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.