Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Touch – Me – Not!

Mimosa Pudica or Touch-me-not is a small weed that grows abundantly on our farm.  Tiny compound leaves with a small lavender coloured ball like flower, this plant droops down and closes its leaves on the slightest touch!  Even a drop of water falling on it elicits the same response. 



The last few weeks of the monsoon has our farm looking lush green – some places are difficult to walk through because of the tall grass and weeds. 

A peacock strolls through the greenery


  We systematically cut patches of it for the cows for their late evening snack, but the weeds seem to grow faster than we can cut them.  One of the main tasks during this time is picking the fallen arecanuts.  The people who harvest the arecanuts cannot climb the trees during this time as the tree trunks tend to get slippery.   So we have a lot of fallen arecanuts which if  not picked and put away to dry, would sprout or rot away.  By itself picking arecanuts is a pleasant task and not as strenuous as picking coconuts.  But the nuts being small, they are difficult to pick and we have to stick our hand into the grass and weeds to reach them.  

Can you spot the fallen arecanuts...can you see the Touch-me-nots?

This is when the touch-me-not plant makes its presence felt – for you see, the plant has sharp thorns all along the stems.  The locals call it ‘Naachi-Mullu-Gida’ which translates as ‘Shy Thorny plant’.  So I have a lot of people advising me to get rid of all the naachi-mullu-gida  because it is of no use and only a trouble while working.  But on the other hand I had heard from quite a few people that it has medicinal properties – although none could specifically tell me what it was useful for.  Anyway, we were soon to find out!

Late one evening, Vivek returned home from some visit that he had gone out for.  He had used his bike and while parking it near the compound wall, the bike slipped slightly on the gravelly mud and he placed his hand on the compound wall for support.  But the rains had loosened some of the top most stones, the stone gave way and his hand rested on the next layer of stones under the fallen one.  The next thing he felt was a sharp stinging pain on his hand!  He called out to me asking me to get a torch quickly.  I rushed out with the torch –“Something has bitten me badly – shine the light here just check what it could be” he said.  Fortunately, we could spot it – it was a scorpion – with its tail still furiously upright ready to deliver another sting if necessary.  It had been disturbed out of its resting place and was obviously furious!

Tail upright - ready  to sting - pic clicked on a different day of a scorpion that we caught in a plastic box to be released far into the forest


Now What?  From what we had heard or read about scorpion stings -we knew that it could be extremely painful, with the pain lasting for over 24 hours in some cases. My maids’ mother had been bitten a few months ago and her description of her mother writhing in pain the whole night was not a pleasant one.  None of them had known any antidote or medication for it and she had suffered the agony.

We went into the house and as a first level treatment, Vivek washed the sting under running water.  I racked my brains trying to remember if I had read or heard any remedy for this.  I did the most obvious thing that came to my mind- I googled it – nothing more than what we already knew; and the detailed description of the pain – Vivek was already experiencing it.  Surely there has to be some local remedy.  I opened up my folder of Medicinal plants and Herbs -gosh when did I collect so much information – a lot of which I had still not read! Some of the valuable books on traditional remedies were scanned copies and a search would not work on it.  

A wealth of information collected over the years !




I randomly opened some files :

Medicinal Herbs of India

Traditional remedies of Kani tribes of Kottoor reserve forest, Agasthyavanam

Documentation of folk knowledge on medicinal plants of Gulbarga district

Medicinal Plants of Karnataka…….

And some more.   I raced my eyes over the pages searching for Scorpion bites.  …..and then suddenly I noticed the pdf file on Mimosa Pudica – the touch me not plant .

Mimosa Pudica A High value medicinal plant as a source of Bioactives for Pharmaceuticals.  Read the heading.  The first few pages looked like they were straight out of an Organic Chemistry text book. 

Remembered Organic Chemistry lessons when I saw this page!


But just after that was a paragraph titled Folk Medicine Use:  And here I found the precious sentence – In folk medicine various parts of the plant are used as an antidote to Scorpion and snake bites!!! Yes this was something that we could try.  It was more than half an hour since the bite and Vivek was sitting quietly with his eyes closed.  No the pain is not too much he said. 

  I called out to Yogesh and asked him to quickly get some nachi mullu plants.  It was close to 9 pm, he took his torch and went into the farm.  During the day in the bright sunshine, you can see these plants everywhere, but  at night, in the darkness?  But he was back soon holding a bunch of plants yanked out of the soil.  I quickly washed the soil off the plants, chopped them roughly with a pair of scissors and put them into the mixer.  Then  I took a big lump of the paste and applied it on the sting.  I kept the rest of the paste aside to reapply after some time.

I went back to the kitchen – I had to give Yogesh his dinner.  The dogs and the cat also had to be fed.  Normally  I call out to Vivek to help with  keeping our cat Kippi’s  food bowl with kibble in her favoured place,  she is a fussy one – she decides her eating place and refuses to come to the window sill which is the place that is easiest and out of reach from the dogs.  Today she wanted her meal upstairs!   I set out our dinner, and sat reading some more of the research paper on Mimosa Pudica, thinking that Vivek could rest a little longer before we had our dinner. 

Within a few minutes, he walked in.  “It is quite amazing” he exclaimed. “The pain is actually reducing!”  Wow, this was good indeed. A really good helpful remedy that probably has been forgotten by the locals over the ages.  By next morning the pain had completely gone.

An amazing remedy indeed!




 

 

Sunday, 21 March 2021

Holle Crossing.........At Midnight!

 Holle - is the stream that gushes past our farm during the monsoon and cuts off our access to the road.



The holle on an ordinary day.  Young kids gather here to play.





Our buffaloes Madhubala and Madhuwanti love to have a dip too


This is an episode that happened quite some years back, but I penned it down only now. 

It was just over a  year since we had moved to the farm and survived our first monsoon here.  The rains always brought on new challenges and we had been learning to deal with it.  And we always heave a sigh of relief when the rains end and we start seeing sunny days again.  But the  rain Gods do want to have the last laugh…….and what a laugh that is.  A final storm with the fireworks and that too in the last week of October after more than a month of dry weather. And that one storm is enough to get the holle flowing again.





After a slightly heavy downpour, this is how it looks - still mild and sober.


And so it was, that year - almost 4 weeks of dry hot weather and we thought we were really done with the rains.  It was Navaratri, we had a visitor whom we had to drop off at the station for the evening train and we also had to attend a night Pooja in a nearby temple.   The day had been overcast and gloomy, and as we left home for the station, the rains started.  Slow drizzle at first and then a proper downpour.  By the time we reached the station, the storm was picking up momentum. And the train was delayed by more than an hour.  We saw off our guest and then went to the temple.  By the time the Pooja and dinner ended, it was 10 pm.  We left for home.  The storm had not abated.  The roads were flooded all through, visibility was so bad that we were forced to go at a very slow pace.  In those days the double carriage roads did not exist and the single road had suddenly seemed to have gotten even more potholed than before.  Add to that the glare of the oncoming truck headlights,  the half an hour journey stretched to more than an hour and half.  By the time we turned off the highway to enter Chitrapur it was 11.45 pm. ‘ We are going to be crossing the Holle at the stroke of midnight’  I quipped.  The last stretch of the mud road that leads to our farm was like a rivulet. The holle is going to be mightily flooded I thought. I expressed my concern to Vivek.  ‘Oh it can't be that bad’ he said. 

As our car drew up to the last stretch where we park it; the downpour seemed to grow stronger. When we switched off the headlights and the engine, the darkness suddenly seemed overpowering.  Our mobiles did not have the flashlight in those days, we had one torch and one umbrella between the two of us.   The sight of the holle in the faint torchlight and the roaring sound as the waters gushed past made me feel a wee bit uneasy I must say.

‘Do you think we should spend the night elsewhere………’ I asked. 

‘Oh come on…this is no time to wake any one up, and home is just there’ he pointed into the pitch darkness. 

‘That is indeed very reassuring’ I said. 

‘Are you scared’ he asked. 

‘Scared, and me?  Oh no!’ I retorted.  ‘Lets go’ 

And we did.

We walked into the swirling waters in pitch darkness.  Strange objects brushed past my legs sometimes clinging and encircling before letting go.  I convinced myself that they must just be branches and leaves of trees  and creepers that I have often seen being washed down into the holle during day time.    The faint beam of the torch barely lit up the waters.  We had been through this path so many times we knew it perfectly well, The side of the embankment where we start walking is a slope with hard rock and no slush at all.  And if we keep to the routine path, all along, the ground is hard and gravelly, so in a  way it is safe to walk.  We trudged on, the waters rising all the way to my waist, the rain battering down on my head, I had given up trying to get under the umberella that Vivek was holding out for me.  The normally 4 to 6 meter wide holle was now more than 25 meters wide – not much really but the darkness, the swirling gushing waters and the rain made it seem like much more.

And then………….

There was a blinding flash of lightening!

 The entire earth seemed to be illuminated in the most stunningly beautiful light.

 The moment froze in our minds eye and the next instant the darkness was even more intense.

 The whole universe seemed to stop in time and the reverie was broken by the deafening sound of thunder.  

We didn’t realise that both of us had stopped in our tracks when the earth lit up for that brief second. We shook ourselves and trudged on.  The opposite bank was now just a few steps away.  There was a tricky patch of slush which we always avoided during the daytime to step directly onto some raised stones.  But tonight in the darkness we both missed the right path and stepped right into the slush.  I suddenly felt a stillness around my right ankle as the swirling waters were now only above that – my right foot had sunk into the slush.  Where do I place my left foot – I didn’t want both feet sinking in!  In the dim light of the torch I realised that Vivek was also struggling the same way.  I could see the rock on which we normally step just an arms distance away.  I bent over and reached it for support. Then I felt around with my left foot until I got a firm foothold.  Then I twisted my foot a bit to either side until I could loosen the grip of the sludge.  I had worn floaters which are strapped quite firmly and I could extricate my foot along with my footwear.  Vivek wasn’t so lucky, he had worn slip-ons and he managed to extricate his foot but not his footwear.  And there was no way that we were going to search for it… We pulled ourselves up on the firm rock, we had finally crossed the Holle.  We turned around and looked at it from this side – the foaming white water fall, the sparkling  swirls all looked magical now that we were safely on this side. And home was just a stones throw away.  We walked the last 50  meters dripping  and Vivek limping along -  the soft mud on the path had got washed away and the exposed stones really hurt your feet when you are not used to it.

It was indeed a relief to reach home.  The Copper Bhaan (the ancient wood fired copper vessel for heating our bath water)  was full of hot water and it never felt so good.  Followed by a glass of hot creamy milk. The perfect ending to an exciting day.

 Farm life does have its benefits and luxuries!!!


A picture of the copper Bhaan clicked on the eve of Diwali when we worship our water source and water storage vessels - reminding us to be thankful for this precious gift of water.



Saturday, 6 March 2021

Making of a Hemmudi.

 A couple of years back, I had visited Lalita’s mothers home – Lalita is my help who works on the farm as well as helps me in the house work.  In the front yard of their home I had noticed a beautiful structure made of hay.




 Intrigued, I had asked about it and they had explained that it was made by her brother Nagraj to store their harvest of rice paddy in it.  It is a traditional form of storing paddy and very few people make it now a days.  It seemed to be dying art.  I was keen on seeing how it is made and I asked her to inform me the next time her brother would make it.  ‘Oh it is made only once a year’ she said. ‘Doesn’t matter, let me know next year’ I told her.  

But as luck would have it, in spite of her informing me, we were unable to go and 3 years passed before we got a chance to see it actually being made.

So this year when Lalita informed me  that her brother was planning to make the Hemmudi a few days later, we decided to keep that day free.  He was to start at 2 pm after lunch, so we planned accordingly and went to their home.

Their front yard was spruced up and made spotlessly clean and a fresh layer of cowdung had been smeared on it.  Cow dung is a natural anti-microbial and has insect repelling properties – so is it any wonder that the traditional method of  layering the front yard with cowdung instead of cement  is still so popular in the villages? 

A spot was chosen and Nagaraj’s mother drew a Rangoli design with quick strokes.  Then bunches of hay were laid out systematically with the cut ends in the centre and the other end fanning out to make a large circle.  Once the first circle was complete, a second concentric, slightly smaller one was made on top of it and then another until innermost circle completely covered the ground. 


 All along Lalita’s young kids aged 8 and 11 scurried around bringing  bunches of hay from the stack that was a little distance away.  Soon the enormous circle of hay was ready.  A large plastic sheet was placed  in the centre to prevent grains from slipping thru the hay and also to prevent any moisture from seeping in, in case of any unseasonal rain.  Then Nagaraj lifted a large basket into which some paddy had been poured from  one of the sacks of rice lined up against the wall of the house.  He said a prayer and then emptied the first lot of paddy onto the sheet. 



His college going nephew joined in along with a neighbour to help lift the sacks and bring them to Nagaraj. He would tip each one and  flatten the mound  carefully within the circle.  After a sizeable mound was created, then the sides had to be raised.  The hay was bent upwards and a thick rope was wound around the base of the Hemmudi.  




Now the whole thing looked like a large grass tub filled with paddy.  Now the next layer of the Hemmudi wall had to be built.  The kids pitched in carrying the hay to Nagaraj who carefully placed each bunch vertically supported on the outside by the ring of hay and on the inside by the paddy.




  The ring was completed, secured with ropes and then the piling in of the paddy resumed.  So layer by layer, the Hemmudi was constructed, finally holding close to 30 quintals of paddy. 



 As the last circle of hay was being placed, Lalita’s nephew expertly  prepared a metal ring with ropes hanging around the sides, that was to go on top of the Hemmudi to secure the top in place. 






The 2 kids ran around busily bringing the hay bunches and passing them to Nagaraj who was on the top of the Hemmudi which was now almost 9 feet in height.  He covered the top with a generous layer of hay, then a plastic sheet was placed on top, followed by the ring.  The ropes hanging from the ring were securely fastened down to the sides of the Hemmudi.




  In the meantime, the youngsters had fetched some clayey mud and were busy mixing it with water to make a thick paste.  This was piled around the base and plastered into place with their hands to make a perfect seal.  




The ladies busied themselves cleaning out the remnants of the fallen hay, folding the emptied sacks neatly and sprucing up the place  and bringing in bunches of mango leaves and flowers for the Pooja. 

**


The Hemmudi is now finally completed, decorated with flowers and leaves.  Nagaraj’s mother brings out a platter with an oil lamp, flowers. Coconut and agarbattis.  He performs a small Pooja of the Hemmudi and then it is time for them to relax.  A feast of Chicken curry and rice has been prepared by the mother and they all troop into the house for an early dinner.  They insist on us joining them too, but it is just 6.30 pm, a bit too early for us.  So they pack  some for us to take home.  We leave for home,  happy to have been able to see the making of the Hemmudi.

And Vivek had clicked a whole bunch of videos and compiled this, click to see the video.

 




 

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Have you ever hugged a tree?

 

Have you ever hugged a tree,

An ancient one,

Felt its heartbeat,

Through the wizened bark,

Heard the soft murmur

Of its leaves

Through the wizened bark

Heard tales of yore

Of a time when

It had scores of others

Around

Standing shoulder to shoulder,

Their leaves brushing one another

In the ancient rippling breeze,

And then it stood still

Watching the others

brought down

One by one,

Making way for something

Or the other

That man felt

Was more important

Than this gnarled old tree…..

Have you ever hugged a tree

And listened to its sorrow

Through the wizened bark?

Have you ever hugged a tree?












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