Sunday, August 29, 2010

I discover a world of anklets and toe rings

I'm just back from another trip to Rajasthan, and I've brought back some keepsakes - silver toe rings and a chunky silver anklet. I bought them from the airport shop in Jodhpur. Stupid, I know, because everyone knows an airport shop is overpriced. But they were irresistible, you know?

You see, all through my two Rajasthan trips this month - and through previous trips - I have been looking at the local women and their feet. And their anklets have me completely mesmerised.

Like this Rabari woman, so confidently striding past me with her camels. On her feet she wore torn canvas shoes; but above them were solid anklets of silver. Two anklets on each foot, with a solid-sounding clink.

And check out these women at the "haunted" town of Bhangarh - the older woman wore a thick anklet that was welded together, she said they would never come off as long as she lived. I have never seen toe rings like the ones she wore either, they were on her big toe.

More recently, I found these cute small toe rings peeping from under the skirt of this lady near Osiyan.

At Rohet, I met this Bishnoi elderly woman, with a weather-beaten anklet.

Even the little girls have anklets on their feet. This pair of sisters are from a shepherd's family near Jodhpur.

On the highway from Delhi to Agra, at the restroom of Maharaja restaurant, this sweeper woman had jingling anklets, and shiny toe rings.

Close-up of her feet. They say the French woman announces herself with perfume. The Indian woman, you can hear her presence before you see her.

And check out this woman with the red skirt at the Clock Tower market in Jodhpur. See the anklet on that jaunty foot?

With all that silver around me, clinking and jingling, how on earth was I to resist ? I gave in, and I have to say, I'm delighted with the results.

This little bit of Rajasthan is going to stay with me, folks!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I learn about the Trees of Delhi

Every time I drive past the shady avenues of Lutyens Delhi, I look at the trees lining the roads, and wonder what they are.

Are they local trees, native to Delhi, planted in straight lines along the avenues when Imperial Delhi was created? Or have they been imported from elsewhere? When do they flower? How are they pollinated? What happens to the fruit? A zillion questions; and no answers!

This week, by some blessed chance, I spotted this book at an airport bookshop. Pradip Krishen's "Trees of Delhi" - a fantastic 360-page book of the most interesting tidbits and trivia. I am now a fan.

I discovered, through this book, that the trees in Delhi have wonderfully evocative names. In fact, they're lovely enough to invent an entirely new alphabet string for Delhi's schoolchildren!

A for the golden Amaltas
B for Lord Shiva's favourite Bael
C for the maple-like Chinar
D for the showy orange Dhak...

Ah, when am I going to learn all of them? But I'm determined to make a start! So here's where I'm beginning - with the big line of trees all along Rajpath and India Gate. Quite a fitting start, don't you think?

These beautiful dense green trees are rai-jamun (R for the blessedly tart Rai-Jamun! There! One letter done!).

Wondering what a rai-jamun is? It's a tree from the myrtle family, a species of flowering trees that grow widely around the world, primarily in Asia and Australia. It is evergreen in nature, which might explain why this sort of tree was chosen by the city planners to line this important road. If a deciduous tree had been chosen, it would shed its leaves in the scorching hot Delhi summers, you see? That would not have suited the British planners of Imperial Delhi, who definitely wanted a very green Delhi.

Here's a report from Captain George Swinton, Chairman of the Town Planning Committee, sent in 1912, referring to the creation of Imperial Delhi:

Trees will be everywhere, in every garden however small it may be, and along the sides of every roadway, and Imperial Delhi will be in the main a sea of foliage. It may be called a city, but it is going to be quite different from any city that the world has known.

Quite a vision, eh? So the evergreen rai-jamun found favour with the planners; whereas many other earlier Mughal garden favourites lost out.

Both rai-jamun and jamun were planted by the British. The rai-jamun was planted on Rajpath and India Gate; and the jamun, the most popular of the Lutyen's avenue trees, was planted on Tughlaq, Rajaji, Motilal Nehru, etc. In case you're wondering what the difference between jamun and rai-jamun is, here's a dummies guide :)

So if you walk past India Gate in August, you'll be eating the smaller jamuns! Every year the Delhi civic authorities auction the rights to collect fruits off the avenue trees. Fruits are either hand-picked or more popularly just shaken down (all fruits on a single tree don't ripen at the same time, so shaking makes sense). The jamunwallahs at India Gate sell it with chaat masala. Or is it kala namak? I'm not sure, so if you know what it is, then tell me!

Meanwhile, I'll just head back to my book and look up more trees. I can't think of a better way to spend Sunday :)