Soon after writing a post on a vertical garden in Berlin, I was rushing through Mumbai airport to catch a flight. Imagine my surprise when I passed the garden you see in the featured photo. Had I really never noticed it before? I take a flight out of gate 42 or nearby at least once a month. Maybe it was the act of writing about vertical gardens which primed me to notice this. I took the photo and examined it on the flight. I think all the plants which you see there have been in our balcony garden one time or the other.
After landing on the other side I googled for more gardens in Mumbai. There are companies which specialize in creating such gardens. Amazon sells the components of vertical gardens. There is one company which claims to have a contract to maintain all “green walls” in the airport, implying that there are other vertical gardens which I’ve not noticed! Garden spotting is a game I can play now if I am in the airport and have some time on my hands.
During the long taxi ride after this, I recalled a long twenty-foot high wall covered with creepers in the garden of my grandmother’s brother; Green Wall Tech 1.0. I messaged an aunt asking whether she remembered this. She did. Any photos? No. I’ll have to ask my extended family. Maybe someone will have a photo of the first green wall I remember.
When should a new year start? It’s just a conventional date. But all of us have our own delightful customs built around that date. The Bohras of India have a wonderful way of celebrating the last evening of the year; it’s called the “birthday of the plate”. This Gujarati speaking Shia community traditionally has communal meals seated around the big plate you see in the photos here.
On its birthday the plate is loaded with food: half of the dishes are savoury and half are sweet. The dinner starts with salt, and then alternates between sweet and savory, ending with a biriyani. Apart from this the order is open. If someone has a special favourite, he or she can ask for it, and it becomes the next thing to be eaten. The nicest of plates I’ve eaten at had 51 dishes. A tiny taste of each is enough to fill you.
When you play the slideshow, you’ll see a gap between the end of the loading phase and the first shot of the eating phase. I’m afraid that’s the part where I forgot about the camera because I was too involved in the eating.
The day after Diwali is a good time to take stock. Did you really have so many sweets over the previous week that you now have to go on a diet? When do you tell the kids that there are some left-over firecrackers? Will anyone mind if you left the fairy lights up till Christmas?
I thought this is also a good time to spare a thought for the numerous moths which died by plunging into candles and diyas. Moths breed immediately after the end of the monsoon, and seem to undergo a huge culling on Diwali. I’m afraid the two in the featured photo are now mere memories.
Tomorrow is Diwali, and today will be the last day of shopping. In most years I would have refused to venture anywhere near a market in the week before that. But, as a street vendor told me on Sunday, “The market has no colour yet.” I finished my photo walk on Sunday afternoon, when the crowds were thin, and my shots were not continuously spoiled by people jogging your elbow. I walked from the shops selling Diwali lights, to the ones which sell flowers (plastic flowers!), past vendors selling bubble guns and coloured boxes, toys and sweets and even a street-side barber.
Choosing Diwali lights
Taking a break
This boy made my day with this photo
Driving a hard bargain
Diwali’s rainbow bubbles
Shaving… keep your distance
Nawab on a ladder
Sales are thin
It’s a hard choice
Candid shot, not candied for Diwali
Too busy to sell
Lights of the festival
Now looking at the photos I see that I concentrated on the universal language of trade: customers trying to choose between options, trying to strike a bargain, or looking at merchandise which is beyond their price bracket, vendors who look desperate to sell, some who are doing good business, and a boy selling plush toys who wanted to have his photo taken. I made his day when I took his photo, and he made my day.
Happy Diwali to everyone.
Yesterday I heard the call of the hornbill again. In the last few years a pair has nested in one of the tall trees in the garden. The nesting season is before March, and the birds are gone by April. The featured photo was taken in early March this year. Mid-October seemed a little too early for these birds to nest.
I was discussing this with The Family when she floored me with a bit of nature lore. Apparently hornbills prey on small birds, and have been spotted raiding the chicks of rose-ringed parakeets. Our garden is full of flocks of these raucous bright green pests. The parakeets nest from September to December. So this is a time when the first chicks have hatched. Maybe these Hornbills were here early to hunt. If so, we should thank them for keeping the population of the parakeet pests in check.
For a few evenings there was a beautiful yellow light which would bathe the world around us after sunset. As the red glow on the clouds faded, moments before it turned dark, the world would become a magical yellow. If you mentioned this to someone on the streets of Mumbai, they would smile and agree. The featured photo was taken quite a while after sunset; you can see that the camera, while trying to compensate for the light, makes a blur of the birds.
This is not a light we see every year. After the monsoon the skies are generally clear of dust. If there is the normal pollution of the city, it just creates a haze and reddens the sunset. This colour came with a clear view of the horizon. It wasn’t even as humid as it could have been. It was a mystery until people started mentioning a raging fire on Butcher Island, off the coast. The fuel that is stored for ships on this outer island had caught fire and it took days to bring the blaze under control.
Light effects at sunrise and sunset depend so much on what the air contains. Moisture, dust and smoke are all things that produced beautiful sunsets. What was this due to?
After the monsoon ends the weather turns unbearably hot again; that’s what an Indian summer is. In the sweltering heat of October it is a minor disaster if you forget to water plants. The rose bush has been putting out flowers through the monsoon, because the rains keep it from drying up. Today I saw that two days of not watering it has begun to affect it.
Many plants are beginning to bud. I look at the methi (fenugreek) shrub. Every stalk is budding new leaves. The hairy surfaces of the leaves catch every piece of lint which floats by. You have to carefully wash the leaves before you use them in the kitchen.
But really this is the time of the year for insects. The hibiscus bush is beginning to push out flower buds. As soon as one opens, ants swarm over it. Soon they will bring their aphid cows up the stalks. The vegetation below the spectacular flower will be thick with aphids, as ants run up and down their farm milking them.
Moths have pupated too. I saw this lovely October visitor on the wall today, sitting out in full sight. The lore about bright and visible butterflies and moths is that they are poisonous. Many birds would see this yellow on the wings of the moth more brightly than we do, so it is definitely signaling that it is inedible.
Well back on the wall I found a few green lacewings. They are nocturnal and have probably come here to eat the aphids from the ant farms. Lacewings are not poisonous: birds and bats will happily eat them. That’s the reason this one was sitting far back on the wall, under an overhang. In another month all these showy insects will be gone. That’s when migratory birds begin to arrive.
One of the biggest festivals of India is the Durga Puja. One part of the festivities is a dance to the goddess performed with live coals in earthen pots. There was a time when only men were allowed to perform this. The times are changing. At least in one place in Mumbai this year the only dancers were women.
The Indian Ocean monsoon is a massive planetary scale circulatory system which we are just beginning to understand. Much more easy to see are the things that happen at our scale. In the last decade or slightly more, there have been longer dry spells between heavier showers. Thirty centimeters of rain or more in a few hours is no longer rare. There’s an emergency of this kind every couple of years in Mumbai.
If you face the open sea on the west of Mumbai you will see very often a storm coming in. You can take a photo, and then look at the satellite map to marvel at the scale of the storm cloud. Sometimes it covers hundred of kilometers. The new views that a phone can add enhance the sense of wonder that one feels about the monsoon. You are not alone. Across the country a million others are seeing this storm coming.
When the storm passes and the sun comes out, there are pools of water which evaporate slowly. Above the clouds it is astronomical summer: the northern hemisphere is tilted towards the sun. The humidity and heat can be hard. You long for the rain to cool you down.
In the poem Meghdoot, an epic about love in the time of the monsoon, written one and a half thousand years ago, Kalidasa described the monsoon rain on these mountains as “painted streaks on a elephant’s hide”. Watching the clouds roll in over the hills, you understand that he wasn’t talking about water streaks, but the green that suddenly sprouts between rocks.
Low clouds roll relentlessly over the Sahyadris. When it invades a dance floor, it becomes a light which hangs over everything and at the same time hides everything. The dance floor is all music and light and warm moisture. I peer at The Family; we are walking on a cloud. What message does it bring?
Sometimes, you think the monsoon is bleak. Roads are washed away. Dark clouds rob the world of colour. But it is warm rain that beats down on you. The hills are alive, really, and growing. When the sun comes out you see the electric green that will fade between the end of monsoon and the beginning of winter. That will be the season of festivals all over India.
This is a season of festivals in India. It started with Ganapati a couple of weeks back. Now the festival of Durga just got over. In one form or another Durga’s is a pan-Indian festival. A few more smaller festivals, and the season will end with Diwali. The Bengali version of Durga puja is a grand party. Like all grand events, it requires many hands to make sure it goes off satisfactorily. Drums and drummers are an important part of the ceremonies. The featured photo shows a couple of drummers waiting for their cue.
Food is a large part of a festival. Crowds which come to see the puja and the associated amateur singing and plays stay on to eat. The crew in the photo above are making the rolls and wraps which are an important part of the meal.
Cheap little toys have been associated with these festivals for as long as I can remember. I used to beg uncles and aunts to buy me tops at such places when I was a pre-school child. I wonder if children still want these things. You see little families hawking them late into the night, so there must be buyers.
Fairground rides have become popular over the last decade or so. It must have become easier to hire out or assemble some of these rides. This one was waiting for customers even after midnight.
You see sleepy children drifting in the wake of their parents at these pujas till the early hours of the morning. This balloon seller hopes to snare the attention of a few who are awake enough to buy one.