Turnips & Peas

Turnips & Peas::

 

“Ooty is famous for English vegetables”, said our local friend.

 

With its perpetual spring climate and annual temperature hovering between 12-22 degree the Nilgiris are famous for its rich cultivation

 

When we moved to the mountains we visioned our own garden with flowers and home-grown vegetables

 

Fortunately our house came with a vast open area. But it was unkempt as the previous resident had moved 9 months ago.

  

The area marked for the vegetable patch was a thick shrub, one simply couldn’t enter. The flower gardens were run over with wild grass.

We decided to first settle into our new house and adapt to the rhythm of the hills.

 

Then backed with our zero knowledge of gardens we began the search for a Gardener.

 

Being non locals the potential Gardener’s quoted us sky high quotes. A couple of Gardener’s we finally did employ would vanish in the first week.

 

In despair we were about to make peace with a disheveled outdoor life when Mubarak arrived at our doors.

 

Here was a mini messiah. Powerful hands, broad shoulders and a terrific work ethic

 

Through pouring rains in September- October Mubarak lovingly created 17 vegetable beds.

Armed with his 4 foot long pitchfork he tore out the weeds from their roots, fixed the fences, prepared the lawns and even leveled a patch to view the lake.

 

Together we sowed the English vegetables including carrots, turnips, peas, cauliflower, radish, potatoes, besides coriander, mint and lettuce.

 

With our joy and confidence flying high we planted Dwarf Hydrangea’s and Foxgloves in the flower beds.

 

Finally by November the gardens were getting some semblance of order.

 

With the hydrangea’s blooming early we took it as a sign that we were ” settling”.

 

Then tragedy struck!

 

We were about to commence our road trip in the first week of December when Mubarak decided to shift back home to Mysore.

 

We hastily made some make shift arrangements to tend the garden and drove out of Ooty with a prayer.

 

Two months later – end January we got back to the sight that broke our hearts. The gardens weren’t tended as planned.

 

The wild shrubs were crawling over the 17 vegetable beds. Wild grass and weeds had grown and like a final dagger in the heart our beloved Hydrangea’s had perished.

 

We somehow managed to mow the lawns but the daily sight of the rundown vegetable patch was painful.

 

‘ Let’s make peace with it “, I said to Sim.

Maybe the vegetable patch isn’t meant to be.

 

Through the month of Feb the somber outdoor mood continued.

 

And then a funny thing happened

 

Our caretaker Anthony had come to visit.

While I was showing him our compost pit I pointed embarrassingly “well our vegetable patch didn’t turn out well did it”.

 

He walked towards the patch, looked around the mess and walked towards one bed.

Anthony bent down, sieved the wild leaves and amidst that plucked a Pea.

 

“But the peas have arrived and they are sweet”.

 

“And look here”, moving to another bed and putting his hands inside the soil and plucking a round purplish object, “you have got turnips”

 

And that’s when it struck me like a bolt.

 

While I had stopped visiting the vegetable patch and given up, the Garden hadn’t entirely given up.

 

True most of the vegetables perished but the spirit of the Peas and Turnips were like a new lease of life.

 

And as they say – when you want something truly and deeply the universe conspires to help you.

 

I shared my experience of the Turnips & Peas with the a few parents at Ayaan’s skating class.

One of the Parent a seasoned Farmer promised to send someone over to help us.

 

Soon we had Mr Dass over at our doorstep.

 

Powerfully built, Mr Dass furloughed the vegetable patch, while I scoured our town to procure organic manure, potato bulbs and fresh vegetable seeds.

 

As if on cue the Foxglove decided to bloom in the flower bed. Spurred on I went hunting for flowers and thanks to a tip-off found a great place to source seedlings. Geranium, Salvia, Fuchsia and Carnations were planted.

 

Now with the tall grass and shrubs removed the grounds looked trim and less intimidating.

 

Which led to the birds arriving at their respective hours to pluck their juicy meals.. the Nilgiri Flycatcher, White browed Wagtails, Nilgiri laughing Thrush became common visitors.

 

The grounds were alive again.

 

The wheel had begun spinning in a favorable  direction ….. Thanks to the spirit of the Turnips and Peas.

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Weekend Treat Algorithm

Weekend Treat Algorithm

There are something’s you look forward to most weekends. In Ooty the hot crispy vadas from Venkateswara Tea Stall tops our craving list.

This is a tiny joint on the busy Commercial Street. So insignificant that almost all tourists simply walk past it.

Inside Venkateswara tea stall we have bumped into our postman, the municipal fellow, our real estate agent, electricity dept, cops.. or simply local folks.

A few months back we were devouring the appams and vadas when a friendly voice inside called out ” Hey ! You discovered Venkateswara, now you are locals “.

Clearly we had earned our domicile certificate.

Meanwhile Ooty is also known for high quality of local bakeries.

And by now we have our ready reckoner. The buns come from Aazam Bakery, Tea cake from Implala Bakery, Coffee biscuits from Lakh  Dee and the Breads and Varkey’s from West Coast.

You stick to this algorithm and a weekend bliss is guaranteed.

So this Saturday morning post cycling we headed for our treat with Venkateswara as the first stop.

Kartik the young owner wasn’t there but his father was there. We said hello and placed our order for parcel.

” Sir while you pack, can i go across the road to Aazam bakery. Their buns would have just come”, I said. Hoping to save time.

” Aazam buns? We also keep them, how many do you want?”

Wow, thats cool. Of course please pack them too.

Then I felt a strong tug on my shirt.

” Dad, i want the buns from Aazaom only, said Ayaan.

” Ayaan its the same Aazam bun, here have a look”.

But Ayaan didn’t look convinced. So I had no choice. We grabbed our parcel and crossed the road to Aazam Bakery for an audit survey.

” Hi Rizwaan Bhai, how are you.. by the way do you deliver buns to Venkateswara too ? ” I asked. Hoping that would solve the immediate issue at hand.

” Yes we do, absolutely”. Rizwaan confirmed.

There you go Ayaan, I said jubilantly.

A pause,

” But dad I want my Bun from Aazam bakery only ! “

Rizwaan broke into a toothy smile that only a HomeBaker gives on such moments. And in a flash he went right inside to fetch a special bun for Ayaan.

And I learnt that little Ayaan has his own algorithm too. And its best to stick to

 

Transient Friends

Transient Friends

The 6am alarm buzzes. Its time to head for basketball. Winter is fast receeding but when I hop on the bike the cold demands layering and thick gloves.

Nothing much moves in the hills at this time of the day. I pass the milkman walking on his rounds on the woodcock road.

At the Paytons crossing lie unattended his old cycle and 4 large milkcans. He will keep circling back till he completes all his houses.

When I return from my game the milkman and his cans are gone.

Now the school buses are out to pick their young sleepy wards.

The sun is climbing over the hills and the town is slowly coming to life.

Back home Sim has got Ayaan ready and after breakfast Ayaan and I start our school ride. The Deer Park road is a 2 km lonely wooded stretch which gets us to town.

We pass a couple of bends and reach our first marker, a parked grey van. The owner is on his morning walk and we we wave at each other. Its been 7 months now, we have never spoken.

A few more bends ahead we pass the Deer Park and the sleepy Deer.

Now the Kabaristan / cemetery approaches.

A black SUV is parked opposite the gate.

Inside the cemetery the owner, a pepper haired old man is standing softly, silently in prayer.

Its a moment that we pass by each day.

A daily dose of perspective. Sometimes of impermanence, of love, of silence.

And so goes each morning until this Saturday.

There is no alarm on weekends but Ayaan is up at 6am.

For some strange reason he always wakes up early on a holiday .. Sigh !

And today he wants to go cycling. I point at the thick fog outside and plead. But its a battle one cant win.

In a few minutes we head out of the gate on the lonely Deer Park Road.

But today is different.

Two athletes speed past us. We venture ahead and realise that India’s athletic team is training on the Deer Park Road.

Ayaan feels their vibe and pedals furiously past them all the way till the Kabaristan. On our way back he’s exhausted with his effort and pauses midway  to catch his breath.

A bunch of athletes are doing their cool down jog and coming our way. And they notice Ayaan.

” You cycled so hard your cheeks are red”,

“How old are you”,

” which class do you go to”,

” make sure you eat lots of eggs”…

The banter and warm exchanges fill the woods.

After a while we bid goodbye and head home, Ayaan is keen to fill Sim with his new experience.

On Monday morning the road is silent again. The grey van is there. And the white peppered old man standing silently by his beloved tomb

Electric Man

Electric Man

” The winter months are harsh, especially end December – Jan, be prepared. “

‘”You know it doesn’t snow but Ooty gets a frost layer”

With suggestions like these from our local friends we prepared for the first winter in our hill town.

Thick jackets, woolen sweater & socks, head gear, an Oil heater and wood for the fireplace were procured.

Then we headed for our December road trip along the western coast.

When we got back to our hill town on 25 December the signs of winter were visible. The fuscias and dahlias had withdrawn from our garden. The bottle brush seemed fast asleep. The morning cries of the Jungle Fowl had stopped.

Then Ayaan’s skating class announced early morning sessions in an outdoor sports stadium. While he was skating I saw the football ground covered in a white sheet of frost. A beautiful sight.

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Now every noon the winter sun was piping crisp and to soak it I promptly shifted my working chair to the portico.

It looked like we were getting along fine… Until a strange set of fireworks took off.

While opening the car door I started feeling static. I thought something was wrong with the car and planned a trip to the service station on the weekend.

Next day in Ayaan’s skating class I got hit by sharp static in quick succession, while picking his bottle and then his helmet.

I freaked and thought something was wrong with me !

‘ Abhi, put your palms on the wall for 5 minutes, that should fix it’ said my friend who had noticed my plight.

Welcome to a common Ooty winter phenomenon.

I had jumped straight back into the school science lesson on Static Electricity.

Theory states that depending on the material used ( like wool) static electricity gets built up and the dry winter acts as an insulator.

Simply by wearing woolen socks & sweaters day & night I had becoming a ticking electric grenade !!

Wool + Fingertip + Metal   …… Zap .. Boooom  Aaargh…

Well minor corrections were swiftly made and normal life was restored.

I switched from wollen socks to cotton while continuing to work & bask in the winter sun.

But nonetheless, if you are planning to come over this month, be forewarned if you shake my hand 🙂

Breads along the Coast

Breads along the Coast

This December we ended up doing a 3 week, 3,200km road trip along the Western Coast.

Among multiple experiences it was interesting to watch the change in the simple breakfast Bread.

We started early December morning from Ooty and reached Madikeri :: Coorg for lunch.

A classic case of starting from the Tea belt and landing up at the Coffee belt by noon.

Post lunch was one of the most beautiful drives I have taken – from Coorg to Mangalore.

Soft winding roads along wooded hills with scant traffic.

It was late evening when we reached Mangalore and tucked in our tired souls.

Refreshed next day we headed for our breakfast to the New Taj Mahal Cafe to savour the Mangalore Buns & Goli Baje

The Mangalore Buns consists of Banana’s, is mildly sweet and puffs like puri’s and is served with coconut chutney

Goli Baje looks like a Bonda and is made of various flours and curd.

It doesnt have a distinct taste but goes well with accompaniments like chutneys.

The dishes were delicious and we had it multiple times during our stay.

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Mangalore is also known as the Ice Cream capital of India and its famous contribution is the Gadbad Ice Cream.

Gadbad Ice Cream is part of the dessert menu in every South Indian eating joint in India.

The credit for creating Gadbad goes to one Prabhakar Shetty who founded Ideal Ice Cream chain .

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Meanwhile back on our road trip we drove up the Karnataka coast via Murudeshwar into Goa.

Goa is a tale of two halves.

South Goa which retains the slow old quiet charm while North buzzes with the ‘happening’ & ‘happened’ crowd.

In the midst of these two extremes, the Goan life has a typical daily baking activity.

Scattered in every little part of Goa home-bakers churn multiple batches of fresh Poe or the Goan Bread.

Once the Poe is ready a team of local boys stack their cycles in blue baskets and go about honking & notifying their neighborhood.

The Poe is quite filling and incredibly economic on the purse as we discovered when we hailed a local poee boy on duty.

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Meanwhile a local story of Mumbai states that the Goans who had settled in erstwhile Bombay were labelled as Maka Paos.

Since they would visit the baker in the morning and demand their beloved Pao in their tongue.

Our last leg on the trip was the state of Maharashtra.

Which meant leaving the Coastal Highway from Goa and ‘diverting’ to the 6 lane inland Mumbai – Bangalore Highway.

But the sheer joy in this diversionary leg was the 90 minute drive on the single lane state highway.

This is the leafy Konkan belt flush with Mango trees.

Even in December you could feel how wet this heart of Konkan gets during the monsoons.

The 90 minute drive through Konkan ends with the steep climb up the Amboli ghat.

As we gained height it got windy and we had to fish out our warm Ooty jackets.

At the top of Amboli Ghat the vistas opened up.

We parked next to a tea stall and placed our breakfast order.. Bun Omelette and hot chai

While munching the warm Bun I realized how the breakfast bread had changed again along the coast

As if on cue the Yellow Browed Bulbuls arrived to make it a magical moment

The Two Hands of Nature

The Two Hands of Nature
This week the Cyclone Gaja passed over our State. And with it there was a reminder of how life can spin differently in a blink.
First the misty clouds arrived in the morning, by afternoon came their two constant companions high winds and rain. Now all eyes in the hill town were glued to one thing – Power supply.
Highwinds regularly knock about weak branches or old trees and the electricity poles are pretty sitting targets. To be fair the local govt electricity dept is a hardworking lot, but they often get stretched.
We had shifted to the Niligirs in July which is peak monsoon season. I had thought getting used to the wind chill would be a task, but the real challenge I learnt was mentally getting used to the power outage during rains.
To fortify our house and daily work schedule we picked up a powerful UPS and Battery. But when you loose power for 4 days, any UPS is of little use.
Sometime back a local friend inquired how were were settling in. And if we missed anything? The prompt answer was – Power supply during rains. ” Relax, he said, you will get used to it”.
Gradually we realised we needed power only for a few hours in the night. Nature blesses us with terrific daylight through the day. And the perpetual spring weather meant Ooty still remains a town without any Fans forgot AirCon.
Last week the Electricity dept folks came over to check the meter for the two-monthly bill. I gingerly inquired about our consumption. The bill amount was 90% lower than our average Mumbai bill. Yup… 90% !
Maybe Nature is like a Potter who uses one hand to support while the other beats the clay into shape.
On Thursday late night my sleep broke with sound of Cyclone Gaja pounding over us, my first thought was… I hope we don’t loose Power. Then I smiled to myself.. Bring it on Nature…atleast I don’t have to water the vegetable patch and the garden.

New Friends on the Block

For 12 years in Mumbai we had people living above, below and all around us plus a bunch of lovely friends close-by.
Now in Ooty in a radius of 1km there is one small family and a couple of old aged caretakers. Silence has a new meaning.
Gradually over the past few months our eyes opened to a whole bunch of new sounds.
This post is a tribute to our new friends.
Typically 6am the dawn breaks and by 6:30am the Jungle Fowl lets out his cries. I have made multiple attempts to video him crooning but he always gives me the slip.
A clip of one of the failed attempts: https://photos.app.goo.gl/MhJTuktgptFQg8xZ6
The Bottle Brush tree next to the terrace is the next stop. Sweet sounding Red Whiskered Bulbul drop by and the Oriental White Eye hangs upside down to eat.
The Black Drongo let out their screech after perching themselves on top of the tall fern tree. Occasionally the Barbet come to munch on the Jacaranda tree.
Around our little vegetable patch the Jungle Pegion and the White Browed Wagtails come to feed on little juicy worms. A few days back a Pond Heron dropped by, stood for a couple of minutes plucked an earthworm and scooted away.
This time of the year wild purple Dahlia are in bloom. And the Bees are out in full strength nectoring.
The Deer Park Road where we live has deers, stags and Sambhar in an enclosed area. While a large family of Wild Bisons live in the open around the Deer Park area.
But truly the icing on the cake was discovering the Mysore Summer Place or the Fernhill Palace right behind our house. Now a Heritage hotel under the Royal Family …. But also ranks 3 in top 13 Spookiest Places in India, Fort Bhangard of course being #1.
More about that in the link: https://www.cleartrip.com/stories/13-spookiest-places-in-india/
My friend feels there were probably rats in the Palace ceiling which scared the film crew away :-))