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View from Window

The view from from window of my room at 4 O’clock in the Evening:
It is 4 O’clock in the evening. The sunshine is becoming pale at the approach of the evening. The mornings, evenings and nights are becoming cooler. Sky is still clear. Sitting in the same room of my home on the third floor, I am looking at the scene out side from the window.
The outline of trees looks like the drawing of a child making lines with a pencil which are not straight but serrated. The shadows and lights are playing exclusive games in the branches which are swaying due to strong breeze. When one is there other is gone and vice versa. There is a meadow below and cows and buffaloes are grazing lazily. As they graze, cranes accompany them to catch the insects which are scurried due to the grazing animals. Many of them can be seen perching over the tops of animals.
The shadows of the rows of trees are beginning to lengthen and crawling over over the fields and are moving towards my room. Some boys are trying to catch fish from a pond near the edge of tree rows. The pond is irregular in shape and its still water looks shines due to sunlight falling on it. From above it looks like a shard of glass, very longish and narrow. White cranes and black egrets are plunging into the water occasionally and rest of the time sit on the nearby bushes.
Airplanes keep on coming at very low height as they are descending preparing for landing at Chandigarh airport which is very near. Sometimes very huge cargo plane is seen passing very near our buildings with deafening noise.

Evening

Sitting in the room of my home which has large glass panels opening in West direction, I am looking at the Sun going down leaving behind a copper colored hue in the West. The sky is smeared with mild clouds of different transparencies. There are thick columns of of poplar trees which are now loosing their individuality and taking on dark shroud. There are kites flying and sometimes swooping down on their prey. Snow white cranes are leaving the grazing grass grounds and flying towards their homes. Even as I am typing these words the whole scene is becoming ambiguous and soon darkness will swallow the day.

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Magic with Bamboo in Assam India

Assam, North-Eastern State in India is endowed with exceptional natural beauty. It is still not polluted due to industrial expansion. The state has large forests of Bamboo and teak and other trees. Tea is famous all over the world. You will see sprawling tea gardens for miles and miles.

Bamboo is used for making many utility items. Traditional bamboo baskets that evolved through centuries of cultural and functional mediation are a response to a variety of local needs that were ingeniously satisfied by the local craftsmen. These include basket forms that are used for a variety of domestic, farming and fishing activities which are sold in the weekly markets in villages, towns and cities all over Assam. Large trays made from woven mats, structurally stabilized with stiff bamboo splits to form trays, are used for fishing and winnowing, drying, sorting and threshing grains. The fish basket has a wide mouth and narrow neck to prevent the fish from jumping out. Headgear and ceremonial rain shields are a response to the inclement monsoon that brings pouring rain for several months after summer. Rainfall is celebrated by the conversion of the everyday rain shields into a votive offering. The decorative jhappi is an appliqué embosomed rain shield symbolizing the harvest festival.

Numerous other artifacts of farming communities are made from bamboo that include a bullock cart, grain storage bins, low stools, and a distinctive construction called the Assam type house found everywhere. Assamese craftsmen use simple tools such as a dao, bill hook knife, and jigs to shape their products although they are largely based on their visual judgment. The only exception to this rule is while making the jhappi, when a bamboo mould is used.

Following are pictures of some of the artifacts made in Assam.

Below: A bamboo mould that is used for shaping the peak of the jhappi, palm leaf used for waterproofing and a semi-finished jhappi.

jappi mould

Below:Jhakoi, a fish trap with a basket for keeping fish, from Nalbari. The jhakoi is made by moulding a mat woven with bamboo splits.

fish trap

Below:Tray with open weave made from bamboo splits. It is used to catch fish living in the roots of the water hyacinth.

japi

Below: A basket for carrying agri-produce, made in open hexagonal weave construction, from Silchar.

tray

Below: Muddah, a low stool, made in Silchar has a fascinating structure made of thin splits, tied together with cane bindings to form a warped surface that is load bearing. The seat uses split cane weaving.

sitter

Below: Basket for keeping fish. The basket along with the large trays forms a part of the fishing equipment and is carried tied to the waist.

basket

Below: Dimasa Cachari basket for storing valuable cloth. The double walled construction has an inner layer woven with coarser splits, and outer layer of smoother and finer splits. The conical lid is sturdy and hinged with braided bamboo straps.

cloth basket

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.

Brine Shrimp aka Sea Monkey

Brine shrimp is an unique animal. It is called Artemia, a class of aquatic crustaceans. First unique trait of brine shrimp is that since the Triassic period, it has changed little externally. This fish possesses the ability to lay eggs which are called cysts which can lie dormant for long periods of time. They are hatched when the conditions in the environment become suitable.

These animals are able to avoid cohabitation with most predators like fish by their ability to survive and thrive in highly saline waters. They are found in the enclosed bodies of saline water like Great Salt Lake where the conditions for other forms of life are quite hostile.

The ability of dormant eggs has led to its use in aquaculture. When required the dormant eggs are activated by creating required conditions and brine shrimps are produced as a feed for fish.

In addition, the resilience of Artemia makes them ideal animals for running biological toxicity assays and is now one of the standard organisms for testing the toxicity of chemicals.

Some unique facts about brine fish are:

1. The Great Salt Lake brine shrimp population can produce four or more generations per year.

2. Brine shrimp are crustaceans. Their closest relatives include fairy shrimp, triops and water fleas. More distant relatives include crabs, lobsters and shrimp.

3. Brine shrimp are used in the laboratory for testing the toxicity of chemicals.

4. Brine shrimp cysts have been found in Great Salt Lake geologic core samples up to 600,000 years old, so we know they’ve been in the area for a long time.

5. Brine shrimp cysts are packaged and sold as Sea-Monkeys.

6. Brine shrimp cysts can remain viable for up to 25 years.

7. Brine shrimp come in many colors. From white to pink to green, the different colors are probably an effect of diet and environmental conditions.

Nature is so fascinated and diverse that we know but a fraction of it. Many life times are not enough needed to understand. In fact, it can be comprehended. Only our collective wisdom from many generations can help us to understand more and more about nature. Brine fish is an example of strange things nature produces.

Again Seem to have lost my bearings

It is many days. I am procrastinating, putting the things on the back burner. There seems to be no definite clear cut path. It seems I am standing at circle whence from innumerable paths issue in all directions. Which one to follow, I am in utter confusion. I cry for help but it is like crying in a dream. You cannot even speak only your muscles are twitching . You don’t even know because no one ever comes to soothe you. I feel helpless because things are not in my control.

I go to bed with so many unresolved problems. I try to imagine that when I arise next day all my problems shall be gone. I shall be like a newborn baby who has a clean slate of life to begin with. I shall cast off the dead skin of problems and issues from my mind and reborn again: free, innocent and almost closest to the God.

God is a Child

O God,

Sometimes, I think,

You are a child,

Who scatters the stars,

Across the fields of sky,

In the night.

Then, one by one,

gather them all,

by morn

and

put them in a bag,

Which shines forth and becomes

Sun

And you carry the bag,

From East to West

Never you seem,

Tired or bored.

You never seem to care,

What others think

You are stoic,

You are eternal,

You are benevolent,

You never cease,

to surprise.

Andaman Padauk

I visited a wildlife park in Meleng few days ago along with my 3 colleagues. The place is in the Jorhat district of Assam and about 30 kilometers from the town. There are tea gardens of interminable area which seem to spread like a baize colored carpets miles and miles.

After reaching there, we were escorted by a NGO guide- a Nepali boy to guide us through the jungle. He was very courteous and was very enthusiastic to show us many beautiful trees, vines and fauna. He showed us a python which was curled into a bundle and would not budge even after prodded with a stick. Along the path which we treaded were fresh feces of elephants excreta indicating that elephants were nearby.

There were some very rare and exotic trees and vines we saw over there; there were white pepper vines from which were hanging the bunches of pepper fruit. There were Rudrakash trees the seed of which are highly prized for making rosaries by Hindus in India for good fortune and peace. There were other trees from the bark of which incense exuded. Greatest surprise was the majestic trees called Andaman Paduak truly very tall trees. The guide told us that they have been planted here after being brought from Andamans. More about this tree is taken from internet and given below.

Andaman Padauk is a tall deciduous tree found only in Andaman. It grows up to height of 120 feet. The timber is highly prized for making furniture. Burr and Buttress formation add charm to the tree and used in making unique furniture.

andaman-padauk.jpg

King Solomon, proverbial for his wisdom in governing the Israelites during the 10th century B.C., must have really known his wood, too. He chose stalwart Padauk for the pillars of his temple.

French Kings Louis XV and Louis XVI were separated from Solomon by thousands of years. Yet, these 17th-century rulers also favored a red-orange Padauk they called narra. With it, royal woodworkers crafted kingly cups and chalices. Because water placed in these vessels turned yellow, royalty believed the “potion” had medicinal properties.

A century later, the colorful wood of Solomon and the Louis attracted even wider acclaim. As a veneer named amboyna, padauk was featured in Empire-style furniture.

Far removed from European pomp and furniture fashion of the 1800s, convicts sent to British penal colonies in the Andaman islands off Burma labored to supply the padauk sought by world craftsmen. In fact, Chicago’s Pullman Company imported much of this exotically beautiful and durable “Andaman” padauk to panel railroad passenger cars.

Wood identification

All seven species we recognize as padauk belong to the genus Pterocarpus. African padauk (P. soyauxi), sometimes referred to as vermillion, is the only padauk species readily available today. Others occasionally sold include Andaman padauk (P. dalbergioides), Angola padauk or muniga, kiaat (P. angolensis), Burmese padauk (P. macrocarpus), narra (P. indicus), and sandalwood padauk (P. santalinus).

Padauk grows in tropical climates, although the geography changes from rain forest to dry, nearly treeless plains with each species. You’ll find padauk in India, Indochina, the South Pacific, West Africa, and even southern Florida.

Except for squatty African muninga, most padauk trees look like elms, with large, spreading crowns reaching to a height of 120′. Averaging 7′ in girth, their slightly irregular, fluted trunks have smooth, yellow-tinted bark. Trunks often have no branches for the first 65′.

The leaves of some padauk species provide protein in human diets as a substitute for green vegetables. All padauks bear distinctive, round, inedible fruit banded by a flat wing that gives them a flying saucer-like appearance. In fact, pterocarpus means “winged fruit.”

Depending on the species, padauk’s coarse-grained heartwood varies in color from a lustrous purple-red to orange-red. With age and exposure to sunlight, it turns deep maroon. Quartersawn wood features a pronounced ribbon stripe. Sapwood never reaches market.

A Pair of Mynahs

The story is set in the Sivasagar district of Assam. I was working there after a transfer from India’s most advanced city of Mumbai. This was transfer after long stay in Mumbai so it took some time to adjust in these surroundings. There is a big colony of our company and has given us quarters to live. My family did not accompany me. The place is abysmal if you are alone as the area lags behind rest of India in progress and it is very difficult to spend the time. The place is full of natural beauty because of lack of progress in industries. In fact the place can boast of being few places free of pollution in India.

It was a holiday and as usual I was sitting in the Verandah. I saw a pair of mynah sitting on the fence of the opposite building boundary. Male warbled continuously; spread his feathers from time to time and moved his neck up and down as if beckoning someone. Was he calling to some another female even as his wife was sitting with him? Was he polygamous or a philanderer?

Female, on the contrary was very reticent and sat peacefully presenting a complete contrast to us humans where all the talking after the marriage is done by females and males only listens. Whenever, female jumped away a few steps, the male kept the distance constant and hopped too. He preened his feathers intermittently to look a toff.

There were squirrels frolicking and jumping from one branch to another branch of the trees; they nibbled at the gnarled surface of the tree to scoop the gums oozed by the tree. These squirrels are blacker and more agile in comparison to their cousins in the North India; they can as long as six to seven feet without any need to taxi before take off. They are a nightmare of betel nut growers as they nibble at fruit; eat some and throw away the rest.

Character No.1

Booming & sibilant voice; his neck tilted to left side; runty bodied and very aggressive. You can hear him from a far off distance because of the volume of his voice. Thinks himself very intelligent and clever; voracious eater despite his small physique and very vindictive.

While eating, spills the victuals all around; attaches the diminutive bones  of fish to the rim of the plate. He is unrestrained in his speech and criticizes everyone without any impartiality.

Sometimes, he stands for long times leaning on to a door and lost in the thoughts contemplating and thinking ways to multiply his money. He is a miser to the core. He has a single track mind and selfish and always finding ways to further his own interests.

His appetite is legendary; he gulps down very large quantities of the food within minutes like a piranha fish. Nothing remains on the plate. He can digest anything: chapatis, dal, vegetables, kerosene, curd ( many days stale), any type of oil be it vegetable or minerals.

He lacks manners in everyday life; would sit down in front of you on the table while you are sitting on the chair behind.

When he takes breakfast it is sight to behold. In one hand will be his socks and other a chapati and he will eat it walking here and there. Tea in the cups will become cold and stale as he forgets to finish it and busies himself in others tasks.