree Adenanthera pavonina (often called Red Sandalwood, even though red sandalwood is another tree, Pterocarpus santalinus). The generic name Adenanthera comes from the word ‘aden’ (a gland in Greek) and ‘anthera’ (anther), which is probably due to the presence  of small glands on the anthers of the flowers.

Guruvayoor temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna, the naughty boy God of the Hindu mythology. In front of the dark, cool, moist black stone paved sanctum sanctorum is a large brass urn filled with red ‘manjadikurus’. The children are encouraged to pick them up with both hands, cusp them and leave them back in the vessel. Nothing from the temple should be taken out of it except for the ‘prasadam’ (holy offerings) that the ‘pujaris’ (priests) give you. It was always a hard part to see and play with so many ‘manjadikurus’ in one vessel and eventually leave them all behind for more kids to come and try their hands. It is believed that the kids who indulge in this game would be blessed by the Lord and would help them be clever and naughty, like the Lord himself. Don’t know if that’s true but the scientific fraternity does support the fact that cusping these seeds and playing with them in childhood, does have a positive effect on the finer neuro motor co-ordination of the palm and fingers. A visit to the temple was always fun owing to the chance to play with these manjadis.

Bottles and bottles of Manjadikurus collected during the childhood days have gone missing ever since I left home for higher studies. Thirteen summers in Delhi and I almost forgot about those tiny shiny beads. But as they say, ‘it is all a matter of time’. Recently, on one of our visits home, Shalini and I spotted a Manjadi tree which bestowed us with a collection of Manjadikurus which we collected like small kids running all around the tree. Little did we realise that there was an old lady who sat in the nearby bench smiling at our excitement.

Those seeds are now securely stored on top of a shelf in Manipal, lest little Vedant might wanna try playing with them. Am sure, he’ll grow up to discover the tiny jar hidden away from him (for the fear that small children tend to swallow them) and definitely ask Shalini to give them to him so that he could play with them. Am sure, he too shall fall in love with those tiny red seeds, just the way we’ve all been through. The cycle will repeat itself. A whole new generation will play with them.

I don’t know if that Manjadi tree still exists at my native place, but if it does then I know where to look for our little one, once he grows up, during our summer trips to the village home. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Art in the Flights of Fantasy

Travelling has always been a passion for me.
As a child, I used to love clutching on to the handle bar of my Dad’s scooter looking around at the everyday life of Trivandrum, a verdant city in the southern tip of the Indian peninsula. As I grew up, the distances of my travels increased and Great Indian Railway trains became the mode of travel.  
Train journeys every vacation from Delhi to Kerala and back became an integral part of my life. These journeys which often lasted more than 54 hours were a test of patience, if not for my friends travelling on the same route or other fellow travellers who always made these journeys interesting and worth remembering.
As I metamorphosed into a professional from a college student, I almost stopped travelling by train, mainly owing to the fact that half of the holidays get spent in the train and I end up spending lesser time at my destination. That’s when Aeroplanes came to my rescue. The number of flights that I’ve been taking in the recent years can easily qualify me to all the frequent flyer memberships, but what use can collection of virtual numbers ‘reward’.

During our childhood days, whenever we used to take a flight, my brother and I would fight for the window seat. Eventually our parents found the magic solution for avoiding this combat- always ask for 2 window seats. Peace of mind while in the air was important to them too. Even now, I find myself rushing to the check in counters early with the hope that the attendant will ask me sheepishly “Would you like a window seat or an aisle, sir?” The answer to which goes unsaid.....

But many a times I find myself a victim of the ‘oh-so-tech-savvy-crowd’ who’d web check in or self check in into all the available window seats even before I could reach the counters at the crowded Delhi Airport. It is during those flights that I tend to get lost in thoughts, splashing through a kaleidoscope of memories. Sometimes I tend to document these intangible thoughts into sketches.
There is no better medium than a tissue napkin or a paper cup to doodle around aimlessly. The only tough part is parting it when the cabin attendents come over for cabin clearance. I guess it is the ephemeral nature of their existence that makes them so beautiful for me. So many of those impromptu sketches have disappeared, but of late I’ve started clicking them before I drop them into the waste bag.

Flying amongst the clouds gives me a rush of adrenalin. It fills my heart with a sense of joy and peace. No cellphones to ring. No calls to take. Completely detached from the worldly’s just me and my thoughts. Truly, taking a flight is therapeutic for me. It gives me time to think, to search for the loop holes in my life, ponder over dreams, visualise the moments I want to-the way I want to....Flights for me are times of Fantasy.