Apr 5, 2019

Spring/Summer Projects

Gosh, isn't it baking hot in God's Own Country these days! In accordance with the government's guidelines, we seldom venture outside between 11 am and 3 pm. Even at 9:30, our yard becomes unbelievably hot and we retire into the cool interior of Karthi, not coming out till it's well past 4:30. But some people in our yard seem to find this weather all very fine. Don't believe me? Then what do you make of this?

Just look at those lilies trying to compete with the fiery ball in the sky!

And what about this jasmine? Bringing the star-studded sky down to earth seems to be its ambition!!!

And the frangipani that needs a trimming is just reaching into the sky with all its blossoms. Our garden is nothing if not ambitious!!!

As for the denizens of Karthi, at first the biennial festival at our local temple had us waiting for sundown to join the festivities. It culminated in the Pakalppooram and this time I was lucky enough to get a ringside seat for the shinkari melam...

The dancing and the drumming had me itching to join them, I can tell ya! 

That over, we braved the heat and drove to Guruvayoor just before the holiday rush started and had a peacefully unrushed opportunity to say our prayers, especially for a good academic year for our elder son who has his 10th standard board exams the coming year. 

And what was happening with my balcony garden in the meanwhile? Did the climbers languish or shrivel while we were gone? See for yourself!

Not only are they happy, they have grown!!! And what is the secret? See those plastic bottles sticking out of the pots? That is what kept them going while we were gone for three days! I can tell you I was so happy to see them peeking above the balcony railings when we drove up!

This week the kids (aka conscripted labor) and I have been working on a new project. We're clearing swathes of our back yard jungle. This is the uncleared part...

and this is the cleared half...

The difference is more noticeable when seen together...

The aim is to relocate all the dead leaves (safely transported to the bases of our coconut trees to decompose there in peace, not burned!) and remove undesirable vegetation, leaving the kind of ground cover that I like to have in my backyard. Because don't make the mistake of thinking that all that brown stuff is dead. No sirree! In the first magical rains of the monsoon, all that area will erupt into lush green vegetation to tame which I will have to resort to my trusty grass cutter. My gardening team and I are taking it easy, working only half an hour each day to save ourselves from burnout and dehydration. 

One of the highlights of the week was my first proper homemade pizza. This week it was my fifth attempt to make pizza. I've tried baking them in my OTG and my microwave. Each time something or the other seemed to go awry. Almost always the base turned out uncooked and soggy in the middle and tough and overcooked at the edges. This time, I baked the base alone first for three minutes before taking it out and putting on the toppings - and they came out perfect!!! Okay, they were not picture perfect - but the flavor of the toppings and the baking of the base were spot on!!! It was definitely much, much better than the pizza we ordered in from a local cafe two weeks ago. And this brings me neatly to the news that our little corner of the world is finally in the Uber Eats service area. (And to avoid any temptation, I have NOT installed the app on my phone)!

So what are you up to these hols??? Are you prepping your garden before the monsoons? Or is it still too cold to work in the garden in your corner of the Big Blue Marble? Let me know!!!

Mar 16, 2019

Beginnings of a balcony garden

Our front yard, being a little spacious, is the favorite play area of our sons' friends. I love having them over and hearing their constant teasing and mild trash talk while they are playing. I love knowing that they are building their bodies and friendships and not sitting all hunched over cellphones or tabs and obsessing about some trashy online game. It especially soothes my heart to watch them scarf down the snacks that I occasionally make with healthy appetites and evident enjoyment despite the imperfections of my culinary products.

But, well, nothing is perfect in this world, huh? The price for the above is that I cannot grow anything in our front yard. Neither can I have any hanging ornaments on my porch. I had to keep seeing beautiful clay creations, so lovingly hung up, break apart piece by piece and finally get rid of them altogether. I have one row of plants along the wall separated by a diagonal brick border. The bricks  of the border are so broken and battered, they look like old people's teeth now. The plants, being sturdy varieties like hibiscus, ixora, and mussaenda stick around despite getting battered by footballs. But they are not happy, they are not happy at all. When I go to water them, they show me their mangled and stripped limbs, seeming to wail, "Why, why???"

But the worst fate was not reserved for the ornaments or the plants on the border. For years, I optimistically bought clay pots during the rainy season and planted beautiful flowering plants in them to grace the front of our porch, only to have them broken apart in the playing season. I switched to cement pots. If the clay pots were turned to powder, the cement pots simply broke into bigger bits. At least clay gets mixed up with the soil. But I couldn't have big bits of rubble littering our yard, could I? So I gave up trying to make our front yard pretty. 

When you can't go under or around an obstacle, try climbing over it. That is how I started looking up and thinking about a balcony garden and wondering how to go about it. Of course the queen of procrastination drew out the process by planning up a number of steps and a grandiose plan. And then kept it on the shelf to ripen and mature! 😁 But this month, having some time on my hands after quitting my job, I finally managed to garner the supplies and set it up!!!

My idea is to start a quartet of climbing plants first. For the frames, I bought 6-foot lengths and 2.5-foot lengths of PVC pipe and fixed them up as frames with PVC elbows. Then I tied them to the railing with rope. I fixed wire netting to the frames with cable ties. To prevent being overwhelmed, I did one frame a day till I had all of them up. Then I had my kids help me with acquiring some dried cow manure, some soil and brought up a block of cocopeat.

Mixed them all up on a crumbly old plastic mat right there on the balcony and filled the pots. Here are my plants.

Please don't expect me to know the names of these plants... I went to the nursery and asked for climbers with pretty flowers. The one above and another one with pretty yellow flowers(shown below) are what they gave me!!! I've lined the top of the pots with coconut husks to prevent the soil from being completely dried out by direct sunlight. As part of the mulching process for the dry season, I've swept all the dried leaves around the plants and trees in my yard and weighted them down with coconut husks. These will provide protection during the dry season and will help catch the rain and rot down into the soil later.

I've also planted two pots with passion fruit vines. The common variety of passion fruit available here is lemon yellow in color and so sour that even ladles of sugar can't make its juice sweet. But I got another variety from a cousin in Kottayam. The vines bear purple fruit and the pulp is so sweet that there is no need to add sugar. Even though I was the one to first grow the seedlings and gave some away to my father and neighbors, it was my father's vine that just took over a golden shower tree and has become so prolific that my father can reach up his hand and pluck a fruit from his front yard whenever he feels like it. What happened to mine? Yeah, well, it was in a huge cement pot right next to my front porch. Shall I stop here or show you the shards? It's so depressing!!! Another one has climbed up the jackfruit tree that you see behind the frames in the photo below. I think it's still trying to find a bit of sunlight to work with.

This photo is in the interest of fighting perfectionism on the internet. Just to show that my once pristine balcony is now messy as can be! No doubt it will get messier as I add more plants.

And finally, here are the guys who did all the dirty work. Let's give them a big hand!

Oh , yeah, they've had a good soaking to remove the loose dirt and have gone to the wash. Which reminds me... I have to go and water the new plants. See y'all later!!!

Mar 1, 2019

Two types of leadership

Nothing goes to waste. Everything is useful. This is the mantra that I am chanting to myself these days. Why? Because I have just been through a very bad experience and am still reeling from its bad effects. 

The experience has led me to examine the phenomenon of leadership in great detail. And from my personal observation I have come to the following conclusion: 

An Inspiring Leader

  1. This leader usually does not seek to gain leadership. It is most often given to them.
  2. They are usually people of great integrity even if they lack personal magnetism or many other seemingly "leadership"qualities.
  3. They seek to accentuate the positives in their followers.
  4. If they have a complaint about one of their followers, they call them aside and tell them about it.
  5. The inspiring leader doesn't show any overt familiarity or partiality to any of their followers.
  6. They listen to everyone in the group and come to the best decision possible.
  7. They strive to show that they value everyone in the group.
  8. They sing the team's praises in public, remonstrate in private.
  9. They lead by inspiring the best behavior in their followers.
  10. They gain trust and respect by exhibiting constancy in their decisions and are ready to admit it if they are wrong about anything.
  11. They accept responsibility for goof ups on behalf of the whole team.

A Toxic Leader

  1. A toxic leader often seeks leadership because it gives them a sense of power over their fellow men.
  2. They may appear confident outside, but they might have hidden self-esteem issues.
  3. They make it clear to the followers that the only way to survive on the team is by continually pleasing the leader.
  4. They either criticize team members in public or let their displeasure be known by gossiping to others and let the "erring" person come to know about it from indirect sources.
  5. They present pleasant faces to their seeming rivals while plotting their downfall.
  6. They keep criticizing their team so that the team members remain unsure of themselves at all times. 
  7. They sing their own praises at all times to show the team why they are the leader.
  8. They never hesitate to air the criticisms in public and never appreciate the positive things.
  9. They change their decisions and opinions according to their own whims and fancies and are never constant.
  10. They will plant the responsibility of their own goof ups on the first person who comes to mind and wash their hands of any culpability.
  11. They control their followers by taking hold of the lower personality traits of their followers such as fear, greed and guilt.

After a gap of fifteen years, I took up a part-time job where I got to watch both these leadership methods in detail. In spite of giving all the positives I am capable of, I found myself run down, unable to sleep, getting frequent fevers and having my hormones go haywire. So I quit. It's been a month since I quit and I haven't been able to shake the feeling of failure and inadequacy. Was I a wimp to have given up? Why couldn't I just ignore the jibes and stayed on? Why? Why? Why?

Today I decided that enough is enough. This experience too has its uses. It's given me the subject for a blog post after a long time. Now it's up to me to go past the bitter aftereffects and get back to my wonderful life. 

So on to my next projects!!! See y'all next week!

Jan 9, 2019

Happy New Year, dearies!!!

Yep, that's what it says, nine days after the fact! That is what happens when you go gallivanting off at the end of the year and return with a nasty two-week virus that cripples but doesn't incapacitate. This results in a sojourn in a germy twilight with umpteen symptoms and just a semblance of life. 

Not any more! Today I finally took down the Christmas lights, filed away the bills and papers of 2018 and dusted the cobwebs out of my flu-ridden brain. Cleared out my desk, copied what I needed for this year into my new BuJo and diary and put the old ones away in the archives. Now I am truly done and dusted with 2018. A tardy friend said in wishing me a week after the New Year, "I wasn't caught up in the wrong timeline. Just tardy as usual." I have the privilege of blaming the virus for my tardiness!

So what has 2018 done for me? In the second half of the year, it threw me back into work and that too, teaching!!! So now I am no longer the woman of leisure (which a homemaker never is) I used to be. Getting back into work mode after a fifteen-year gap has thrown a spanner in my works in a major fashion. Besides, my work place is a new institution which is in a state of flux, with barely enough staff and therefore requires a lot of adjustment and commitment more than a part-time job requires. In addition to teaching, the lecturers have to share clerical work. This has disrupted all my routines and now I am still struggling a bit to get my life back into a semblance of normalcy. 

I have had to suspend a lot of activities that I love doing. There are days when I dread getting out of bed because it is a working day (a common malady among the working people I believe), but on the whole it has been an enriching experience so far (in all matters except financial - still to receive salary!) in that it has brought more people into my life, new colleagues, students and a motivation to put back some care into my appearance now that I have to meet people on a daily basis! 

The greatest thing that going to work has done is that it has forced me to take a good look at all my activities and pushed me to cull out all the inessential things that I kept doing on a daily basis. For instance, I have stopped wanting to try new craft techniques and buying supplies for them. Instead I am concentrating on a couple of projects at a time and planning to finish the supplies that I already have. I have become more jealous of protecting my craft time too. Now I schedule time each day so that I can work on my projects on a daily basis.

The thing that is still disturbing me the most is the Sabarimala issue and all the hoopla and violence surrounding it. This year, I am taking a break from it and going to concentrate on domestic life so that our home will be a peaceful haven from all the madness going on outside. My cousin who was literally at death's door has survived and made an almost full recovery. That is one big thing that I am grateful for this year.

Our year-end journey to Chennai fulfilled a wish that I have been nurturing in the past year. On our trip to Hampi,  I had learned that the Balagopal icon in the Krishna temple on Matanga hill now resides in the Chennai Government Museum. So off I went pulling my family to the museum on our first day in Chennai. But the Chennail Museum is a vast network of treasure caves with no maps. Docents I spoke to had no idea where the icon could be. I decided to try the bronze section. We saw a lot of Shaivite bronzes that were absolutely breathtaking. But the Vaishnaivite bronze display was closed for maintenance. That was where the idol was likely to be. Choking down the disappointment, I went to see the displays in the main building.

In the first hall, I looked at examples of stone idols dating back to the Pallava era and going forward. I had completed four such alcoves when the next one took my breath away - it was the alcove for idols from the Vijayanagara period and there was the Balagopala I had been searching for!!!! He was mutilated, with parts of his arms having been chopped off in the attack, but the sweet expression of the baby Krishna is intact. The description says that King Krishna Deva Raya had carried off the icon from a temple in Udayagiri fort in Andhra. I don't blame him in the least, because that sweet expression could have beguiled any one.

That was the highlight of the Chennai trip for me. Well, there was a little interval at a silk sari shop in Kanchipuram...ahem! As well as another at the biggest Higginbothams store... well. 😊

For those who asked, Akrami is alive and well. He has made a full recovery and there are no lesions to be seen. We suspect he has got a new girlfriend since he makes only sporadic appearances clamoring for food. We are looking forward to having him curled up on our front mat in the mornings.

That's all from Karthi this new year! Hope you all had a wonderful beginning to 2019!

Spring/Summer Projects

Gosh, isn't it baking hot in God's Own Country these days! In accordance with the government's guidelines, we seldom venture o...