Observing the Nature

How often do we leisurely watch the nature around us? General answer will be not often. Do we sit out in the evening and watch the sun going down, its glow becoming golden, and shadows lengthening and blinking through the chinks in the trees? Do we watch the groups of birds flying towards their homes after spending their day in a far off place where the food is available to forage? Why, in the first place, they don’t make their resting places near the food. May be the supply is not available at one place throughout the year and their resting places are at optimum distance from the foraging places. Why do they always fly in the groups? Is not their pressure or competition for food? Is the father of Evolution theory listening?

After reeling under the sweltering heat for many days, if there is rain, it is like a fresh breath of life. The parched land is drenched with water pushing out the air filled with earth’s aromas into the atmosphere and filling our nostrils with ecstasy. The accompanying wind rushes into the branches which sway from side to side at the top such as in the mighty silver oak trees. One wonders how the topmost leaves are receiving their requirement of water and nutrients. In optimistic hope of supply from the soil, additionally they must be conserving the water by reducing their stomata counts, As they are in the top, they have the benefit of plenty of sunlight. I also wonder if the leaves at the top are in any sort of communication with those at the lower branches.

Rain patters on the tins of roofs. Water begins to flow over the soil surface seeking places which are at lower level to become pooled there. The dust on the leaves which was choking the plants breath is washed up and translucency returns. Sometimes after the rain, sun comes out and everything shines resplendently. The weather becomes bearable.

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Bread: Most Basic Necessity

One’s “Bread and Butter” means the major occupation which provides him the sustenance for life. “breaking bread” is a community custom which is sharing the food and sitting together. It is thus more than eating but a way to bring the members of a community closer to one another. The importance of bread cannot be overemphasized. Primitive man was a nomad and it was the wheat grass for which womenfolk are credited to have grown, which gave the man a reason to stay put at a place and bring the stability in the life which was almost akin to animals. It provided him with spare time in which to hone his skills and rise above the animals. When he discovered the fire, he learned to cook and roast and thus bread must have been discovered.

From Chinese baozi to Armenian lavash, bread comes in thousands of forms. But the basic ingredients are same world over: milled grains and water.

Imagine a continuum of breads, ranging from the thinnest flat breads to the fluffiest brioche. Some are amazingly simple: Matzoh, for example, is nothing more than flour and water, baked until crisp. Raised breads, on the other hand, involve the complex interactions between flour and the leaveners that give them their porous, tender quality.

Leaveners come in two main forms: baking powder or soda and yeast.

Baking powder or baking soda is used for faster results as it is based on the chemical reactions of the soda with acidic substances present or released during heating and resulted in the production of carbon dioxide necessary to inflate dough or batter. Baking powder and baking soda are used to leaven baked goods that have a delicate structure, ones that rise quickly as carbon dioxide is produced, such as quick breads like cornbread and biscuits.

Yeast, on the other hand, is a live, single-celled fungus. There are about 160 species of yeast, and many of them live all around us. It is stored in the optimum conditions and activated by availability of sugars present in the milled grains. They release carbon dioxide which makes the bread rise. The reactions are slow in comparison to the baking soda.

Leavening will make the bubbles for sure but some structure is required to contain these bubble and stop them from leaving. This is done by glutton which forms a three dimensional network and trap the produced carbon dioxide. Besides this there is plenty of starch present in the grains. This is attacked by enzymes which break it into the sugars, the food for the yeast to consume and release carbon dioxide and also help absorb the moisture. This is the chemistry behind making of the bread.

Chemistry behind the Color of cooked Beans

Cooked green beans can be a vivid green color, or they can turn gradually less colorful, sometimes becoming greyish or brownish.  Generally salt is added to the water before boiling vegetables. The reasons given for this include:

  • It makes them greener
  • It makes them firmer
  • It raises the boiling point of water to make them cook faster
  • It improves the flavor.

Chemists studied the truth behind these claims and found that first 3 of them are totally false. Adding salt slightly improves the flavor. The increase in the boiling point is insignificant to make any difference in the cooking time.

English: Cut Green Beans Español: Habichuelas ...

The color of the beans is dependent on the pH of the cooking water. The green color is due to chlorophyll present in the beans. If the water is acidic, the Magnesium ion bound to the chlorophyll is replaced by hydrogen ions and color is discharged. So depending upon the pH, their will be different degree of color changes.

If you cook the beans in hard water which contain bivalent ions calcium and magnesium, the pectin sugars present in the beans become firmly attached to each other and form a nice three dimensional network and give it a nice firm texture. Soft water on the other hand, dissolves the pectin quickly giving the cooked beans a mushy texture.

Tropical Fruits

Plants grow best in the soil and climate they have originally adopted. These days with lots of technology available, the optimum conditions can be created at places different from the original.

Ripe Banana

Areas around the Equator have tropical climate. The weather is warm and there is plenty of water due to rains. This weather is suitable for copious growth of plants.

Fruits such as pineapples, persimmons, papayas and bananas grow in such a climate. Bananas are number one crop of the world. They grow in more than one hundred countries on the farms called plantations. India is the largest producer. Philippines, China and Ecuador are the next 3 top producers. Bananas are the powerhouse of energy which is stored as sugars.

Kiwifruit called Kiwi has a very different story. It was originally found in China. In early 1900, Mary Isabel Fraser visited China and tasted the fruit. She brought home the seeds and with the help of a gardener succeeded in growing the first crop in 1910. Since then New Zealand produces 1/3 of all the crops of the world.

Kiwi Slices

 

Eri Silk of Assam, India

Assam and its adjoining stated in the North East of India are famous for silk. Silk was the royal attire of Tai Ahom Kings. These people came to Assam from a Chinese province through Patkai range of hills and enchanted by the beauty of the region, settled permanently and intermingled with the local people. They must have brought the silkworms with them from China.

Silk is woven in the homes. It is part of economy of the state. Of many varieties Muga: the golden silk and Eri or Ahimsa silk are most famous. Eri is produced by the silkworm called Philosamiaricini and is reared indoors on the leaves of Castor, Kesseru, Payam and Tapioca trees. The yarn from cocoons is spun. The word Eri is derived from Erranda which is Indian word for Castor.

It is produced only in Assam, the East Khasi hills and parts of Arunachal Pradesh. Bodo women weave Dokhana (draped skirt), Chaddar (upper cloth) and Jhumara in addition to plain shawls. Endi shawls are highly prized outside. The same silkworms produce different colors of thread in different areas.

Silk pattern
Silk pattern
Bodo woman with silk clothes
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Reared indoors
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Cocoons & thread

Thangka Paintings of Kashmir

Thangka are painted scrolls depicting Buddhist deities and their cosmic realities. Although they are installed in domestic spaces as a talisman against all evils,Thangka are intended as navigational aids for the spirit, guiding the viewer in his quest for spiritual realization. It is in their capacity to render the invisible visible through iconographic representation that serve as installations in monasteries and prayer halls or as displays during religious festivals at monasteries. Due to the potency that the paintings are believed to possess, the painter is required to undergo rigorous spiritual and artistic training and in many cases is a monastic initiate. The proportions and iconographic details of the deities follow canonical prescriptions and the artistic genius of the individual is considered subordinate to the religious responsibility of the painter. Thangka are not signed by the artist but are given to a lama who blesses them with sacred syllables. The finished painting is then taken to only the male tailors of the community who mount the work on a frame of heavy gyasser, silk brocade panels. They back the painting with plain cloth and secure the scroll at the top and the bottom to wooden rods, with brass or silver knots at each end. Below are some samples:

A craftsman stitching a thangka at the Handicraft Centre at Leh.

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Detail of a thangka painting a the Handicraft Centre.

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A thangka depicting the golden Prajnaparamita or Yum Chenmo who embodies Supreme Wisdom. She is identified by the book placed on the lotus near her head.

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A Green Tara thangka which shows 21 different manifestations of the goddess Tara. Depicted at the top of the thangka is Buddha Amitaha who denotes Boundless Light.

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Wall Paintings of Hazaribagh

Situated at about 2000 feet above sea level, Hazaribagh is a thickly forested region in the heart of the Damodar river valley. Ancient rock art sites have been discovered here,like the famous Isko site in Hazaribagh town. The forms and motifs of prehistoric art of ancient tribes like Khurmi, Ganju, Santhals and Oraons who live here. While entire tribal villages have elaborately painted houses,two varieties are outstanding: Khovar and Sohrai paintings.

Much like the bridal chambers of Mithila, Khovar paintings have fertility symbols celebrating union and propagation. Bird motifs,especially the parrots and peacocks,are popular,as are fruit bearing trees. They are mostly made in the wedding season,which extends from January to May.

Sohrai is observed during November to December celebrating the harvesting. Cattle are cleaned and worshiped ,as are agricultural implements,like the plough. Sohrai paintings characteristically have a male god, Pashupati (popularly known as Lord Shiva), the lord of animals shown standing on the back of a bull.

Though tribal khovar and sohrai paintings have not had the market exposure that Madhubani paintings have had,the region has enormous craft energy waiting to be tapped.

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Snakes & Peacocks
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Shiva, riding on his bull Nandi
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A hut with wall painting
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Animals
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Life