Lessons from the Coconut in My Garden!

A garden is a grand teacher ~ Gertrude Jekyll

cutting coconut on treeA coconutty breakfast this week – straight from my garden to my breakfast table.  I am lucky to have a garden, even if tiny, in this very polluted and congested city.  We are even luckier that there are many fruits in this garden – coconut, guava, mango, a wild banana, rose apple, papaya, and jackfruit, that actually bear fruit!

So  one morning I woke up to find a man climbing up the coconut tree outside my window at 6 am!  Occasionally, when the tree can’t hold on to its load of coconuts, the management of the building hires a man from the village, who shins up the tree like a monkey in two minutes and cuts down the coconuts.  We have to keep the ground clear because he just hurls them down.  Then all of us in the building get a few coconuts each.  This time they had 40 or so! I thought that was very productive for one tree, in a hostile urban climate!

coconut water breakfast IMG_1388I had a lovely breakfast: fresh coconut juice, chilled in a glass in the fridge (it has been 40°C and I like it that way), and the soft, white flesh, which is called shaans, usually of gelatinous consistency and very sweet, scooped out from the inside.  Botanically the coconut is actually the embryo of the plant; the white flesh is the equivalent of the placenta, and the water, well, it is the amniotic fluid! I taught biology, and I used to love to see the expressions on my students faces when I explained the same with things they all ate, like tomatoes, cucumber and other fruits 🙂

sans coconut

coconut flesh, soft gelatinous scooped out – yum!

Giving Thanks for Taking by Giving

An American friend today emailed me some of his favorite ‘Thanksgiving’ anecdotes.  And I in turn sent him one of mine.  And then I thought maybe I should share it on my blog too — it might resonate with others as it has with me.  

This happened when I was living in Washington D.C.  This is one city, that during the holidays, Christmas, Thanksgiving etc. becomes a ghost town.  Everyone clears out.  I had neighbors, women who retired from the State Department, and had lived three-fourths of their lives in D.C., who would say “I’m going home for Thanksgiving,” and then leave for New York State, or Ohio or wherever it was that they were born and raised.

In the end there would only be a motley handful of us, foreigners from various countries, left behind (more…)

When Trees Could Walk Like People

How do we introduce our children to the world – the larger world outside the home and family?  How do we explain to them what this world is and what their connection to it is?  Probably it is through the stories we tell them via books and movies.   I haven’t seen or read any Harry Potters yet, but I’m guessing by their popularity, that they are defining the world for millions of kids.  And sometimes I wonder in what way?

When I was a child, one of my favorite authors was Ruskin Bond.  I would devour his books.   He lived in Dehradun, a small town in northern India, in the Himalayan foothills.  There are many writers who live in rural surroundings and their writings bring forth their love of nature.  But I think that Ruskin Bond’s writings struck a chord in me as a child, in that it revealed to me a joyous, nurturing—and very importantly—a personal connection that I as a child could seek and find with the larger natural world around me.

Recently, I re-read many of his books, a sort of nostalgic reading trip down a childhood memory lane.  And what I realized was that what Ruskin Bond did for me as a child with his writings was what his father did for him when he was a child!!  He had simply passed on to me the myths, stories and visions of the world that he had inherited from his father.  I think as loved as Harry Potter is, Ruskin Bond should probably be made compulsory reading for all school children in India!  I’m happy to say, he still lives and writes about the natural world he loves and invites his readers to share in it!

Here’s one of my favorite passages, an excerpt from his short story ‘My Father’s Trees in Dehra,’ [From the collection of stories, Dust on The Mountains]

 Most of fruit trees around the house were planted by Father. But he was not content with planting trees in the garden. On rainy days we would walk beyond the riverbed, armed with cuttings and sampling, and then we would amble through the jungle planting flowering shrubs between the sal and shisham trees. “But no one ever comes here,” I protested the first time. “Who is going to see them?” (more…)

My Memory of An Assassination

It is strange, how sometimes our memory of a public tragedy is sustained by a totally unconnected personal experience.  So it has been for me with Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination by a suicide bomber 20 years ago.

At the time I lived in Washington DC, and shared an apartment with a Taiwanese friend in the suave Foggy Bottom neighbourhood. Every morning at 7, I would sit at the breakfast table and watch people stream into the city to work in stiff grey and black suits, striding briskly, decisively, towards their destination. Each strider maintained an impervious bubble of personal space, taking care never to collide bubbles or intrude into another. And in-between the bubbles was the city’s uninhabited space: organised, methodical, clinically sterile….

Early morning on 21 May in 1991, my roommate, came rushing to my bed, newspaper in hand. “Look, an African woman has killed your prime minister!” Still disoriented, I scanned the front page trying to avoid the gory photo there. “He was not our current PM and she is not African…”  Read the whole article here in The Times of India


This is one of my early poems that was published under the pen name — Ilina Sen.   “Undressing” was first published in the U.K. journal of poetry Obsessed with PipeworkYou can read the whole poem here

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