Monday, November 14, 2011

November Nostalgia

I visited Calicut  and spent three palm-fringed days on  my sister-in-law's porch, soaking up the sun, idly watching birds, insects and butterflies flit by in the mittham of the house. Of late the garden has been left to itself, but  Kerala is God's own country and ungendered God  likes green, so along the laterite brick walls and all around the courtyard green abounds. Little pilea( microphyllia) perennials  that I struggle to keep alive in New Delhi  grow confidently in every little crevice in the wall. The ornamental palm put in the ground is scripting its own narrative, while the peace lilies have gathered several followers around themselves.  Unnumbered little fish swim in the secluded kollam and on the  ancient  mango tree, tiger ants (actually they are called puli  locally, which could translate either  as "sour'"or "tiger". The ants  are brown in colour and nest in large trees, so tiger seemed rather appropriate...possibly these are weaver ants?) march in single file  to reach their nest, which incidentally is lots of leaves welded together . From a distance of ten feet the leaf cluster looks rather like a large green  mango, but  if you stand beneath it, you can see that it is made up of leaves and  ants swarm in and out of the ribbed leaf edges of their nest.
When not tracking ants, the eys is caught and held by the brilliant pagoda flower. I have seen this plant in manicured gardens in Goa. In  Calcut, it grows everywhere with abandon. Once a plant has reached a sufficient size and flowered, it stretches its roots and sends up feeder plants on either side. This is a farly efficient  propagation system and the plant grows easily , in fact anywhere there is a patch of soil, the pagoda sets up home.
 The flower of the pagoda is its crowning glory. It is a wonderful tomato red, and  grows in a formation of tiers. I think this plant  was the inspiration for the Kerala craftsman who made the tiered  deepa aradhana lamp which is used for arati by the priests in the temple.When this lamp is lit hundreds of little flames flicker and the golden orange glow replicates precisely what is embodied by the  pagoda plant in full bloom . Each flower has snaky light coloured filamants that look like individual tongues of fire.

 I wonder idly how Wordsworth would react to the pagoda flower.  The meanest flower that blew, led him on to thoughts that lay too deep for tears. The pagoda plant would have transported him to another realm and possibly more magnificent poetry. Yet, in the green plenty where it grows , with what nonchalance the pagoda has established itself. Just goes to show how tropical vegetation is a gift generously bestowed all the year round and something that is taken so much for granted.!

The pictures of  the pagoda plant with its extraordinary crown of flowers that I took  in Goa a couple of years ago.


  1. You should be employed by Travel and Living. Wouldn't you love it?! And they would too. :)

  2. great piece, sorry I was busy and read it now.