Lessons From A Plant

“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds”, is a well known quote by poet Dinos Christianopoulos. One of my lemon sprouts split at the seed today, making the most of a sunny day and reaching for the light. I had initially thought of sharing a photo blog for today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt, but decided to elaborate on the lessons we learn from plants. The lemon seeds were planted two weeks ago. They sprouted last week, and I was thrilled to see this eager little one getting acquainted with its surroundings this morning. Nature teaches us so much! While we navigate through this maze of life, all nature does is reach for the light. Plants don’t set limits for themselves; them breaking through soil and aiming for the sky teaches us to shatter obstacles in our way and make the most of what we have, where we are. My older saplings always turn towards the sun, causing me to keep turning the pot to prevent the stalks from bending. A lesson in optimism for us, always looking at the bright side of things. Plants move at their own pace, are happy with themselves, and are adaptable. I planted several seeds two weeks ago; some sprouted, some didn’t. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t, either experience should be valued and learned from. The seeds sprouted at different times, one seed cracked open in the morning, and another in the evening, revealing two tiny leaves within. Patience is truly a virtue. It is monsoon season here and we do not always have sunshine, but they have made the most of their environment. Whether rain, wind, fluctuating temperatures, light or shade, they are acutely aware of their surroundings. Their very struggle for existence is their strength, they don’t require each other’s validation to exist and grow, and thrive in simplicity and in the power of silence. While we see the stalks and leaves – and flowers and fruits of older plants – the foundational roots are beyond our sight, and in the case of tubers, the food itself. People have roots the same way. We don’t know everyone’s life story, where they have come from, where they plan on going, what their current state of mind is. It bodes well not to be judgmental of others based on what the surface shows us without having dug deeper. At the same time, remember your worth as a person. The largest of trees starts off as a tiny seed. Value your achievements, applaud your victories, take pride in who you are without being dependent on the opinions of others.

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“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

The Transience of a Sand Castle, as of Life

“Like a sand castle, all is temporary. Build it, tend it, enjoy it. And when the time comes let it go.” ~Jack Kornfield

“Even castles made of sand, fall into the sea, eventually.” ~Jimi Hendrix

“When building sand castles on the beach, we can ignore the waves, but should watch the tide.” ~Edsger Dijkstra

I haven’t made a sand castle in years. But today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt reminded me of the past few months spent away from the beach – not having heard the sound of waves or felt the grains of sand beneath my feet. It also evoked memories of what a sand castle stands for – the epitome of transience. A lesson we learned as young children, that nothing lasts forever. You enjoy things while you have them, grateful for their presence in your life, but one needs to let go eventually. Hoarding objects or confining people, being materialistic or controlling, does not get us anywhere. How ever much one tries to save or preserve a sand castle, it is a futile endeavor. The waves will wash it away, or the wind blow it down, or people playing and running on the beach might trample upon it. You can’t take it home with you, because that defeats the purpose of it belonging on the beach. So you create, and marvel at your handiwork, and watch it all go away, only with the hope of returning to do it again another day. Let us learn from the virtues of the sand castle – be grateful, appreciative, and acknowledge the things and people in our lives, do our best for them, and in the eventuality of things not working out, humbling letting go and learning from the experience, accepting the reality of things we cannot change, with the strength to grow and be better people. In these trying times let us look at the transitory impermanence of the sand castle for hope and inspiration that this, too, shall wash away some day, and we can return to create anew.

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Source: A sand castle at St Helier, Jersey from Creative Commons
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Sand Safari – Australian Sand Sculpting Championship at Surfers Paradise, Queensland
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Hawaii Sand Festival, Hanalei USA
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Sun & Sea Festival at Imperial Beach, California USA

International Tiger Day – Book Recommendation

A book recommendation on the occasion of International Tiger Day, which focuses on tiger conservation and protection of their natural habitats.

“Living with Tigers” by Valmik Thapar is about the author’s journey with the elusive big cats from his first trip to Ranthambore at age twenty-three, to his continued association with them over the next forty years. While being a memoir of the writer – a renowned Indian naturalist – the book can also be considered as mini biographies of some of the tigers who had a profound effect on him, each one named and with a dedicated chapter. One of those books where both the writer and the subject keep you hooked, every page on these magnificent animals is worth reading, offering a breathtaking foray into one of the largest wildlife reserves in India known for its Bengal tigers. For wildlife enthusiasts, conservationists, those with an interest in nature and jungle lore, Valmik Thapar’s documentaries and books come highly recommended.

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Magical Weekend

Everyone could use a little magic now and then. Admittedly, these are not very magical times, but we need to make the most of what we have, where we are. Some magic poured in today in the form of sun rays, with the sun deciding to peek in after days of rains, bringing some much required light and brightness in its wake. My rescue cat Jax dropped by for story time. We are soaking up the adventures of Geralt (of Rivia) and Roach (his horse) with the first book of the Witcher series, ironically titled “The Last Wish” – an English translation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Polish original. I finished watching the series last week and am having a go at the books now. The kindle has been a life saver with the absence of paperbacks due to the lockdown. A day filled with djinns, elves, wizards, sorceresses, spells and elixirs – a magical weekend indeed.

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Nature, the Teacher

Some time ago, I had written about an ongoing lockdown gardening project. Having to spend all this excess time indoors, I have been trying to spruce up the space. My mango and chilli seeds had sprouted a while ago, and here are my three-week old chilli saplings. While the seeds were sprouted in cotton, I transplanted them into soil after a week – a new home in a hand painted pot for my plant babies.

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Sprouting Towards the Light

My tryst with gardening.

The lockdown has brought upon an unprecedented amount of time spent indoors. Whether work, studies or hobbies, there has been a need to turn indoors for most of what we do. Some time ago I had planted a few seeds with the intention of having something to take care of, and at the same time learn a  little about planting and gardening. I started off with coriander seeds, which was a failed attempt with one batch rotting and the other being attacked by fungus. It is monsoon season here and I suppose the timing isn’t right for seeds to sprout. Fortunately, the mango and chilli seeds did sprout, which encouraged me to plant tomato and lemon seeds as well a few days ago.

Here are my plant babies at one week, finding their way up into the light and world.

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Mango seed planted and potted directly into soil.
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Chilli seeds sprouted in cotton and then transplanted into a pot after a week.

International Mallakhamb Day – Building Connections Through Sport

Today is International Mallakhamb Day. Originating from the Indian subcontinent, the traditional sport involves a gymnast performing aerial postures on a stationary or hanging vertical pole or rope. The pole used in the sport is also referred to as “mallakhamb“. It is made from Indian rosewood, polished with castor oil. Mallakhamb is derived from two words – malla meaning wrestler, and khamb meaning pole. Literally translating to “wrestling pole”, it is a reference to a traditional training implement used by wrestlers.

In 1936, a troupe of thirty-five acrobats from a small town in Central India traveled to the Berlin Olympic Games to demonstrate this ancient sport at a formal gala convened by the International Olympic Committee, with athletics officials and media from around the world. The team’s intricate feats of contortion, strength, and gymnastics atop a narrow, 8½-foot pole led the Führer to bestow each acrobat with an honorary Olympic medal before the group returned to India.

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Stationary pole performance

Mallakhamb finds a mention as early as 1135 AD in the Sanskrit classic Manasollasa written by Someshvara III. Rajput paintings dating back to 1610 AD show athletes performing acrobatics on poles. As a fantastical merging of history and myth, Hanuman is said to have appeared to the famed physical trainer of the Marathi kingdom’s royal prime minister, Balambhatta Dada Deodhar, in the late 18th century, after he was challenged to a wrestling match. The trainer watches Hanuman climb a tree and learns to mimic the monkey-God’s strength and agility. In the early 1900s, Rani Laxmibai learned mallakhamb with Nana Saheb and Tatya Tope. The Mallakhamb Federation of India developed mallakhamb as a competitive sport in January 1981, and the first national championships were held on the 28th and 29th of that month. Prior to this, mallakhamb made its appearance at gymnastic championships in India. On 9th April, 2013 the state of Madhya Pradesh in India declared mallakhamb as the state sport, and many other states followed suit.

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The hanging pole

Currently, three versions of the sport exist:

~Pole – a vertical pole made from teak wood or rose wood is fixed into the ground and smeared with castor oil, on which participants perform various acrobatics and calisthenics.

~Hanging – the wooden pole is shorter and suspended with hooks or chains.

~Rope – a suspended cotton rope on which the participant performs, ensuring the rope does not knot in any way.

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Samarth Vyayam Mandir – the home of mallakhamb

The heart of mallakhamb is at Shivaji Park in Mumbai, where the legendary Uday Deshpande has been practising and promoting the sport at Samarth Vyayam Mandir for over forty years. In addition to the state of Maharashtra, Mallakhamb features prominently in Gujarat, Kerala, Odisha and Tamil Nadu. Deshpande has taken the art to the UK, Czech Republic, Italy and the USA, and has found the greatest acceptance in Germany. Several exchange programmes have also contributed in spreading this sport widely, from aerialists and acrobats around the world coming together to share knowledge, to those who knew zilch about the sport gearing up for lessons and starting from scratch. The first ever Mallakhamb International Championship was held in Mumbai last year, featuring participants from fifteen countries, who were assessed on speed, grace and difficulty.

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A mallakhamb act in India’s Got Talent Season 7
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Uday Deshpande with the mallakhamb rule book
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The teacher with young practitioners
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Uday Deshpande with an international aerialist

The link below is from an international conference held virtually today, on the occasion of the 4th International Mallakhamb Day celebrations.

 

References:

~www.sportssavour.com

~www.hinduismnow.org

~www.homegrown.co.in

~www.roadsandkingdoms.com

~www.udaymallakhamb.blogspot.com

Snakes by A.K. Ramanujan

A.K. Ramanujan was a poet, translator, folklorist and philologist from Mysore, India. He wrote in both English and Kannada, his poetry known for its themes of modernist transnationalism, hybridity and transculturation. His writings contributed to a wide range of disciplines including linguistics and cultural studies. He earned his PhD from Indiana University and taught at the University of Chicago, where he developed the South Asian studies program.

Here’s one of his poems titled “Snakes”, which appeared in the July 1961 edition of Poetry magazine – a monthly devoted to verse in the English language.

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“No, it does not happen

when I walk through the woods.

But, walking in museums of quartz

or the aisles of bookstacks,

looking a their geometry

without curves

and the layers of transparency

that make them opaque,

dwelling on the yellower vein

in the yellow amber

or touching a book that has gold

on its spine,

I think of snakes.

 

The twirls of their hisses

rise like the tiny dust-cones on slow-noon roads

winding through the farmers’ feet.

Black lorgnettes are etched on their hoods,

ridiculous, alien, like some terrible aunt,

a crest among tiles and scales

that moult with the darkening half of every moon.

 

A basketful of ritual cobras

comes into the tame little house,

their brown-wheat glisten winged with ripples.

They lick the room with their bodies, curves

uncurling, writing a sibilant alphabet of panic

on my floor. Mother gives them milk

in saucers. She watches them suck

and bare the black-line design

etched on the brass of the saucer.

The snakeman wreathes their writhing

round his neck

for father’s smiling

money. But I scream.

 

Sister ties her braids

with a knot of tassel.

But the weave of her knee-long braid has scales,

their gleaming held by a score of clean new pins.

I look till I see her hair again.

 

My night full of ghosts from a sadness

in a play, my left foot listens to my right footfall,

a clockwork clicking in the silence

within my walking.

The clickshod heel suddenly strikes

and slushes on a snake: I see him turn,

the green white of his belly

measured by bluish nodes, a water-bleached lotus-stalk

plucked by a landsman hand. Yet panic rushes

my body to my feet, my spasms wring

and drain his fear and mine. I leave him sealed,

a flat-head whiteness on a stain.

Now

frogs can hop upon this sausage rope,

flies in the sun will mob the look in his eyes,

and I can walk through the woods.”

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Baking Diaries – Black Currant-Honey Sponge Cake

The pandemic has led us to inure in ways we might not have considered earlier. It was mum’s birthday on Monday. With the lockdown easing out around the world, people are still maintaining caution – venturing out only if absolutely required. Using the limited resources at our disposal, here’s what I made for her. A mishmash of available ingredients to create a Black Currant and Honey Sponge Cake, sprinkled with dark chocolate.

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I used a cup of whole wheat flour, two eggs, a quarter cup of olive oil (we’re out of butter), a quarter cup of honey (in place of sugar), 2 tablespoons of chopped black currants, baking soda, and a little milk to get the right consistency for the batter. The baking tray was “lined” with oil. Once done, honey was poured over the upturned cake, immediately grating a slab of dark chocolate over it (so that the chocolate melts and sticks to the surface before the honey soaks into the cake).