Most of my schooling was done in Air Force schools (which later became Kendriya Vidyalayas) and so we were used to vast open spaces. We played cricket and gulli-danda in fields which were twice the size of Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium. We never faced the ire of neighbours complaining of broken glass windows. The houses stood at the dge of the fields and very far from where we indulged ourselves in games like ped-ka-bandar , kho-kho etc. We trudged to our school through open fields, thick with vegetation. During summers we often came across remains of snake skins which we rarely touched. Rains were the times, when we often slipped and soiled our uniforms. This was in the seventies.
I don’t know whether the present-day Cantonments have so much open spaces, as was the case in our times. We familiarized ourselves with the names of fruit trees and flowering plants during our walks. Each would come up with the name in his/her mother tongue. Some of which were really tongue twisters, and had a good laugh at their expense. At times we would try to unravel the mysteries behind those names. Some plants, we were told were friendly and some to stay away from. One such plant was Akk (Caliotropis) which we knew as milkweed. Once you struck the branch or the leaves a milky white emerged from it.
Being kids we were curious and didn’t strike the plant with our hands but used a stick to strike a blow and enjoyed seeing the milky white liquid flowing to the ground.
A friend who visited my farm who saw an Akk plant and cautioned me from growing it around. It’s a weed and not considered auspicious, he said and plucked couple of them along with their roots.
According to botanical.com: It has long been used in India for abortive and suicidal purposes. The dried root freed from its outer cork layer is called Mudar and is very largely used as a treatment for elephantiasis and leprosy, and is efficacious in cases of chronic eczema, also for diarrhoea and dysentery.
It’s unlikely you’ll come across an Akk plant in your neighbourhood. At least not in city gardens or parks. But during my recent road trip to Nimbal from Dharwad I came across Akks as tall as 10ft. growing in the courtyard of several houses.
Ever since I came to know that leaves of Akk are one of the main ingredients of an organic pesticide I have let them grow, hoping to use them some day.
Can someone tell me: why people grow Akk in their courtyards knowing well that it’s poisonous? a lethal sap flows through the canal system of milkweed plants. But for the Monarch variety of butterfly all the others shun it. Monarch ans its relatives have adapted by taking these chemicals and using it become distasteful to predators.
I’m told Akk is favourite of Lord Shiva and have seen its leaves made into a garland offered to the lingam during Mahashivratri. That couldn’t be the reason of having an Akk in the courtyard! What do you say?