Monthly Archives: July 2020

Sundarbans: Bhatir Desh

Sunderbans, the very name sends the imagination reeling about a amphibian land in the south of Kolkata spread over the maze work of islands created by Ganga, Brahmputra and Meghna rivers. These rivers which seem to abandon their discipline and break up like a fan in this land. It is labyrinth of channels encircling the islands which contain the most fertile soil in their upper crust.

The name seems to be associated with the conspicuous sundari trees which are called Heritiera macrophylla by the botanists. But Mughals, as narrated by Amitav Ghosh in his beautiful novel “The Hungry Tide”, called it Bhati  Desh which means Ebb tide country. This became Bhatir Desh over time.

It is the land which is so surreal that there is no line of demarcation between reality and imagination. There are eighteen islands which is why it is also called “Atharo Bhatir Desh”, the land of eighteen lands. There are tigers which can swim miles and miles after their quarries. Crocodiles and dolphins abound here.

There is one chapter in the famous book “Midnights Children” by Salman Rushdie in which three young soldiers of West Pakistan who were the part of army sent to East Pakistan and committed heinous crimes like their army, after getting lost, land up in a boat in this Jungle. Rushdie then go on to weave a superb web about the description of the place. He tells that in rainy season, the Jungle seems to grow literally before the eyes. The fruits from the Nipa Palms fall and crack on the ground. In no time the ants swoop on the fruit juice. Since the light never reaches inside many parts, there live snakes which are transparent. Jungle begins to take a complete control of your mind and you forget about the time dimension. Clearly it is the work of great creative imagination of the writer but the author builds these things making base as some real stories.

The Jungle is so dense that if one goes inside, he will forget about the concept of time. The jungle has the power to suspend the time. The land is famous for the mangroves which grow copiously and sometimes discard so much dead leaves and wood that they seem to be doing harakiri or suicide, if it were not for the crabs who live there and work as scavengers. They are the janitors who see to it that everything is spic and span or tickety-boo.

The people who live there have adapted themselves to the treacheries of the jungle. They invoke the Goddess “Bonbibi” before going to jungle to gather the honey and wax. The jungle is lorded by Dekkan Rai, who stalks in the form of tiger. The legend is that Dekkan rai ruled over the entire Bhatir Desh but he became obsessed with human flesh. According to story, he accosted a convoy of boats which had come there for gathering valuables from jungle, he promised them to give the untold gifts of honey and wax in liu of one human flesh. As planned by the convoy, they left one person behind and when Dekkan rai came to eat him in the garb of tiger, but he prayed to Banbibi, who then with the help of her brother fought and defeated Dekkan Rai. In the end it was decided that Dekkan Rai will rule only the dense jungle.

That is why, whenever inhabitants cross over to jungle, they worship not only Bonbibi but also the Dekkan rai, the tiger. It is the place where the womenfolk wear the white saris like widows when there menfolks go to jungle for hunting and gathering honey and wax.

The rivers which have spawned these islands bring with them so much fertile soil from Himalayas that they seem to be playing a game of erecting and erasing the islands at will. Many islands are said to have been buried and no longer exist now. New ones can be born anytime.

There exist so many biomes which harbour myriad kinds of flora and fauna. Storms break where minutes before it was so still that everything looked like a still picture.

It is not far away from Kolkata and yet it is entirely a different world, breathtaking and beautiful and at the same time extremely harsh and unforgiving to the inhabitants.

Mango : The King of Fruits

Hiuen Tsang, Chinese scholar after being in India is going back. Time AD 627-643, on the fabled Silk Route. Apart from his knowledge of Buddhism, his rucksack contains an extraordinary fruit called Mango.

The name in hindi AaM is derived from Sanskrit word AMRA which seems to be the loan word from Dravidian and is related to Tamil words for Mango like “mamaram”. Portuguese were responsible for transferring the name to the West. It is growing in India since 4000 years at least.

Moguls were great connoisseurs of the fruit. Akbar got 100000 mango trees planted in Lakhi Bagh (Lakhi: 100,000, Bagh means Garden) near Darbhanga Bihar India. Others who relished the fruit were Shahjahan and Noor Jehan, Aurangzeb, Sher Shah Suri. Raghunath Peshwa got large numbers planted all over Maharashtra.

Main Constituents:

Citric acid and related compounds are responsible for sour taste. Several terpenes have been found in unripe fruit..

Ripe mango contains volatile compounds like alpha terpineol, ocimene, limonene, 3-carene etc. Yellow colour is due to beta Carotene.

Nutrients

Mangoes are rich in potassium, about 8% carbohydrate with 1.6 % dietary fibre. Very rich in vitamin A , C, B-6, calcium, iron, and magnesium.

Some famous Indian Varieties:

1: Alphonso or Hapoos
King among the mangoes. Named after Portugal admiral D Afonso de Albuquerque. Deogad in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra has got the GI tag of genuineness.

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2: Dasehri
It is birth place is Malihabad in Lucknow. Soft, succulent and mild.

3: Banarasi Langda
It was born in an orchard belonging to a Langda (lame) fellow and thus got this name.

4: Himsagar
Fibre less, creamy and full of pulp. Pride of Murshidabad in West Bengal.

5: Fazli
Quite big in size, famous in Malda of West Bengal. Late maturing.

6: Chaunsa:
From Bihar. Full of Flavour. It is pressed into mouth and juice is sucked.

7: Gulab Khaas
Native of Jharkhand. It is graceful mango

8: Kesar

Aromatic fruit of Junagadh Gujarat. Giving a tough fight to Hapoos. Plantations are on foothills of mount Girnar.

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9: Bedmi:

Taste depends upon the plucking time.

10. Totapuri: it is abundant in southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka.

11: Sindoori: it gets its name from the vermillion colour of the skin.

12: Banganapalli/ Bagan Phali/ Safeda
From Andhra’s small town Banganapalli. Sweet, yellow and fibre less.

13: Himam Pasand/ Humayun Pasand
A cross made from Banganapalli and Malgoa. It is very popular in Deccan.

14: Chandrakaran: it is delicacy from Kerala. Sweet and sour. Quite costly.

Bully Dog aka Bully Kutta

Bully dog or Bully Kutta (dog) is a native of Sindh and adjoining areas of Pakistani Punjab. These are very strong dogs and are used for helping in hunting. When adult, standing at about 3 feet in height and weighing about 65 to 80 kilograms, it must be very imposing and fearful.
But at the same time, it is very protective about the owners especially the children. It has to be given proper training from the very beginning and then it becomes very useful to its owners.
Being the giant dog, this is meant for those who are experienced in keeping the dogs. Novices cannot handle it.
Due to its macho image, affluent Punjabis in the adjoining areas like Bathinda, Ferozepur and other bordering districts of Indian Punjab as well Sri Ganganagar district dominated by Punjabi farmers compete to acquire this dog. It comes with a whopping price tag between 1 lakh to 4 lakh in indian rupees. It is a prestige symbol like horse and bullet. Although some enterprising breeders have begun to breed them in Punjab itself but the demand is for the original stuff from Pakistan.
Every affluent Punjabi wants to have it in his backyard.
Bully dog in the context of Pakistan gives the first impression of term being used for an ISI fellow being. These dogs were popularised by the British who used them for hunting.
Frankly, I have not seen this dog myself. Recently there was an article on this subject in the newspaper and for the sake of curiosity took a look at the results of google searches. Here is one picture.

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Libyan Desert Glass

In the desert situated in western Egypt and Libya, this glass is scattered over thousands of miles. It is said to have formed due to a meteoric collision some 29 million years ago. Collision resulted in high temperature which melted the silica but it so happened that molten mass cooled rapidly and got converted into glass.

Real interest in this glass began when It was found in the pharaoh Tutankhamen crown as a beetle. This crown is 3000 years old. The designers even at that time were thinking the glass to be a gem.

Lingering Look??

She gave him a look which seemed to linger for a moment longer than cursory look you give to the strangers. He had come to enquire about some official matter. She was sitting in her chair in the office and a table stood between him and her.

Her eyes rested for a moment and her gaze fixed on his face; it was momentary but said so many things because the silence is powerful than the speech. It gave him a pang in his heart and he remembered his youth when he was a handsome young man having athletic figure and swarthy complexion and a broad chest and shoulders.

Men from North India where he belonged are generally stronger; they are less sentimental and Platonic love is not of much value there. They love to exhibit their physical charms more and assert their love in a coarser manner.

She might also have recalled such thoughts from the recesses of her past youth. The memory only is what remains and it is to be kept and cherished.

Carotenoid Rich Cucumbers

Cucumber along with raw carrots, radish, and tomatoes has been a part of salad for the time immemorial. Cucumber is also consumed in cooked and pickled form in many parts of the world. People on diet for weight control eats this vegetable as it is often regarded as a health food because of its low calories and its high vitamins and minerals content.

Common cucumber varieties are white to greenish inside and are of low nutritional quality. On the other hand, orange fleshed cucumber is rich in carotenoids. India, being the center of origin for cucumbers, is known to be the treasure-house of cucumber diversity. Mostly the first variety is used as it is abundantly grown. caroteinoids are part of many fruits and vegetables like carrots, papaya, mangoes and autumn leaves.

But in the Mamit district of Mizoram, two varieties are found which are very rich in carotenoids as high as 6.5 μg/100 g as compared to 1.17 μg/100 g in the best check variety Himangi.. They have yellow to orange mesocarp and endocarp; an extremely rare trait.

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Previously orange-flesh cucumber was reported to be derived from a land race named Xishuangbanna Gourd from a Prefecture Xishuangbanna of the Yunnan Province in the South-west China, which is closer to north-eastern part of the India. Studies indicate that orange fleshed cucumber of China (Xishuangbanna Gourd) is closely related to Indian cucumber found in Mizoram. This suggests that orange-fleshed Indian cucumber might have migrated to China from northeastern parts of the country; which is the primary centre of its origin.

All this information is from ICAR.

Warli:The Innocent and Natural Folk Art

With the intense activity to industrialize the country, the selfish entrepreneurs are venturing into the areas which have remained unaffected and immune to the fast pace of industrialization. Although for a country to become economically self sufficient, it is necessary to exploit the natural resources but given the present structure of economy, only a few are benefiting from all this at the cost of mindlessly destroying the nature and create problems for so many people who depend upon the nature for the lives. These people, whom we call tribal, live in complete harmony with the nature using only whatever is absolutely necessary. Many tribal societies which were on the periphery of towns have been influenced by the ever expanding demon of expansion in cities. The places which were uninhabited have become populated and the expansion is widening its circle relentlessly.

But still there are tribal people which remain immune to the influence of city life despite being in the proximity of the cities. They have resisted the contact with city life and live in their own world preserving their simple and close to mother nature based culture. One such community is called  Warlis.  It is the name of the largest tribe found on the northern outskirts of Mumbai, in Western India. Warli Art was first discovered in the early seventies. While there are no records of the exact origins of this art, its roots may be traced to as early as the 10th century A.D. Warli is the vivid expression of daily and social events of the Warli tribe of Maharashtra, used by them to embellish the walls of village houses. This was the only means of transmitting folklore to a populace not acquainted with the written word. This art form is simple in comparison to the vibrant paintings of Madhubani.

Women are mainly engaged in the creation of these paintings. These paintings do not depict mythological characters or images of deities, but depict social life. Images of human beings and animals, along with scenes from daily life are created in a loose rhythmic pattern. These tribal paintings of Maharashtra are traditionally done in the homes of the Warlis. Painted white on mud walls, they are pretty close to pre-historic cave paintings in execution and usually depict scenes of human figures engaged in activities like hunting, dancing, sowing and harvesting.

Stylistically, they can be recognized by the fact that they are painted on an austere mud base using one color, white, with occasional dots in red and yellow. This colour is obtained from grounding rice into white powder. This sobriety is offset by the ebullience of their content. These themes are highly repetitive and symbolic. Many of the Warli paintings that represent Palghat, the marriage god, often include a horse used by the bride and groom. The painting is sacred and without it, the marriage cannot take place. These paintings also serve social and religious aspirations of the local people. It is believed that these paintings invoke powers of the Gods.

In Warli paintings it is rare to see a straight line. A series of dots and dashes make one line. The artists have recently started to draw straight lines in their paintings. These days, even men have taken to painting and they are often done on paper incorporating traditional decorative Warli motifs with modern elements such as the bicycle, etc. Warli paintings on paper have become very popular and are now sold all over India. Today, small paintings are done on cloth and paper but they look best on the walls or in the form of huge murals that bring out the vast and magical world of the Warlis. For the Warlis, tradition is still adhered to but at the same time new ideas have been allowed to seep in which helps them face new challenges from the market.

These paintings resemble the cave paintings in that these are very close to nature and deal with common elements like animals, birds, marriages ceremonies and crops. These are simply beautiful because they are faithful attempts to represent the three dimensional world to 2 dimensional plane. The details are not required to be painted. It is from the contours and our human perception that we relate it to the real world.

These paintings have become very popular and its artists have been awarded for their work. One such painter is Jivya Soma Mhase who has been awarded Padmashree for his work.

Searching the elusive River Saraswati !!!!!

We have been taught in our school about Indus Valley civilization and how it was replaced by arrival of the people from west which have been called Aryans. That the Indus Valley civilization was spread between Indus  and Yamuna rivers. Excavation at many locations established many huge settlements like Harrapa in Pakistan side Punjab and Mohenjodaro in Sind district. But it is not the end. So many new sites have been established belonging to this civilization throughout North India beginning from plains of Punjab and Haryana to as far south as Dholavira in the Kutch coastal area of Gujarat.

This civilization thus was spread into the fertile flat plains served by many rivers like five rivers of Punjab, Indus River, Yamuna river and so many of their tributaries. These are perennial rivers with the origin in the glaciers of Himalayas. They bring about huge supply of water as well as rich alluvial soil. Thus the area is suitable for agriculture.

The civilization is said to highly advanced as is evident from the town and urban planning, sanitary system, baths, water harvesting and trade with many countries in the west. But even then it is said that these people did not develop any language or whatever symbols are there still have not being interpreted.

Then it is also said that one fine day this civilization disappeared. There are many theories like inundations due to changing course of the rivers which cannot happen short time. Another very strong reason is the invasion of these areas by fair colored people from the west. These are said to be pastoral people rearing cattle and riding chariots driven by horses. These were the people who are called Aryans and since they vanquished the native dark colored people who were pushed south wards or those remained were obliged to be inferior to their conquerors.

It is also said that the Vedas are their creation. How the pastoral people can create such profound literature? In these Vedas, another river figures prominently or rather dominates. It is river Saraswati. This river is said to have been responsible for the developments of the civilization along its banks. It is said to be flowing between Satluj and Yamuna and going all the way down towards Sind after merging with Ghaggar river and then Hakra river combined called Ghaggar-Hakra river system.

But many like Doctor R.C.Thakran, professor of history at university of Delhi  who has done research on the geological and soil aspects of areas along the Ghaggar river contest the existence of river as being responsible for giving rise to such a big civilization. It is too small a river with its catchment area in the lower Shivalik. Thus at the most , this must have been a season river. The variation in the moisture content of the soil in the dry beds decline sharply with the distance traveled indicating that flow was not large enough so as to saturate the subsoil equally all along. Sediments are identical to those of Shivalik hills in composition indicating the source in the Shivalik. Anyway the present reality is that river is not visible anywhere.

But government in Haryana is bent on its revival. Based on the scriptures, it will excavate the river said path to revive the past Aryan glory with which we North Indian identify ourselves. There are plans to pump the water from underground through tube wells into the excavated river.

According to the report the work is already begun. As reported in the times of India newspaper reproduced below.

As part of its attempt to revive Saraswati river, Haryana government on Tuesday initiated excavation work at Rolaheri village in Yamunanagar district.

Inaugurating the work, Haryana assembly Speaker Kanwar Pal said the project would once again take the culture and heritage of India to the golden period. Officials say that south Indian scholar Dr Ratnakar has shown interest in initiating the work on the project.”
Let us hope to be positive. But the conclusions based on the facts not the sentiments.

 

Chemistry Behind Cleopatra’s Beauty Products

Everyone has heard about Cleopatra. She is said to be most charming seductress and willy woman who became the queen of Egypt. She was very conscious of her looks and knew the value of being beautiful and always looking young and alluring. It was Cleopatra, who popularized skin care treatments in her book titled “Cleopatra Gynaeciarum Libri”. There, she recorded recipes for making cosmetics and perfumed ointments. She was so interested in spa treatments and perfumes that her lover, Mark Antony, gave her the gift of a spa and perfume factory that had been built by Herod the Great at the south end of the Dead Sea.

Although Egyptians may not be knowing the chemistry behind the ingredients used in the spa treatments but still to date many ingredients used at that time are in use but in the synthetic forms. Synthetic ingredients have low manufacturing cost and avoid lots of labor involved in extracting these from natural sources which only a royal person can afford. For example, Indole is a organic compound present in the jasmine flowers as well as the feces of crocodiles and other animals. In high concentrations, this has a repulsing odor but at very concentrations it exudes fragrance. If you extract the chemical from the Jasmine flowers, you require millions of flowers for obtaining 1 Kg of oil costing approximately $10000. So these days synthetic oil is prepared from Indole and other ingredients at a low cost. Cleopatra used the excrement of crocodiles to clean and embellish her complexion.

She bathed in the milk of Ass to keep her skin soft and supple. This milk has an important ingredient Lactic acid which being an alpha hydroxy acid breaks down the dead cells of the skin. Even today’s many skin care products contain lactic acid. Cleopatra painted her eyes with green and black pigments to protect her eyes from those ever-present flies and to enhance her appearance. On special occasions, she may have added glitter made from crushed beetle shells mixed with her eye paint. And she would have cleaned her teeth with natron, a natural form of baking soda, and freshened her breath with spearmint.

Egypt is an hot country and there is lots of perspiration which imparts body odors. So for Cleopatra, perfumes were important not just for masking the smells of skin treatments but to cover offensive body odors. Cleopatra would have carried small containers of her perfumed ointments and powdered perfumes that she would have reapplied several times a day to keep her complexion looking fresh and her skin sweet smelling. Chemists have reconstructed a number of ancient perfumes using Cleopatra’s own recipes and analysis of perfume residues found in jars from Cleopatra’s spa. They discovered that Cleopatra favored perfumed ointments made from Moringa oil or horseradish oil (Moringa pterygosperma or M. aptera). Those ointments would have disappeared into her skin quickly and left no greasy feeling behind. Moringa oil is still used in Persian perfumes today, and chemists at L’Oreal have recreated ancient Egyptian perfumes using Moringa oil.

Garlic Vine

In our colony at Dehradun, on the boundary of a park a vine has spread itself. On the intervals of few days, it bears profuse beautiful purple flowers in bunches. The morning sunlight passes through the delicate newly opened buds giving them a slightly reddish hue. The bunches over the gate seem as if someone has decorated the place.

I took many pictures and was very pleased to post them on the FaceBook expecting a few likes and comments from friends. Then I began searching Google for the name of this vine and after some efforts narrowed down my search to these flowers. But still I was not sure. The vine is strangely called Garlic vine. Its botanical name is Mansoa alliacea. In Bangla it is called Lata Parul. I saw now resemblance between a plant and a vine. After reading I came to know that its leaves when crushed release a smell akin to the garlic.

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Native to South America, Garlic Vine is one of the most rewarding, flowering vines that you can grow. It can either be described as a shrub or a vine since it produces numerous woody vines from the root that grow only 2-3 m tall and form a shrub-like appearance. It produces bright green leaves up to 15 cm long. Its compact habitat and pretty continuous flowers make it a popular ornamental plant in gardens in the tropics. Flowering twice a year you will find it quite often covered with flowers. Flowers start off purple with white throat and change to a lighter shade of lavender with age. Eventually fading to almost white. You will see 3 different color of flowers at the same time on the plant. It can be grown in containers and should be trimmed after the flowers are gone.
It is a very common and well respected plant remedy in the Amazon for the pain and inflammation of arthritis and rheumatism, as well as, colds, flu, and fever. Some capsule products of the leaves are sold in stores in Brazil and Peru, and it can be found as an ingredient in other various multi-herb formulas for cold and flu, pain, inflammation and arthritis in general. The use of ajos sacha is just catching on in the U.S. market; a few products are now available and it is showing up in several formulas for colds and arthritis here as well.