In Search of Black Turmeric

It was my familiarity with Ayurveda that I was introduced to Black Turmeric (Curcuma caesia). That was about three years back. Ever since then I had approached friends, relatives and even acquaintances to seek out Kali Haldi. Most often they were either laughed at or called names. Or plainly told: “How can Haldi be black? Haldi is yellow and it’s so.”

leaf

This June, having been member of a Facebook group I ultimately got hold of the rhizomes of the “very rare and auspicious plant” from Odisha.

In fact, enterprising individuals and nurseries are making a quick buck selling 100g rhizomes for Rs 2,500 while the regular haldi sells Rs 60 a kg.  A ebay seller I approached offered me a black turmeric plant for Rs 1200. Asked does he have buyers, he answered: “I have sold dozens of them.”

Native to north eastern states and Orissa, it is a perennial herb with bluish-black rhizomes. Its flowers are pink in colour. The rhizomes are bitter in taste with a pungent smell. The dried rhizomes are brownish black in colour. When the rhizomes are boiled, a camphoraceous odour is produced because of the presence camphor.

Presently Black Turmeric is on the verge of extinction because of deforestation, unfavourable climatic changes, over exploitation and bio-piracy.

Curcuma caesia, a wonderful herb, contains a very good percentage of curcumin among all the Curcuma or turmeric species. Curcumin is a chemical substance which possesses many curative properties. It is an anti-inflammatory and antibiotic compound. It increases antioxidant capacity of the body.

My Curcuma caesia plants are barely a month old. The leaves sport a strip of black running on the middle which identifies it as one.

Kadamba Memories

Now, it seems that it was ages back. Many, many summers ago. When I was a school-going kid, then in the sixth standard and we were asked to learn ‘by-heart’ Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s Yeh Kadamb ka Ped. If we failed to recite the next day, either we had to stand on our desks or told to go ‘class se bahar.’ We generally agreed to do the former because we didn’t want our parents to know.
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Like many others I had never seen a Kadamba tree but the poem about the wishes of a child to climb a tree on the river bank and play on a tiny wooden flute to surprise his mother remained with me all these years and on seeing a Kadamba tree today in full bloom, those memories of my school days came rushing. Of our Hindi teacher—the bespectacled, her long hair tied in a bun—Supriya madam dressed as always in a salwar kameej; Solil with whom I shared the desk and the view from the window—our huge playground which had played host to Palestine chief, Yasser Arafat.
The rains may play truant but Kadamba flowers are unlikely to desert you. In full bloom, the apricot-coloured spiny balls hanging from the branches of the Kadamba (Kaim, Mitragyna Parvifolia), standing on the roadsides, wait for the passersby to adore their beauty. They begin as yellow-green flowers spreading its scents, similar to jasmine, during nights and grow into oblong fruits containing seeds, as many as 8,000! The deep and thick fragrance of Kadamba flower at rainy night fills the surroundings with a mystique atmosphere. Only those who have experienced its aroma can feel it. On maturing, the fruit splits apart, releasing the seeds, which are then dispersed by wind or rain.
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The globular fruits, from which the white clubbed stigmas project is compared to the cheek of a maiden mantling with pleasure at the approach of her lover, and are supposed to have the power to irresistibly attracting lovers to one another. Expressed beautifully in the couplet of the Saptasatika: “Sweetheart, how I’m bewitched by the Kadamba blossoms, all the other flowers together have not such a power. Verily Kama wields now-a-days a bow armed with the honey balls of the Kadamba.”
Mathematician-astronomer Aryabhatt had propounded the view that earth was round just as the bulb of a Kadamb flower is surrounded by blossoms on all sides, so also is the globe of the Earth surrounded by all creatures whether living on land or in water.
In Sanskrit it is called Kadamba or Kalamba, and has also many synonyms, such as Sisupala (protector of children); Hali-priya (dear to agriculturists) etc.
Kadamb flower marks an annual miracle in Bangladesh: borsha, the monsoon season, stretching through the months of Ashar and Shrabon. In Bangladesh it is said “Don’t offer Kadam/Kadambo flower to your lover lest it creates mistrust between you’’. If you visit Dhaka during the rains you’re likely to come young boys selling Kadamba flowers on the streets.
Thane has scores of Kadamba tree and these are the ones I come across during my morning walks in July. You too may have seen them in your neighbourhood. If not, keep looking.
Kadam ful-13
Here is the poem for those have not heard of it:
Yeh kadamb ka ped agar ma hota yamuna teere
Mai bhi us per baith kanhiya banta dhere dhere

Le deti tum mujhe basuri do paiso wali
Kisi tarah nichi ho jati yah kadamb ki dali

Tumhe nahi kuch kahata mai chupke-chpuke aata
Vahi baith phir bade maje se mai basuri bajata

Amma amma kah bansi ke swar me tumhe bulata
Bahut bolane per bhi ma jab nahi utar kar aata

Ma, tab ma ka hriday(dil) tumhara bahut vikal ho jata
Tum aachal faila kar amma vahi ped ke niche

Ishwar se kuch vinnti karti baithi aakhe meeche
Tumhe dhyan mai lagi dekh mai dheere dheere aata

Aur tumhare faile aachal ke neeche chup jaata
Tum ghabara kar aakh kholti, per ma khush ho jaati

Jab apne munna raja ko godi mai hi pati
Issi tarah kuch khela karte hum tum dheere- dheere
Yah kadamb ka ped agar ma hota yamuna teere.

The image of the boys on a Kadamba tree is courtesy http://weloveourbangladesh.blogspot.in/

Going Bananas, truely

It’s exciting meeting a weekend farmer who has made a success growing a crop not tried earlier in the neighbourhood. That’s in short is the story of a practicing physiotherapist Dinesh Shankar Rao Gujar of Ambeshiv village in Badlapur (19.15°N 73.262°E). For ages people have harvested paddy, ragi and vegetables from the red soils of Badlapur.
Lying on the Central Railway corridor, Badlapur in recent years has attracted many families to set up their homes due to the affordable real estate prices. Incidentally, there is a movie named after this extended suburb which had stars like Varun Dhawan and Nawazuddin Siddique. In fact, if you google it’s very likely you will get scores of entries about the flick and not about Badlapur, the place which gots its name as Maratha warriors changed (badla) their tired horses here on their forward journey.
Introduced through another weekend farmer-friend I wait for Gujar at an eatery close to Badlapur station on a weekday morning. “I’m late, I had to leave my daughters to school,” apologised the 43-year-old native of Wardha as we drive to his farm in a grey-coloured Ertiga which serves both as a family car and a pick up van for carting fertiliser, saplings etc.

Gujar with wife Jaishri share a pic with a banana bunch
Gujar with wife Jaishri share a pic with a banana bunch

Originally from Dhanodi village of Aarvi tehsil in Wardha district, Gujar made Badlapur his home in 1997. “We are from a farming family and my father was a school teacher and in our 15 acre plot we have grown cotton, jowar, turdal, soyabean and wheat for years now,” he tells me as we take the six km. long drive to his farm along a dirt track which has become muddy due to the rains.
Having completed his BAMS degree he moved to Mumbai to do a paramedic course and soon started his clinic in Katrap, Badlapur East treating patients suffering from paralysis and arthritis. “Ever since I started my practice I’ve been receiving patients who were either farmers or farm hands who spoke to me about farm-related things which reminded me about my childhood days dirtying my hands doing all sorts odd jobs like digging, making bunds, sowing, harvesting and travelling to the ginning mill,” says Gujar.
Though people address him as ‘doctorsaheb’ at heart Gujar remains a farmer. He feels concerned about climate change, is against cutting of trees, poisoning of the soil by overuse of chemicals and loves having his occasional drink sitting under the shade of a banyan tree in his farm which is around 50 or 60 year-old. May be more.
In 2006 after lot of searching around, he acquired a six acre plot at Ambeshiv village which had never seen a farming tool. In later years he fenced the plot, acquired a power connection and planted fruit and timber trees. “In 2013 my neighbouring farm plot owners who are originally from Jalgaon, India’s banana belt, told me that they were planning a banana crop and inquired whether I would be interested too,” remembers Gujar.
They sourced Banana Tissue Culture plants, namely G9, from the Jalgaon-based Jain Irrigation Systems, with each plant costing Rs 16 which included cost of transportation. “I planted around 1300 plants in an acre after having ploughed the land with a tractor in October 2013,” informs Gujar.
The distance of the plants and the rows were kept at 5ft by 5ft, between the rows and the saplings. A mixture of 4kgs of dry cow dung, 100g of single super phosphate and 50g of Follidol was used during planting. The irrigation was through drip. A spray of Monocot Phos was done too. For the next three months a drip of urea, around 250g per plant, for vegetative growth was given too.
“Fruiting began in April and by June I had sold my first bunch at Rs 10 a kg to the local dealers who picked it up from my farm,” says Gujar. “An average bunch was around 25kgs.”
He also delivered couple of bunches to the local banana chips makers at Badlapur for Rs 17a kg. Gujar’s total output was around 26 tonnes from an acre. “While my total expenses were around Rs 35,000 I made a neat profit which I have invested in digging a rainwater collecting pond at the edge of my farm,” says Gujar.
Thanks to the collecting pond he is now assured of good water supply which is required for a banana crop.
The physiotherapist cum weekend farmer believes that if one desires to follow organic methods one should go for leguminous cover crop or use green manure like Gliricidia and instead of chemical spray use a concoction called Brahmastra (made of leaves of neem, custard apple, guava, lantana camella, papaya, white dhotara and pomegranate) to get good results. “Green manuring will not only help in nitrogen fixation of the soil but also inhibit the growth of weeds,” says Gujar.
Tissue Culture Banana plants have a window of three years after which new plants have to be planted.
Thanks to Gujar many others in Badlapur are planning a banana crop this season, your Sunday Farmer included.
“Ever since I acquired the farm plot my wife, Jaishri, a practicing homoeopath, has complained that I have put huge amounts without any results but the banana crop has brought a cheer on her face,” concludes Gujar adding “that’s like winning half the battle.”

When Jack came home

Jack comes home, and no one is happy about it.

Last Sunday when I brought Jack home, it was my daughter (no more a teenager I could just brush off, for she is now an Engineering Graduate) exclaimed: ‘Don’t bring it inside. Either I stay or it.’

I pacified her saying: ‘When it ripens I will take it out’ so that the entire household is saved from the strong sweet smell a ripe jackfruit emanates.

For nearly a week it stayed wrapped in swathes of newspapers under the wooden cot. Every night it was taken out and moved to the front room. As the day began it was shifted back to its original resting place. It’s not an easiest fruit for  it gives off a strong odour, and oozes a thick white sap.

This morning wifey decided that the jackfruit, weighing around 10kgs, be cut and the fruit distributed to friends. Our three-room flat with all the windows and doors open smelt like a ‘phanas wadi’! There was no escaping its powerful smell of decay.

We all toyed with the question was: who will cut the fruit?

‘Let me call GN,’ said wifey.

GN is our family friend, originally from Kannur (Kerala) and now a Dombivali resident is an expert on cutting a jackfruit, at least better than any of us.

‘By the time she reaches us you all will be driven outdoors by the fruit’s strong odour,’ I said.

‘Just check youtube, may be there is a video,’ suggested by newly minted Engineer-daughter.

I thought at last the Moto G was being put to good use beside reddit.com and other websites she is always hooked to. Youtube did have the videos, the wikis its tutorials but all were about ‘how to cut an unripe jackfruit’ but none one ‘how to cut a ripened one’.

I got down to business smearing my palms with ground nut oil and ready with a serrated knife.

‘Slice it horizontally not vertically,’ advised my all-knowing wifey who has never handled a jackfruit. Her familiarity with the fruit is limited to seeing the fruit pods sold on carts.

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I did her bidding thinking there was no harm doing it horizontally. As I sliced the fruit  open I realised it was a Koozha Chakka variety, as the Mallus call it. The fruits of which have small, fibrous, soft, mushy, but very sweet carpels unlike the Varika variety which are sold commercially, with crisp carpels of high quality.

The central core is just like a pineapple. I cut the bulbs from its base, pulled them out and removed chunk of the white fibres.  Then peeled back the white fibres (actually they are immature fruits) surrounding the fruit.

Looking at it wifey remarked, ‘See how the fruits too take so much care of their progeny…putting a wall of fibre around the fruit.’

I can say from my experience that it’s true that if you just eat 10 or 12 bulbs of this fruit, you don’t need food for another half a day. The fruit is rich in potassium, calcium, and iron, making it more nutritious than current starchy staples. In addition to its high nutritional value, the fruit is very versatile for the seeds, young fruit, and mature varieties are all edible.

Meanwhile James Joseph, founder of JackFruit365™, an initiative to create an organised market for jackfruits in India, writes in The Hindu that unripe jackfruit is a remedy for diabetes referring to a report published by U.P.K. Hettiaratchi, S. Ekanayake and J. Welihinda in Ceylon Medical Journal.

Sri Lanka is the only other place on earth where unripe jackfruit meal is also used as a carbohydrate replacement. “The study clearly showed a sharp decline in sugar level 30 minutes after meal consumption. The reasons cited are low sugar level in raw jackfruit combined with high dietary fibre. I got the nutritional values of unripe jackfruit tested and verified; it only has 1/5th the sugar of the ripe version and 60 per cent of its dietary fibre is insoluble,” he writes.

As cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon Dr. Sriram Nene told Joseph, “Diabetes is on the order of an epidemic in India and the cure may lie in the humble jackfruit, which grows abundantly. While the Ceylon Medical Journal study has small numbers, its results are fairly provocative and should definitely stimulate added investigation in the use of unripe jackfruit as part of diabetic diet.”

My Young Beauties

It was a July noon some years back. The sky the colour of soiled aluminum and the air cool, thanks to the last night drizzle. They arrived at my iron gate travelling in a tempo dressed just in their socks. They were like the other 70 of them. As the day progressed the farm hands dug up wide holes in the wet ground, filled them with manure and planted each of them. For six long years, the summers with the sun beating unsparingly, the cool mornings of the winter months, the lazy and gentle days of spring and shedding leaf days of the autumn they grew steadily and today stand tall, have plenty of branches, look like an umbrella and with the new leaves resemble a bird in flight.

Mallika
Mallika

I call them my young beauties. My farm is their home and will continue to be for years to come, as long as I’m around.

The mango varieties I have are Mallika, Amrapali, Alphonso and Kesar. The first two are hybrid and the latter ones heirloom variety (or cultivars) of mangoes, around since ages.

Amrapali
Amrapali

What’s good about hybrids is that they are regulars unlike the cultivars which fruit once in two years. This year, my family and my close friends were all praise for the Mallikas and Amrapalis. In fact, I have been telling my farm friends that they should go for them. When I began six years back I didn’t know anything about plants, flowers and fruits but it was the nursery I sourced the saplings which insisted that I have the hybrids. I’m happy l listened to his sane advice.

Mallika, bred at the New Delhi’s Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) and released in 1972, it holds the distinction of being the first two mango varieties along with Amrapali developed by breeding.  A cross between Neelum (female parent), which is a heavy yielding, regular bearing, late season variety of South India, and Dasheri (male parent), it bears fruits every year. The hybrid tends toward regular bearing, the fruits weighing around 300g are showier and are thicker of flesh than either parent, the flavour superior and keeping quality better. The fruits also have a moderate keeping quality. With a total soluble solids TSS content, a high percentage of pulp, fibrous flesh and fruit size of 300g.

A cross between Dasheri (female parent) and Neelum (male parent), the unique feature of Amrapali mango is that its trees are relatively dwarf and therefore easier to manage.  A regular bearer, the fruits are relatively smaller sized and are borne in clusters.  The keeping quality is good. The fruit is only medium in size; flesh is rich orange, fibreless, rich in vitamin A, sweet and 2 to 3 times as high in carotene as either parent.

There are various hybrid varieties of mango prepared by different institutes and universities in India. Some of the famous hybrid mango varieties are:

Mangeera, a cross between Rumani and Neelam, it’s a semi vigorous that has a regular bearing habit. The fruits are medium in size and it has light yellow coloured skin with firm and fibreless flesh. It is also very delicious and sweet in taste.

Ratna, a cross between Neelam and Alphonso, it’s a regular bearer and usually free from any spongy tissue. These are of excellent quality and medium in size. It looks deep orange in colour and the flesh of the fruit is fibreless.

Arka Aruna, a cross between Banganapalli and Alphonso it bears fruit regularly and is dwarf in stature. It can accommodate about 400 plants per hectare. The size of fruits is large and it has attractive skin colour. The pulp of fruit is fibreless and is sweet in taste.

Arka Puneet, a cross between Alphonso and the Banganapalli, it is a regular and prolific fruit bearing. The fruits of this variety are medium in size and posses attractive skin colour. The pulp of fruit is free from fibre and very sweet in taste

…erotic about them

It was while savouring pieces of Mallika and Amrapali mangoes laid in front of me in a large plate, it occurred to me that most progeny of mango hybrids in India had female names. Sample these names Ratna, Sindhu, Arka Aruna, Arka Puneet, Pusa Prathibha, Pusa Lalima and many others.

Is it because most horticulture scientists happen to be men? And thus responsible in christening the progeny.

mangoes

Mangoes are the best-looking fruit around. Endowed with a very sensual shape (alphonso being too ovoid and langra, as if wrapped like a mummy, fail to be members of that club), posses a smooth, soft skin (Katrina Kaifs of the world would die to get a skin like them) and with the just the right amount of blush (you’re unlikely get it despite helpings from L’Oreal or Garnier). Their aroma is divine (if someone could make a perfume like that) ; you could hold one all day, caressing and sniffing at it. And still not get jaded. Thanks to its shape with a seed inside and the act of sucking it, the fruit, rightly so, has been eroticised.

One of his five flower-tipped arrows which Kamadeva, the Vedic cupid, is said to shoot at gods and humans alike holds a mango blossom, inspiring lust, love and the rainbow in between.

It was E M Forester who in A Passage to India referred to mango to a part of human anatomy. “For you,” Dr. Aziz tells Dr. Fielding in 1924 classic novel, “I shall arrange a lady with breasts like mangoes.”

Forester, I’m sure, was referring to the Totapuri.

Incidentally, the ‘queen of fruit’ happens to be an aphrodisiac? The Vitamin E in mangoes helps regulate sex hormones and boosts sex drive. With a low glycemic index, this delicious delicacy is unlikely to increase blood sugar levels, but it does increase one’s eco-sexiness

Kadamba—the May tree

May is the month when the kadamba tree (Neolamarckia cadamba) yields fruit—those yellow-orange ball-shaped fruit, the size of golf balls. It’s that month when the sun is really, really harsh. It also happens to be the month when most deaths due to the heat wave occur. It’s not the month when you would like to venture out in the open (contrary to the claims by sun-screen TV commercials).

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If you do, do venture out early in the morning or late in the evening and tilt your neck towards the sky while standing below a tall kadamba tree. I’m sure you’ll see a marvel. The crown is a canopy of branches, like an outstretched palm with leaves sprouting all around, as if an umbrella held over you. If you lie and stretch yourself (not possible because kadamba trees are used as avenue trees in cities) you’re likely to be awe-struck by what I call the nature’s wonder. The marble-white of the sky peeping through the speckles of green, reminding you of an embroidered sari you inherited from your grandmother.

A favourite of Lord Krishna, kadamba tree and its flowers is consider a universal favourite among the Gods. In fact, the Mother Goddess Durga is said to reside in a kadamba forest—for she is lovingly called Kadamba Vana Vāsinī.

The fresh leaves are edible and a favourite fodder among cattle. The ornamental tree, used for soil reclamation sheds large amounts of leaf and non-leaf litter which on decomposition improves some physical and chemical properties of soil under its canopy.

The fragrant orange flowers attract pollinators like bees, butterflies and birds. Furthermore, this tree can grow best in alluvial sites like river-banks and in the transitional zone between swampy, permanently flooded and periodically flooded areas.

Come rains, the branches lashed by wind the kadamba fruit–by now ripe and coloured bronzed brown– drop on the earth, one by one. In the mornings you’ll see scores of them lying around. Of them, some will grow to be a tree continue the life cycle.

Adivasis of Chattisgarh believe that planting kadamba trees closer to lakes, rivers and ponds, brings happiness and prosperity.

Rabindranath Tagore mentioned the kadamba in one of his poem: Badal diner prothom kodom phul.

You offered me your first yield,
The fragrant Kadamba of monsoon
For my part, I bring you
My rainy tunes.

I have shielded them
With cool shadows, dim skies,
Treasuring
My first lyrical fruition

I know today offers you abounding harvest
But tomorrow will leave you bare

And so each monsoon,
My songs will come to life,
My boat will be heaped with your honour
My melodies, echo your glory
Riding on tides
Of your lost remembrance.

English Translation courtesy Anjan Ganguli (GEETABITAN)

Listen to the poem. https://youtu.be/JAnevYvrs68/ https://youtu.be/cNNgPwLDyds