Fragrant connections


One of my dear friends has invited me over to to her house to celebrate Sankranti, the Indian harvest festival. As part of the rituals, my friend dabs a little perfume on the back of my palms. The perfume is of the champak flower. I inhale deeply, the perfume is fresh and fragrant.

The fragrance transports me to my husband’s childhood home, where his parents had planted two champak trees, when they started construction of their home after marriage. The trees are more than fifty years old now, and form a fragrant archway at the entrance to our home. Both trees are still flowering.

When he was still with us, it was my dad-in-law’s job to collect the champak flowers from both trees. Since the trees straddle three floors, one has to go up to the terrace on the third floor to pick the flowers. A specially designed long stick, with a small hook at one end, was the tool of choice to gently nudge the fragrant flowers from their branches. The flowers were collected in an orange bag (a wire bag made at home by my husband’s mom). The beautiful creamy yellow of the champak flowers beautifully contrasted with the orange of the bag. Once he was done, my dad-in-law would leave it in the living room. My mom-in-law would retain a few flowers for herself, to offer at the altar during prayers. The rest were for neighbours, who would drop-in at various times to take the champak flowers. Some would call from the gate, and my mom-in-law would pass it to them after a quick chit chat. Some neighbours would come home and stay for a cup of coffee and exchange local news.

By noon, the orange bag would be empty and go back to its rack in the store room, till the next time. In the evenings, when the sun would go down in the sky, and a gentle, cool breeze would blow, the delightful and invigorating fragrance of the champak flowers would waft in the air. We would usually stand at the entrance and close our eyes in bliss.

All the nostalgic memories come back to me now, as I bid bye to my friend and thank her for her hospitality. Beautiful champak flowers, fragrant memories and deep friendships. I sigh in pure contentment.

Recycled wisdom


When I was growing up, every Sunday, at 8.30 a.m., either my elder sister or I had to accompany our Dad to the vegetable market.

We usually took turns. The trips to the market had a fixed beat. We would set out with two big wire bags. These bags, one a bottle green, and the other a navy blue with pink, were so big that one could fit the entire market in them.

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        Courtesy – http://www.flickriver.com

First, we went to the coconut seller, then to the lemon shop, and then to the bakery, then to the English vegetable market and then to the local vegetable market.

These same bags were used to carry our school books from the bookshop at the beginning of every academic year.

In addition to these two behemoths, we had two smaller ones, one red and white, and the other white and red. These two served as our school lunch bags.  My sister and I carried our steel lunch carriers and water bottles, and a fruit, in these bags.

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          Courtesy – http://www.flickr.com

These bags were designed for rough use, and for wear and tear.  They lasted  from Grade 5 through high school.

The speciality of these wire bags was that all of them were hand-made by our mom. My mom bought plastic-wire bundles of different colours. After finishing her numerous chores, she would sit down in the afternoon, to weave these beautiful wire bags. When any of these bags had to be replaced, she would start working on a new one.

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             Courtesy – http://www.ebay.com

There were other smaller ones – one for the milkman, and one that my grandma used to carry to the temple everyday. 

These bags made trips to the hospital when my aunt gave birth, witnessed our family picnics, brought back crisp, ironed clothes from the laundry and carried lots of things over many, many years. They witnessed our growing up years, mute spectators to blossoming friendships, school graduation, sibling quarrels and lots more.

I remember how we eagerly waited for a new bag to take shape. At some point, all of us learnt how to create those rows of flowers using wire.

There were no plastic covers or bags then. So, these bags went with us everywhere. Little did we realize that we were reusing and doing our bit for the environment.

When I see the number of plastic bags we use these days, I realize the value of what we had. Maybe I should get my mother to teach me how to make one.

Actually,  when I look at them now, they look quite cool and trendy!