Monday, February 17, 2020

Stop and smell the roses!

Valentine's day - some company decided to sell their greeting cards and the idea turned into a good business......seriously, it has done our economy well.

The below article was first published in Financial express dated 12 feb,2020

Stop and smell the roses – I literally follow this age old good advice when I travel to Hosur via Bangalore or Salem. Every time I travel this route, I stop by the many rose farms and poly houses, to soak in the beauty of every whorl and colour of the beautiful roses. The gardeners and farmers are very warm and welcoming. Each time I stop by, we share conversations, they invite us home for lunch or offer a glass of butter milk. They are also very generous to give me bonus in the form of a rose plant, tomatoes, chayote, Brinjals or whatever they grow.

Hosur is a little historical, industrial and agricultural town in the state of Tamil Nadu. A very humble town which is not proud of its various honours, perhaps the reason it is not so popular.  All around the town if you observe, you will find historical and archaeological evidences that pre-dates this town to 2000 years. During Sangam-age it was called ‘Muraasu nadu’ and ruled by King Adiyamaan, the King who gave gooseberry to Tamil poetess Avaiyaar to prolong her life. The Cholas, Rajputs, Nayaks, Hoysalas, British East India during Lord Cornwallis time, Tipu sultan and many more have ruled this place.

This town is home to many small scale and large scale industries producing automobile bodies, automotive spares, high precision aero parts, watches, bio-tech, agriculture, tissue culture, pharmaceuticals and many more. A place which cannot be classified as a 'laid back' town or a 'hyper-active' town, It takes a middle path. From what I have observed generally, people here have the approach of ‘Work while you work, play while you play’. Maybe because majority of them have jobs with 9-5 schedules in Industries unlike many MNCs which work across different time zones.

One of its prime revenue generator is through its horticulture and floriculture exports. Hosur soil is said to be very fertile and ideal to grow European vegetables like broccoli, carrot, beets, bell peppers, asparagus etc. This is possible not only because of the fertile soil but also because this place is elevated 3000ft above sea level and thus enjoys a compatible and salubrious climate, all round the year. The weather is the reason why the Britishers called this place as “India’s Little England” during their rule. Tons of vegetables are exported to other parts of the country and this town also houses prime floriculture companies.

Many agri-export companies based here have their project sites around the main town like Denkanikottai, Bagalur, Thally etc. They breed, cultivate and export flowers like carnation, lilies, gerbera and the world famous valentine red rose called ‘Taj Mahal’. This variety created by a rose breeder in Holland is patented and cultivated in Hosur. It is a deep red budded rose with long stalk and big leaves. Another rose by name ‘Kohinoor’ which is a baby orange-pink rose is also cultivated here. The main markets for these flowers are Europe, Australia, The Middle East and Japan. The valentine rose was patented in 2009 and the exports have been doubled, tripled and some years they dip too.

Talking to a rose grower, in Bagalur (near Hosur), who was growing the Damask rose popularly called ‘Paneer rose’, said he also grows cassandra, chrysanthemum, marigold, tuberose for domestic and international markets. The flowers he grows are auctioned in the famous Hosur flower markets to retailers where they reach homes for daily pooja or special occasions like wedding. 

But with passage of time, flowers have gone beyond decorating gods, sacred spaces and many other places. They now decorate office establishments, living rooms, as gifts etc. He said growing flowers now is a highly competitive industry. With introduction of new techniques, cultivators now grow and develop new flowers which leads to change in the trend of consumers. The new generation employ modern technology, maximise the production and offer better quality of flowers and thereby, a better price. He said the developed cut flowers like the valentine roses are grown in poly houses under controlled conditions. The buds are covered with netted bud caps so their shape  remains in the bud form. Their petals are also thick so that they can withstand long distance travels. The flowers grown here travel in refrigerated vans to Bangalore and then are airlifted to various countries like Amsterdam, Germany, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Australia etc. Recently, an Intellectual property attorney has also applied for GI tag for the “Hosur roses”.

As I type this looking at the rose plant in my balcony garden; the subtle fragrance, its rich colour and artistry of whorls reminds of Emperor Jahangir’s quote “No other scent of equal excellence…It lifts the spirit and refreshes the soul”.

So the next time you happen to pass this route, do stop by to smell the roses - a soothing balm for city souls. If lucky, you could also relish the refreshing buttermilk, enjoy a lively conversation and also carry home a lovely rose plant to adorn your garden along with some fragrant memories

The link to the article is here 

Friday, January 31, 2020

An ancient festival to honor & thank nature

Pongal or Indra vizha. Another of my column which I happily wrote when Swapna  requested. Thanks again for trusting me , Swapna. This was written for  & was first published in financial express. Here goes,

Pongal – An ancient festival to honor and thank Nature

Soaking in the beautiful view of the Western Ghats during our annual family road trip to
Agumbe, this winter vacation, I stopped by a farm land to pick up a few golden-hued rice stalks for dry d├ęcor. One of the farmers who was harvesting, generously gave me a few stalks and refused to take any money in return. The small talk I had with him made me realize farming is physically and mentally demanding with minimal returns. It also depends on handling uncertainties like weather and pests. So, when their toil yields, their first harvest is to the visible god, Mother Nature in the form of the thanksgiving festival — Pongal.

Most of us who grew up in cities with no village connection have not witnessed the real “Pongal” and it's festive vibes. The celebrations are rooted and followed ritually in the rural homes. Pongal in Tamizh means ‘overflow’. This festival dates back to the Sangam age when forms of nature were revered by man. Social Historians say, Pongal was referred as “Indra Vizha” in the ancient Chola sea port of Poompuhaar which is considered the birthplace of the festival.

Bhogi -The first day of the multi day festival is Bhogi Pongal. All things old are disposed and are burnt outside the house in a bonfire suggesting the end of the old and birth of the new. Houses are cleaned, whitewashed and decorated with first cut of paddy, mango leaves and kolams. This day Lord Indra, the rain god, is honoured whose other name is 'Bhogi’ . The festive spread for the day is payasam, vada and Puran poli along with the regular menu. Spiritually, this day defines that it is not enough to clean externally alone but, one has to clean the mind by burning old bad habits or thoughts and take a firm resolve to tread the path of love and purity.

Surya Pongal -The second day, the main day is Surya Pongal, thanksgiving to the Sun god and beginning of Tamizh month, Thai. The Sun enters the sign of Capricorn (Makara), marking end of winter and the arrival of spring. On this day, Chakkara Pongal (sweet) and Ven Pongal (spiced rice) are made with freshly harvested rice in a mud pot (pongu paanai) cooked on a mud stove (aduppu) in open courtyard where the whole family gathers. The neck of the pot is tied with turmeric and ginger plants, signifying auspiciousness and spice of life respectively. On either side of the pot two fully grown sugarcane plants are kept to signify the arrival of sweetness in life. When the cooked rice broth overflows out of the pot, it is called ‘Pongal’ (Tamizh for overflowing). The overflowing represents abundance and rich harvest. In joy, the people gathered around the pot unite and shout ‘Pongal-O-Pongal’. Some also chant the‘Aditya Hrudayam’ and do Surya Namaskar to the Sun God. To  accompany the pongal, a tangy spicy dish called ‘Ezhu Thaan Kootu’ (7 vegetable stew) is made of 7 seasonal native vegetables. The landlord distributes food, clothes, and money among the labourers who work for him. By being generous, sharing and treating workers well he, in turn, earns their loyalty and love. A noble act which should be our ideal at all times not just on Pongal, one of the key take aways from the festival.

Spiritually, the Sun itself symbolises all that the Pongal festival stands for. The message of light, unity, and impartiality. Without the Sun, life would perish on earth. It is regular in its work, and never claims any recognition. If we imbibe these virtues, we shall shine with equal divine lustre! The Sun joyously turns northward (Utttarayan) and moves towards us shedding light, warmth and infuses more life and energy.

Mattu pongal -The third day, Mattu Pongal, is to pay our thanks to the cow, revered as the mother of the universe. The cow is decorated, the horns are painted in vibrant colours. Mixed rice like lemon rice, coconut rice, and curd rice are made along with aviyal (vegetable medley in coconut gravy), and vadams(fryums). These dishes are arranged into a picnic hamper and carried to feast on the beaches, river banks or any picnic spots. Outing events like this helps in forging bonds between people. In the southern districts of Tamil Nadu, a bull taming contest called ‘Jalli kattu' is organized where strong men compete in taming a violent bull. If he tames the bull, he gets the prize money tied to the horns of the bull.
The sibling festival of ‘Kanu’ is also celebrated on this day. Sisters pray for the well-being of their brothers. Sisters wake up early and place leftovers of the previous day’s food (they prepare in excess for this purpose) on turmeric leaves for the crows and birds to eat. They offer prayers that their family should be united like the flock of birds.

The festival in essence helps the whole universe find a place in one’s heart gradually during the course of the celebrations. First, by embracing family and friends with long arms, then the servants and the poor, then the cow, and then all other living creatures which live united in flocks like birds.

The rituals and traditions may have twisted with time, we still do them repeatedly adding new dimensions, but the essence is the same.

 Let this season bring change for good and bonds of sweetness and peace prevail everywhere. 

The link to the article in Financial express dated 14 Jan 2020 is here