The Exciting Night Life of Plum & Polly

“What do you do in the evenings?”, asked a young colleague after telling me about the exciting things that city life has to offer. Maybe my twenty year old could have stood the revels. Hectic – yes, that is the word I am looking for.  I myself prefer the quiet lifestyle. I suppose everybody wonders from time to time what everybody else does. I told him I take a walk around the neighborhood in the evenings.  He gave me a withered look. I must have sounded like a septuagenarian to his young mind.

“Err … any night life where you live? “, he quizzed, clearly not willing to give up on me just yet.

I felt it best to keep away from the domestic angle of things and spared him the details of my many culinary adventures to feed the family, and instead went for the wild flora-and-fauna angle. You know, give him the exciting side of things and so on. I told him that I recently found that a rather fat mouse comes along to the garden every night and scratches around near the fence for some food. Whether he finds it, I don’t know, but he makes enough of a noise to attract the fat black cat, and I sometimes fear for his safety, but as he(the mouse) himself seems happy enough, I cannot do much. He looked astounded. Impressed at having impressed the fellow, I plunged on. I told him that the birds coming home to their nests is a welcome sight at dusk. He thought I was cuckoo.

Night Life

So walk huh? he said circling back to what he thought was safe ground again.

The delights of an evening walk, are free, and one either likes it or has not tried it often enough to enjoy it. The seasonal delights are there for the taking, and the mind is happy enough to disassociate itself from the cares and wont’s of the corporate world for that period.

As I take a walk down in the summer evenings, I am always amazed at the flower laden trees and plants. The Oleander trees are heavy with summer flowers of various colors, the rose bushes are thriving scenting the air, the rhododendron and bougainvillea overflow, even late daffodils peek out here and there. I just learnt the name of another flowering tree:  Crepe Myrtle.  That sounds like the name that can spark a thousand songs.

A peek of yellow hibiscus flowers is a welcome sight. I have seen red ones, they are common enough, but white and yellow ones are another treat altogether. It took me back to the days when we plucked hibiscus leaves, soaked them in hot water and then made a fine paste to use as a hair conditioner. To date, no commercial conditioner comes close. Yet, I feel I cannot walk to Mr. Chin Cho’s lawn and ask him to pluck some hibiscus leaves from his tree to condition my hair. It just wouldn’t do. Plus Mr Chin Cho doesn’t look like the kind of man who cares about the texture of my hair.

I learnt recently that I had spent vast amounts of time near Aloe, and knew nothing of it. I could have just cut a stalk and rubbed my face, instead of taking the car and dashing off to Traders Joe to buy their cream with nourishing aloe vera. (The gardener was instructed to remove the plant about a year ago. In my defense, ‘Instructed’ is strictly not the right term to use here. I asked him what plant it was in Spanish, and he looked sad, and waved his hand about quite a bit. The next thing I knew the plant was gone. )

Summer also means fruits. Apricots, peaches, and plums jostle on the fruit trees, and the squirrel, Polly, is very busy.

I thought about how much the little things in life matter.  A friend of mine shared her plum produce with me, generously giving me more than I could competently handle on my own. In her home, we tasted plum chutneys and plum jams, and I came home inspired.  Last night, I was the paragon of domestic efficiency and made plum pickle. The thing is looking very proud and beetroot-pink in the refrigerator.

Maybe I shall tell the young fellow about the exciting night life in my kitchen and seal my reputation.

Paada The Fashion Tycoon

Recently, I found myself reading a travel magazine that highlighted the delights of San Francisco. San Francisco is one of those delightful cities that has so much to offer the free soul. I pored over the food options like a snooty gourmet, and realized that the thing to do was to catalog all the ingredients in the menu option. I realized my folly. I should not be saying idli & sambhar for dinner. I should be saying rice cakes made from fermented rice and lentils ground to a perfect consistency & lentils (not the same lentils used for the idlis, another type) with tamarind from local farms with just a touch of coriander and grape tomatoes from the Napa valley.

I should pitch in the local motif strongly, till people stop me to ask, local to where? Eh. The sturdy plains of the Cauvery delta maybe or the African plains? I mean, does tamarind grow elsewhere?

Then, I went on to the shopping pages to find that local boutiques were marketing their wares. Locally designed and tailored by seamstresses in San Francisco, it screamed.

I can see things shrewdly sometimes. It seems to me that local is good, not-local not-good. I wonder when things changed.

Human-beings have many faults. One of them is yearning for something that is not currently available to one and all. Exclusivity. That’s the thing we go for. Take the whole local vs foreign thing. I remember when I was growing up in a small mountain village in South India, people distinctly preferred the Made in <Country other than India>. Shiny material from Singapore was higher rated than polyesters made in Calico mills, India. Soaps from Dubai better than plain-raj Hamam. You get the gist. Foreign better than local.

It was a different matter altogether that no matter the source of the material, the actual stitching was done by the local tailoring talent. In our case, Paada or Gobi: Stalwart tailors, both of whom deserve a separate series of blogs to themselves. Paada was the  tailor who stitched our clothes. Gobi did the honors for the father’s baggy coats and pants. Paada was the one who would stop at our home on the way back from work in the school, take measurements and give us fashion design suggestions as to what would work best with the cloth at hand.


Paada knew the kind of fashions that was approved of by the parents, and those that would appeal to the young at heart. The parents  seemed to think that if the clothes we wore belonged to the time and age of their youth, our outlook would too, and they would not have to worry about the common disease that afflicted young women about being the Modern-Girl and all that. It seemed to us that the kind of fashions that appealed to the parents belonged best in a Jane Austen book, and so an impasse was reached.

Paada stepped in gallantly at times like these. He was a soft-spoken, medium sized, middle-aged man with a gentle smile. I sometimes doubt whether Paada might have done well for himself in the Diplomatic Services.  His suggestions were smack in between the parents’ and ours. For example, if my parents wanted a maxi (full-length dress) with a full-hand sleeve, and we wanted a knee-length skirt with a top having a puffed sleeve stopping thirteen inches above the elbow, he thought hard and wielded his magic wand i.e. tape measure, and suggested something that pleased both parties. Something like a skirt that was mid-way between ankle and knee, with an elbow length sleeve top. Then he’d suggest using the remaining cloth to bung in a hideous looking shirt for the little sibling.

As you can imagine, that was not always the most pleasing to the eye, and made us look like Thing 1, Thing 2 and Thing 3. But it half pleased the affected parties, and he got his pay, life was good. Fashion has left many scars on the Bala household.


The point is that we had local tailors, seamstresses and custom made local fashions, and much as we liked dear old Paada and Gobi, we did not care for it, since the in-thing at the time was ready-made fashions preferably made abroad and imported. If Paada & Gobi were to set up shop in San Francisco now, however, they would be the hot fellows in demand. Interesting.

Counting Hadadas in East Africa

For as long as mankind could dream, birds and flying have held a fascination for us. But the kind of flying we do in airplanes that start with a roar like a hadada, is far from the soaring of the soul that the birds seem to enjoy.  Fascinating creatures, birds. Every time I set out on a walk, my ears pick up trilling and cooing and cawing of the birds. One evening, I gazed upon two pretty swallow-like birds with maroon plumage on their chests. Such beautiful little things, and yet when they trilled, I could not believe the volume that emanated from them. I also realized, to my dismay, that I could not identify them. When I do identify birds, I seem to get them wrong quite cheerfully and confidently. Like the last time I called a Canadian Goose a Duck. Both species took umbrage, not to mention fellow human beings.

I needed to rectify these aspects, I thought to myself severely.  That is why you would have seen me with my beak buried in a book called ‘A Guide to the Birds of East Africa’ by Nicholas Drayson. I see your puzzled expr. Why East Africa? Why not America. Well, for one, the book cover looked better, and for another, I thought why not East Africa? I might visit Kenya one day, and that time, I shall be prepared to dazzle and stun all with my ornithological knowledge.


As it turns out, the book turned out to have quite a few bird names, but little to identify species. It was, however, a thoroughly delightful tale about an upper class club boasting members of the rich Indian community in Kenya, called the Asadi Club. In the book, Mr Malik takes the bird-watching tour every Tuesday morning with Ms Rose Mbikwa, after his doctor ordered him a hobby if he wished to spare his old heart an attack. That is how efficient, quiet and sincere Mr Malik learns to enjoy bird watching, and his guide to bird-watching Ms Rose Mbikwa.

I feel I must tell you the short tale of counting hadadas to entice you to read further or not, depending on your sense of humor. Some people like that kind of thing, some others screw up their noses, look dignified and turn away with a disdainful look on their face.  Neither can thrive while the other survives.

In the book, the members of the Asadi club are reading the newspaper which carries a research article that states on average man farts 101 times a day. This fact is hugely debated by members of the club. Member #1 cannot understand how that is possible purely from a mathematical point of view, since that amounts to 4.208 farts an hour, and he is pretty sure he has not let off 4.208 farts just in the past hour alone.

Valid point.

Member #2 feels that an average takes the high frequency hours with the low frequency hours and the past hour cannot be a reliable indicator.

Also valid point.

Enter Mr Singh, a retired magistrate, and the betting vein is tapped. Mr Singh gets the bets going, and sets terms and conditions to decide the condition. Since one cannot count the flatulence levels or fart frequency during sleep, all parties agree that a count during a 12 hour period should suffice. If a member is able to notch up 51 in 12 hours, Member #2 wins, if not, Member #1 wins. As they look around for a reliable person for the actual counting, poor sincere Mr Malik is roped in. Everybody agrees that if it has to be an unbiased outcome, it has to be vetted by someone with the efficiency and sincerity of Mr Malik’s calibre.

So it was that Mr Malik’s help in the house, a lad from a nearby village, is assigned the task of noting down the farts. To spare the boy the details, Mr Malik, an ardent birdwatcher tells the boy that he will tell him every time he sees a hadada, an ibis like bird that makes a loud noise haa-daa-daa hence the name, that is native to the African savannah. The boy dutifully notes it down, though seriously wondering how on earth Mr Malik saw several dozen hadadas, when he himself saw at most 4 or 5.


It is a tale with many diversions and one thing leads to another and before he knows it, Mr Malik is up against Harry Khan, in a bird watching competition to see who can ask Ms Rose Mbikwa’s hand for a ball, and the hadada-counting boy from the village lends Mr Malik a hand (As it turns out, the boy has superior ornithological knowledge by virtue of growing up around plenty of birds).

A delightful read, if you don’t wish to exercise the bean much, and one in which you get to know the names of many birds even if you cannot identify them. As you amble along with these characters, you get to take a peek into Kenyan culture and life.

Also, Counting Hadadas is a useful euphemism to employ in public. You are welcome.

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