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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

MINT'S VERSATILITY PAR EXCELLENCE



Well friends, I’m a firm believer in the usefulness of herbs in our daily life. I felt like sharing with you some of the beneficial aspects of the modest pudina which has helped me all along in curing minor health irritants and saved me many a hospital visit. In North India it is a much loved house plant. Most of the households grow this healthful plant in small beds or in pots in their backyards.
Mint’s been a trusted household remedy for centuries. The knowledge of its therapeutic value has been passed on from one generation to the other. For an average householder it is enough to understand that this herb has immense healing properties and should be used in whichever way possible. It's widely consumed in summer drinks all over the world.
There’re more than a dozen varieties of mint in the world apart from peppermint and spearmint. However one thing is common in all of them: they are perennial, aromatic and possess volatile oils. Mint grows about 20 cm. above ground and spreads very fast if unchecked. It produces purple tinged white flowers which stand vertical tapering at the top. It thrives in moderate climate, gets scorched in winter and in severe summer only frequent watering can save it from extinction. Its roots, however, remain dormant under the soil even in unsound conditions.
My acquaintance with mint as a kitchen king goes back to my childhood. (On the wrong side of sixties now) When I was growing up we were living in a house with lot of open space. My father had expertise in managing a kitchen garden, and I remember distinctly the small bed of refreshing green mint leaves which I was required to pick to grind chutney for our dinner as an add- on to enhance the flavour and pungency of the meal. I was entrusted the duty of preparing the green sauce in the traditional mortar and pestle (no blenders those days) which took no less than an hour for best results. The delicious chutney infused with the labour of love used to be a gastronomic delight. You can do away with all the store bought sauces, if you manage time to make this healthy substitute.
This is how you make it. Put a cupful of clean, washed, fresh mint leaves in the blender. Add a large sized onion cut roughly, a tsp. of ground pomegranate seeds (anardana), two green chillies, a quarter tsp.of red chilli powder, half a tsp. of sugar, juice of one lemon (small) and salt to taste. Blend it to desired consistency. Enjoy it with pakoras, samosas, fried chicken and  dal roti. You can season your burger patties with a thin layer of this chutney and spread some on bread before laying the fillings for sandwiches.   
 Mint is popular for its medicinal and curative properties and  has a prime place as a condiment on kitchen  shelves. Its sedative effect calms frazzled nerves and comes in handy for treating common ailments like headaches, migraines etc. Mint leaves are efficacious in treating gastrointestinal disorders. Its antispasmodic properties relieve gas pain and lead to well formed stool. It is antiviral and an analgesic. Its paste gently rubbed on temples and back of the neck helps in relieving tension and stiffness.
Boil a palmful of fresh mint leaves in a cup of water, let it cool and drink it morning and evening after mixing a pinch of salt. It gives immediate relief in stomach infections and discomfort. Extract the juice of fresh mint leaves and take a spoonful with equal water for stomach cramps and nausea. It can be repeated whenever  needed.
Mint leaves tickle the taste buds in  cool drinks in summers and finely chopped sprinkled leaves  lend a charm to gourmet salads and soups. Put a sprig of mint in a glass of water and chill it before enjoying the drink. It soothes the discomfort and burning sensation due to over consumption of tea or coffee.
As an Ayurvedic medicine it is sold in the form of liquid and soft gels. Mint  paste is conducive for rheumatic aches. Inhale mint leaves for decongestion in Asthma.
Shade dry its leaves to be stored in airtight containers and use in the off season. For example knead the dried specks in flour for making stuffed paranthas. Beat its fresh (finely minced) leaves in eggs for omelets. It aids the digestive process through efficient bile production
Who can  ignore  our very own pudina chai (mint tea) a refreshing, energizing all time favourite beverage in winters? It tones up the digestive process and  the spirits.
Boil  some freshly picked mint leaves in two cups of water.  Put off the flame and add tea leaves. Let it brew covered for 2-3 minutes. Consume it with sugar and/or milk as your personal choice. 2. Pour over tea bags and enjoy with or without sugar and milk.
Its olfactory qualities freshen up the atmosphere, when adorned in a flower vase or kept afloat in a flat bottomed bowl.
Its worth can be gauged from the fact that  products like Antacid liquid, chewing gums, tooth pastes, mouth washes, candies, ice cream and many more are flavoured with mint.
I invent ways to use it daily, why don’t you? 

Your comments are welcome!  
Images courtesy: Google

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

PLAINS VERSUS HILLS



Give plume shaped purple flowers,
of  tiny thread like texture.
Back to the plains (Patiala) for a short visit for some urgent jobs. The experience is like stepping into a cauldron of heat and humidity and having sweaty baths during power cuts. Just a couple of miserly rain spells here, as if the area is out of favour of the  weather Gods. No option other than remaining closeted in an air conditioned room to avoid the stifling and still atmosphere. If there is semblance of wind movement it is hot and cagey. The roads are empty of people and going for a walk means bouts of perspiration. Hope there’ll be more rains to enable the farmers to transplant paddy and people to breathe easily.

Such flowery plants're thriving
at Kumarhatt
 Traditionally the period between middle of July to middle of August ( Sawan In the Bikramy calendar ) symbolizes celebrations, romance, longing, special cuisine and joy of togetherness, when newly married girls visit their myka    (parents’ home) to share some blissful moments and secrets of married life with their yet to be married friends. They enjoy swing rides, make merry, while cool and sensuously moist breeze, post rain revitalizes mind and body after the scorching heat of June.


A small mound covered with
sundry verdure at kumarha
 But things have changed and only nostalgia brings back those precious memories. The mad pace of modern life style in urban as well as rural space has robbed us of the pure pleasure of the festivals associated with changing seasons. Now we only see images of ‘Teej’ being celebrated formally at girls’ colleges or at some elitist Ladies formal functions. The community level convergence for participation and merriment have long been forgotten.
To cap it all nature also plays spoil sport as the deficient monsoon rains have caused misery and have rewritten all the statistics about the revival of India’s economy.
******
My Tulsi plant 
Once again I’m back in the lap of shivalik hills (Kumarhatti). Here it rains almost every day and that has caused landslides and few inadequately laid out dwellings on upper slopes have been washed away. The paradoxes of nature are here to stay while they poke us to mull over some do-able issues.
The hill landscape is carpeted green once again and people’ve heaved a sigh of intense reprieve from the extended dry spell.

Monday, July 16, 2012

MONSOON SCENE AT KUMARHATTI - 2

Monsoon rains are in the prime of youth at the moment. Exuberance and excitement are palpable in every drop of water. The vitality of rain waters have already succeeded in dressing the bald hillocks with glistening, dewy and fresh grasses and plant life. The mother earth has opened its womb to be watered with the grain of new life to be presented to the harried mankind down under.Unfortunately the all giving earth’s response is always met with man’s callous indifference to its needs.

These days sun and rain indulge in a game of ‘Hide and Seek.’ When we wake up in the morning, usually there is mild mist around but slowly the sun behind overtakes and there is golden, clear sheen of sunshine beckoning us to come out and stand in its luxurious fold and stretch our limbs to drive away stiffness and indolence.
 
You try to soak in the sensuousness of the ambience while sipping your morning cup of tea standing alongside the balcony’s railing. Soon the reverie is cut short by the sudden darkness caused by the floating clouds when they waylay the sun and cover its path. This playfulness continues till the over saturated dark clouds advance and force us indoors to watch its outpouring sitting near the window, feeling lucky in some vague and mysterious way….

 All around pine trees blessed with a new lease of life outspread their long fists at the ends of twigs and allow pine needles to stand aloft with full strength. ( I've clicked these  pictures ) The verdure on the hills is revved up and is responding to the melody of rain by growing fast.

Evidently the mood is upbeat and farmers are scurrying around to finish sowing and transplanting saplings. The hand pumps and bore wells are getting replenished with water and new sense of hope and well being has taken birth.
  
On the other hand, I notice during my walk umpteen incidents of landslides. Some of the mountains have been bruised and lacerated in the process of widening the road and look naked bereft of all vegetation and with every rain spell the loose soil slides down bringing large boulders and stones. Hopefully this rainy season’ll stabilize the soil by growing plant life on the exposed flanks.

 
Forestland and hills need care and nurturing like that for a child. Every year forest wealth is being denuded disturbing the ecological balance. The hill folks ought to be sensitized and disciplined regarding their responsibilities towards their surroundings. People can’t sit smugly expecting all initiatives from the government.

 Friends, welcome here.  

Friday, July 13, 2012

TO BE COMPUTER SAVVY IN YOUR SILVER YEARS



I’ve realized for quite some time now, that to be computer savvy is the best gift, one can aspire for, post retirement. I wrestled a lot to learn the simple operations which have finally opened the floodgates of authentic and unthinkable reservoir of information courtesy dear Google’s magical operations. I salute the crowning glory of the members of the team, who are putting up such awesome repertory of innovations for the global netizens. I wonder at the intensity of motivation and consuming passion which enabled this group to come up with the greatest invention of the last century.

In fact my penchant for writing has been fueled by the chance to start my own blog on the Internet, a service provided by the magnanimity of Google. It is actually thence my peaceful life got entangled in eternal knots. Though Microsoft software is user friendly but my grey cells don’t respond that fast and memory plays tricks all the time. Even then my mental faculties refuse to step into a defeatist mode; rather the desire to learn has become all consuming.

I curse myself when I’m not able to maneuver Applications (for fear of its getting crashed) which I’d like to try on my blog to make it more presentable to my readers. I tried to take help from my children but they have no time and they feel amazed that I’m taking things so seriously. Other young people who have degrees in computer science can’t help either.

Hence I continue to indulge in exhausting skirmishes with the little potent machine to unravel some of its riddles. When I do succeed in executing some complicated stuff, I feel on cloud nine and my confidence bolsters up. However there is a constant flow of highs and lows and in spite of that the pleasure compensates the anguish. The web world is a fascinating place to have friends, incognito, with whom you develop deep affinity by sharing your world with them. The virtual cyber world has empowered us to navigate the globe with the click of a mouse.

While browsing through my favorite sites, I’m struck by the similarities we’ve with the people of other cultures. We indeed are global citizens separated by man made borders.

With age our cognitive abilities slow down. The intellectual exercise afforded by this wondrous object makes me feel a part of the changing world and enthuses me to express the reams of my experience and let the world know the secrets of my consciousness felt over the years. This apart, it is a boon for me as it invests a sense of purpose to my life and offers something to look forward to. It is a constant companion to fall back upon, any time of the day.

It’d have been more fulfilling if I had entered this domain earlier. However, as they say it is never too late to learn!!!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

MONSOON SCENE AT KUMARHATTI-1


                         
The soil is breathing again. For a couple of days now, we’ve had a substantial downpour, thanks to the rain God for blessing the parched earth with a generous spell. It is surprising but true that actually Kumarhatti (though a hill station) was in the grip of near drought conditions and farmers were an unhappy lot. This rain has given life to trees, bushes and all kinds of vegetation. What magic! Already newly born tiny leaves are winking at us from the sides of hillocks and mounds here and there. The perennials which looked almost dead are showing signs of aliveness with some green specks taking birth on their body parts. All vegetation which was smarting under the burnout seems to be reviving itself with nectar from heaven. The worst is over and good days are here again.
 In the morning when I was sitting in my balcony reading news paper, light clouds were floating near me and engulfed me in their moist fold but soon drifted away by a gust of wind.
 The other day when I was enjoying the morning scene standing in my balcony after sunrise, the horizon presented a  dreamlike experience as if it was the setting of our first parents’ ‘Paradise’ in heaven which they ultimately lost by disobeying God’s diktat. It looked like a gigantic oval bed with unevenly contoured pneumatic structure offering mysteriously luscious jumps.
 Yesterday evening when I went for a walk, it was cloudy and pleasantly breezy. I stood motionless at a bend of the road from where I’d a vantage view of the horizon. I kept looking at the fascinating surreal mural self made by the clouds with a crystal shine reflected by the setting sun. There was a medley of grey in many shades complimented with milk white and coal black clouds giving the illusion of nearness though unreachable.  In no time the amalgamation of clouds overhead turned threateningly dark indicating another spell of rain. We quickened our steps back and made it safely home.
 Monsoon clouds here are capricious in nature. You can’t predict when it’ll rain even though the dark clouds may be menacingly strolling in the sky. Sometimes the wind just chases them away. At other times they’ll empty their big bellies without any warning whatsoever. They keep you on your toes if you spread your washing for drying.
My friend cuckoo has not regained her cheer yet as I haven’t heard her singing for many days now. Though many other birds make their presence felt off and on. The crow is a fixture here as I hear its cawing regularly.
Whenever you look at the sky these days the permutation and combination of cloud formations keep you enchanted. Here is a scene which no artist can ever replicate.
 Now the rains have become an every day occurrence and with the fall in temperature, chilly weather is waiting to happen.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A RING SIDE VIEW OF THE LANDSCAPE OF A HILL STATION



Kumarhatti about 5km. ahead of Dharampur on Kalka Shimla Road is a small sleepy town in Solan District of Himachal Pradesh. It is about 5000 square feet above sea level. Its forest area is home to lush green, lanky and imposing pine trees. The cool, crisp and balmy breeze which whistles through its vegetation is the highlight of the area.

We spend a few summer months in a small dwelling unit on Nahan road, two km. from main Kumarhatti bazaar. It overlooks a narrow valley enclosed by tall pines and presence of water bodies here and there.

The mornings here are the most pleasant and eye catching. When the rays of the rising sun get reflected in an orange yellow hue, on the mountain tops afar, the scene is surreal and feisty. On misty mornings the mountain tops look wrapped up in hazy mystery. While on a walk in the morning, I sense the air having some divine attributes as it caresses my face benignly, lifts my spirits while whispering soothing notes in my  ears.When it ruffles my hair, I close my eyes to feel its gentleness and its sensuousness. Occasionally I pause and listen to swaying pines sharing with me their tales of gray winter, fragrant and breezy spring and not so welcome summer. Cuckoo has followed me here too and enlivens my mornings with its sonorous coo cooing.

In the evenings, I enjoy watching avian families pondering over the nitty gritty of life in their evening community sessions, perched on one of the pines near my balcony.

Generally speaking life here is slow paced and the village folks are poor and illiterate. But they’ve developed stamina because of the physical activity of walking up and down the slopes, roads and pathways.

However, within a few years the economic face of this place has changed considerably. Three private universities have come up on the Rajgarh road and there is lot of activity around them.
But what amazes me is the resilience of the fair sex around here. While having a walk, I particularly observe local men and women in action. They live on the slopes in small hutments. I notice women clad in bright coloured and shiny salwar kameez, moving slowly on slopes carrying sickles and a sack cloth, on their daily mission of cutting leaves for fodder for their cattle and later carry home huge loads on their heads.

Women here virtually run the households single handedly. Though their faces look sunburned and wrinkled due to working in the open yet they adorn sculpted rugged looks with muscled limbs. There is hardly any extra flab on their bodies.

Most men on the other hand look lazy and haggard with unkempt hair. Sometimes I wonder at the variant personalities of the couples walking together. Whereas the wife is all decked up with a red spot on the forehead, nose pin, a couple of tiny rings in her earlobes, bangles, cheap beaded necklaces and even silver toe rings, her man  looks sunken cheeked, shabby and a body posture indicative of usage of intoxicants.

The other day I went grocery shopping. I entered a shop where I saw fresh looking vegetables. While selecting stuff, my attention was drawn towards a smartly dressed woman sitting on the stool knitting. From her looks she could be taken for an educated or even a professional woman. She seemed to show no interest in the goings on around. To satisfy my curiosity I quizzed her on some pretext and was surprised to know that she was the shopkeeper’s wife.

 On the flip side agriculture here is solely dependent on rainfall. The farmers get ready their small holdings on slopes for sowing seeds or for transplanting saplings and anxiously wait for the rains to come.

Beans, cucumber, capsicum, pumpkin, tomatoes and maize are their main cash crops, which are ready for picking around August/ September. At the moment all look up to the azure sky for the heavenly nectar.

My writing schedule has now gone haywire because I’ve no access to Internet. It is the cool weather which keeps me bucked up.

PS. After excruciating efforts we managed to install a wireless instrument to my computer and I’ve succeeded in posting this.