Revisiting A Long Forgotten Childhood Memory

In the last week of February, my husband and I were driving in the streets of Ironshore. Ironshore is an upscale community in the outskirts of Montego Bay, Jamaica. There are some beautiful houses in this neighbourhood. Anyway! As we drove towards the A1 highway, my husband suddenly exclaimed, “Seema chintha gubbalu!”. I had no clue what he was referring to.

He stopped the car by the sidewalk and asked if I saw them on the tree nearby. I explained to him that I am hearing that word for the first time. He pointed to a tall tree in a piece of wasteland by the road. Before I could get a good glimpse of the tree, he got out of the car and walked towards the tree.

He picked a delicate, pink and white pod that was curled up and appeared to have burst open. He showed it to me and said that these trees were commonly found in and around his village in India. He ate them a lot as a child.

The scientific name of this fruit is Pithecellobium dulce. I did a little research to know that these trees a commonly found in Asia, Central America, Mexico and South America. It is called by different names in different regions. The bark, fruit, seeds of this tree are used to treat various ailmentsKaushik V. Kulkarni and Varsha R. Jamakhandi from the College of Pharmacy in India have explained a few interesting facts about the tree. The uses of Pithecellobium dulce are described in the Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry. It can be accessed at this website:

https://www.phytojournal.com/archives/2018/vol7issue2/PartJ/7-1-390-353.pdf.

The pods of Seema Chintha burst open on the tree when they become ripe and ready for eating. They taste sweet when ripe yet have a mild sour taste at the same time. The best way to describe the flavour is like chewing on fresh rose petals that were sweet. After eating the first one, I couldn’t stop. I ate them all, one after another.

After picking a bunch of pods from the tree, we separated the delicate white fruit from the pod, removed the black seeds and washed them thoroughly before devouring them. I couldn’t help notice the delicate white flowers hanging down. They were so beautiful and feathery that I decided not to touch them. Bees and wasps were hovering around too.
For now, I am going to leave you with this last picture of this Seema Chintakaya. For my husband, this was a wonderful memory brought back from his childhood.

Guineps

These fruits commonly grow in South America and Caribbean countries. They are called Guineps in Jamaica, and elsewhere they are known as quenepas, Spanish lime, honeyberry etc., in different countries. 

Guineps are seasonal fruits. When they are in season, you can find them sold on street sides by vendors. They are very inexpensive and sold in bunches. 

The fruit looks like a small size green lime. Gently bite the fruit and crack open the thin rind, and you will find fresh fruit inside.

Be careful not to bite deep into the fruit as the outer fleshy part is not very thick. Just beneath the sweet and tangy flesh is the hard-shell seed. Suck the sweet juicy pulp and discard the seed.

Guineps grow on tall trees that grow to a height of about 80 ft. The flesh of the fruit is nutritious; even the seed is said to be beneficial. The ancient people of the Caribbean region roasted these seeds and consumed the pith. It is said to be similar to a cashew nut

The pulp of the Guineps is used to make juices, jams and sauce for desserts. 

Time Flies

During the teens, you can’t wait to spread out your wings and have a test flight.

The twenties lets you travel far and wide to explore this wonderous world and meet your match, who makes your heart flutter.

The thirties bring responsibilities; you have a nest and, “the early bird gets the worm” is your mantra.

The forties are for keeping a hawk-eye on things and saving up for the long and cold winter ahead.

In your fifties, you are tired of flying around. You want to rest a bit and crave a second chance to admire what you missed in a hurry.

The Sixties is when you want to return back to the nest.

The seventies makes you crave for your nest to be as filled and be noisy as it was during the thirties.

The eighties are like a bitterly cold winter storm that drags on and on, and you just can’t wait to get over with it.

The nineties are about silently staring at others going through the same thing that you did all along.

When you hit a century, it’s a celebration for everyone around you but you.

Otaheite Apples

When I came to Jamaica two decades ago, the Otaheite apple was one of the exotic fruits that I came across. But ever since I tasted them, I have been in love with this delicious fruit. 

Yesterday my husband brought a dozen of these apples. Otaheite apples are soft and juicy like a plum. There is a small seed inside it that can be pulled out easily. The white flesh inside the fruit is sweet and has a tangy taste. One bite of this fruit fills up your mouth with the sweet juice, as the red colour from the skin slowly seeps into the delicate white fibrous flesh. The darker the colour of the skin, the sweeter is the fruit.

It is also known as the Jamaican apple, and it grows on tall trees that generally bear a lot of fruits. It is a seasonal fruit. The previous house where I lived had a lot of space in the yard. So, I planted a seed of this Otaheite Apple, and it grew to approximately three feet tall. When I moved from that house, I left the tree there. My current residence has no space for trees.

Just like any other fruit, these apples are rich in vitamins and minerals. They work wonders for our body and prevent or cure a variety of ailments. The best part is that they taste great and are surprisingly inexpensive. 

I enjoy eating them raw however, they are used to make jams and juices. It can be stewed with brown sugar and ginger to make jam. You could even run it in the blender with water, sugar and a tiny bit of ginger to make an excellent juice. 

All this talk about Otaheite apples has worked up my appetite. Bye for now, see you all on my next blog.

The Bondage of Debt

Recently I read a story from an old Indian children’s magazine called Chandamama. I was so impressed by it that today I want to share it with all of you.

Long time back, there was a night watchman. His job was to roam the streets of the village at night and look out for thieves. Every now and then he alerted the villagers to be on their guard. He was married for several years but was childless. When he approached a wise, old sage about his problem and asked for blessings. The sage explains:
“Runanubhanda Rupena Pashu Patni Suta Aalaya ,
Runakshaye Kshyayaanthi Tatra Parivedana.”

It means that cattle, wife, children and home (such attachments) are bondages that result from one’s previous birth. The relationship with these attachments ends once the debt is cleared. It can be settled in the form of service to these attachments. Enjoyment of these attachments ends the pain and suffering.

The watchman decided that to have a child, someone needs to be indebted to him. Thus, he made a pair of slippers and secretly left them on the roadside. He hoped that someone will accept them, and thereby a debt-bond is created. The same sage was walking down that street one day, and his feet were burning due to the heat. When he saw the slippers, he wore them. He inquired the whereabouts of the owner to pay for the slippers. But no one knew anything about it and later the sage died.

Due to this debt, the sage was reborn as the watchman’s son. He was aware of the debt, as he was a wise and holy man. The watchman was also aware of this. Out of fear of losing his son, the watchman and his wife never accepted any benefit from their son.

Several years later, the watchman fell sick one night and requested his son to do his job for that night. The son accepted it gladly. While on duty, he alerted the villagers with this verse:
Mata nasti pita nasti nasti bandhu na sahodhara
ardham Nasti gruham nasti tasmat jagrata jagrata.

This verse means, not mother, not father, not relatives, not siblings, not wealth, not house nothing lasts forever. Nothing follows you after death, these are bondages of present birth. All these relationships, wealth and property are merely worldly attachments, hence be careful.

After a few hours, he alerted the neighbourhood once again with another verse that spelt wisdom:
Kama krodascha lobhascha dehe thishtanthi taskarah
Jnana ratnopaharaya tasmat jagrata jagrata.

This means desire, anger and greed that reside inside the body are thieves that steal one’s precious knowledge. So, be careful.

Finally, in the last part of the night, he alerted the people with this verse:
Janma dukham jara dukham jaya dukham punah punaha samsara sagaram dukham tasmat jagratha jagratha.
This verse means that our birth into this world is one filled with pain suffering. Old age is torture. This entire life is an ocean of struggles. Hence be careful.

People who heard these words of wisdom were astonished by the sagacity of this simple night-watchman. They wondered how he acquired so much knowledge at such a young age. Anyhow, the young man returned home with his wage. Although the watchman refused to accept it.

One day a fire in the neighbourhood was engulfing all the houses. One after another all the houses burned, including that of the watchman. He and his family, quickly started to salvage whatever they could before the flames destroyed everything. While his wife and son brought things out of the house and handed them to him, he set them down, at a safe distance from the burning house. During that commotion, the young man handed everything to his father, and the last thing he gave is the bag of money he earned from the night shift job. The watchman grabbed it absent-mindedly and hurried. The son walked back into the house, never to return.

As realization dawned, the watchman collapsed to the ground in despair and agony over the loss of his beloved son. By the next day, the flames died down, while he stared at the ashes carried by the gentle breeze, he remembered the wise words uttered by the old sage and his son during the night shift. He understood that the debt was repaid.

This story touched my heart, I was moved by the philosophy it teaches. The Sanskrit verses in this story are taken from Vairagya Dindima by Adi Shankaracharya.
Adi Shankaracharya was the great Indian philosopher from the 8th century. His works enlighten our mind and show us the path to moksha or freedom from this cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

2020: The Crocodile’s Feast

The first time I ever heard a Telugu proverb was from my grandmother. And every time she used one, my cousins and I broke out into giggles. Her choice of adages was quite funny, and when any of us stared at her with an expressionless face, she would immediately jump into explaining the story behind it. 

2020 has been such a bleak year. I am hoping 2021 will be better. Hearing about the vaccine, I was optimistic. However, I read a few stories about the adverse reactions and the virus mutation in some countries. Now, I feel the proverb that fits this situation best is:

“ముందుంది ముసళ్ల పండగ”

(Mundhundhi mussalla pandaga)

When translated into English, it reads: 

The road ahead is going to be a feast for the crocodiles.

In other words, it just means that there is more trouble brewing and what you have experienced so far is nothing compared to what lies ahead. 

This proverb always reminds me of the comic strip Asterix. In Asterix and Cleopatra, Cleopatra’s catchphrase is “…if not, I will have you thrown to the crocodiles”. Towards the end of the story, the narrator says that nearly everyone is joyful except the crocodiles. I guess the crocodiles were waiting for their festival to begin, but the promised feast never arrived. 

Despite all that the world has been through, there are still people who ignore the protocols of wearing a mask, physical distancing and hand sanitizing. They are inviting trouble.

Their fate can be described using the Hindi proverb:

“आ बैल मुझे मार!”

(Aa bail mujhe maar!)

It talks about inviting the wrath of the bull.

I think the crocodiles have feasted enough in 2020. They should go on a diet in 2021.

Dishwashing

I was reminiscing on my childhood while washing dishes, and naturally, all the memories triggered were related to dishwashing. During the 1960s in South India, the main ingredient used for washing dishes was ash and the scrubber used was coconut fibre. The same was the case with my grandmother. Ammama (grandma) had a tin container filled with the dried coconut fibre that she collected every time she used a coconut. (In India, they retain a portion of the coconut fibre as it is used in all households).

She had a big copper water boiler that supplied all the hot water required for a daily bath. She used a combination of charcoal and Pidakalu (dried cow dung cakes) as fuel. She purchased these items from the local market. The water boiler itself is an antique piece, it is a pity we did not save it. Once the fuel burned and the water heating was done for the day, she collected the ash from the bottom tray and stored it in a separate box.
If at any time, the housemaid complained that she is unable to scrub the burnt food with the coconut fibre, my Ammama gave the maid a piece of tablet foil. Tablet foil??? If you are wondering, back in the old days in India, almost all tablets were packaged in metal foil. We never saw tablets packed in plastic until much later. She had a separate collection of this rare item, the tablet foils. She rarely used medications as she relied heavily on her home remedies.

For particularly greasy dishes, some flour was sprinkled generously and scrubbed and removed. The flour absorbed all the grease, and the utensils were ready for the next round of scrubbing.

The utensils used back then were all made of metal. Ammama had copper utensils, iron pots and pans, steel serving plates and cutlery and some aluminium containers. Not a single one was made of plastic. Ammama’s house was built in such a way that there was a separate area designated for washing dishes that was almost like the back yard. Dishes were never washed at the sink in the kitchen.

Later on, as years rolled by dishwashing powders dawned in the market. Sabena dishwashing powder was popular. Vim powder also used. The next stage was the use of dishwashing soap cake. Today the market has a plethora of dishwashing gels to choose from. The coconut scrub is long gone. Instead, we have all kinds of metal, sponge and plastic scrubbers to choose from.

Today one need not manually wash dishes, it can be done by a machine. Even if you do the dishes by hand, it is not such an unpleasant experience like yesteryears. However, I am not sure if we made a change for the better.

Where does all this soap water from the dishwashing go? Obviously, we are polluting the environment we live in. The second question is, how can we be sure that all the chemicals from the soap are 100% rinsed out from the dishes? If any soapy filmy residue stays on, then that goes straight into our body. There are some anti-bacterial and antifungal agents used commonly in dishwashing soaps that are harmful to our health. The other chemicals used in these soaps are said to cause skin rashes and allergies.

Bringing back Ammama’s methods of dishwashing is not possible for various reasons. Our kitchens consist of a lot of plastic and non-stick containers, we don’t have access to ash and coconut fibre.

Even though back then, through the eyes of a child, the process looked quite unpleasant, today I appreciated how much safer those methods were and how environmentally friendly they were.

Counting My Blessings

I have been waiting for this day for several weeks now. To understand what I am saying, I have to take you back to 3 months ago. In July, I woke up one morning with a pain in my right wrist. I did not fall or do anything unusual the previous day, so I overlooked this pain. After completing my morning shift of work, I decided to give my hand some rest. Rather than the pain subsiding, it increased. By the end of the day, it was swollen. By the next day, I could barely move my fingers.

I thought to myself that most probably, I have a hairline fracture. “A sprain!” said my husband. Anyhow, the x-ray ruled out my doubts. We went ahead on the premise that it’s a sprain. Two weeks later, a trip to the orthopaedic surgeon revealed more problems. In effect, I had to sit with a crepe bandage around my wrist.

Life suddenly changed since that ill-fated day in July. I could barely use my hand. I did not have a tight grip in my hand; pain became a constant feature, and I was tired of listing all the complaints I have with my hand. There was a burning sensation, tingling and numbness. Gradually, the fresh pink palm donned a greyish dead fish look. After taking an MRI, the doctor started his treatment, but he warned that I may have to live with some of these pains. The list of ailments was a sprained wrist, TFCC disc tear, nerve compression and CRPS.

Right became left and vice versa. I learnt to work with my left hand. Everything from brushing in the morning to chopping vegetables and cooking, I learned to do all of it with my left hand. I practised writing with my left hand. Most of the time, I laughed at my clumsiness, but sometimes I was depressed. I felt guilty for the trouble I gave to my family. I am not used to dependency.

Today after a long time, I feel a little better. My hand hurts a little less than usual. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. A million thanks to God for this day and for such a wonderful and supportive family and friends.

Let It Slide, My Dear!

There are times when you have several thoughts on your mind. You would like to share it with someone and feel lighter. However, at the same time, you don’t want to spill the beans. It’s such a paradoxical situation. While you go to great lengths to keep your secrets from your dear ones, you end up letting the cat out of the bag with a total stranger. What prompts a person to make decisions like these? I wonder. Do people take comfort in the fact that strangers have no contacts with anyone in your known circles while disclosing their worries? 

Have you been in a situation where you are desperate to get some help but at the same time, you want to be totally independent and manage all your matters on your own? At times like these, a person will ask for help but will not allow anyone to extend  help properly. They interfere and interrupt every step of the way. The end result is that frustrations run high for both parties.

Do I need to remind you of those times when you wanted to sink your teeth into your sinfully delicious junk food but instead ate a frugal meal? All the times you wished that burgers and pizzas were good for health. Or why it is that healthy food did not taste as good as junk food? 

Life has some paradoxes here and there. One time or the other, we run into them. We have to deal with them whether we like it or not. I don’t have any pearls of wisdom to share for these distasteful moments. All I can share with you is what my Dad told me when I was a child, “Let it slide, my dear!”. Take a deep breath. Do the best you can and let the frustration slide.

Beauty Of Tiny Homes

Of late I have been binge-watching the “Living Big in a Tiny House” video series by Bryce Langston. A tiny house is typically 120 sq ft or less. When I first heard about tiny houses, it did not make any sense to me. I wondered how all the furniture and appliances of an 800 to 1000 sq ft house, could fit into a tiny house. The concept did not appeal to me. However, the more videos I watched, the more I understood why so many people prefer a tiny house.

Some tiny- home owners say that it is the cost factor that encouraged them; the cost of building a tiny house is much lower than a regular-sized house. The cost of a tiny house can range from $10,000 to $150,000. The cost depends on the kind of materials used, the design and the additional features added.

For some, a tiny house is a way to diminish their carbon footprint. They don’t mind replacing a regular toilet with a composting toilet in their house. They make clever use of things that were discarded by others. Often, these repurposed materials look very artistic and impressive. Solar panels are used for electricity, to sustain an off-grid living. I have also seen a few people build marvellous systems for rain-water harvesting. Some have even created a biogas digester too. Greywater treatment systems are also incorporated by a lot of these enthusiastic homeowners. It is absolutely amazing to see the effort that they have put in to save the planet.

A large majority of tiny houses are on wheels. The house can be taken wherever you go. This freedom is another reason for the rise in popularity of tiny houses. Their love for the outdoors is so great that they are ready to make any sacrifice.

Image Of A Tiny Home From the Show ‘Living Big In A Tiny House’

The dimensions of the tiny house are very important. There are rules regulating the tiny houses but these rules vary from place to place. If someone were driving under a bridge, the height of the house becomes very important. You understand the reasoning, right?
Whatever be the reason for opting a tiny house, one thing in common: it’s important to downsize the lifestyle. This means, only the bare essentials stay and the rest have to go.

Storage space in a tiny house, I’ve noticed, are designed very skillfully. Every item of furniture or fixture has multiple functions. The seating areas have a hollow space underneath to store things. The staircase is made of a set of cupboards or they may have some other arrangement to store things. Collapsible tables and couches that can be pulled open into a bed. These are some common design elements. Almost all the tiny houses have a loft above, that is generally a bedroom space. In some cases, this is even an office space or a lounge to sit and relax while watching T.V.

Bryce Langston himself has a marvellous tiny house that he designed and built for himself. I thoroughly enjoy watching his videos. I am blown away by the creativity of some people to convert an old school bus, or a train coach, an old truck or a shipping container into a tiny home. One guy built his house, using completely reclaimed timber, tin sheets and an old trailer on a large permaculture farm.

Finally, I can say that I changed my attitude towards tiny houses after binge-watching Bryce Langston’s videos. Even though I can’t see myself living in a tiny house, I have a lot of respect, admiration and awe for those who do.

Disclaimer: All Above Images Are Taken From The Show Living Big In A Tiny House

Caring For The Sick

At some point in our life, we are faced with a situation where we need to take care of a loved one who is ill. The patient could have a health problem or an accident or a disease; with a severity ranging from mild to something serious. In any case, we need to jump in and take control of things until they can get back on their feet. From some such caregiving experiences, I learnt some things. Today I want to share some ideas that can make the task of caring a little manageable.

Firstly, do not let your emotions get the better of you. Be strong. Your mental strength can contribute to or deplete your energy levels. Don’t waste time pondering about why the accident occurred or why it happened to your loved ones. Instead, keep focused on what needs to be done to improve their condition. Have trust and confidence in God. His blessing will heal the sick.

In most cases, it will be difficult to keep your life and work on hold to take care of someone else. At times, your frustration or irritation can get the better of you and create a bitter experience for the patient. Take all the help you can get from others wherever it is extended. Do not be too proud to take aid. This will help in overcoming the strain it puts on your health and time. This will go a long way in keeping you sane.

Carefully and precisely follow the doctor’s advice, down to the T. It is essential to carefully file all prescriptions, test results and reports that the doctor gives you. These things could get misplaced easily. In western countries, the doctor’s office might maintain the patient’s files. I would advise you to record all your doctor’s suggestions and advice, just in case you might forget. Discuss with the doctor about the diet and the dos and don’ts.

Generally, doctors give some specific instructions for each medicine based on mealtime or dosage. Keeping this in mind, have three boxes and label them as ‘morning/afternoon/night’ or ‘breakfast/lunch/dinner’. Arrange the medicines into these boxes accordingly. This will make the task a lot easier and you don’t have to recollect the instructions every time. Moreover, the chances of errors get reduced. In some countries, healthcare professionals offer this service for a small charge, so you can avail them based your the affordability. It saves time and effort in the overall process.

Diet for the patient needs special attention. Conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney problem etc require a restricted diet. Certain foods should be avoided in each of these conditions. Discuss food restrictions with your doctor at the get-go. Keeping an inventory of items available in the pantry and refrigerator will prove to be handy while cooking and shopping. I would suggest keeping a list of food items to be avoided as well. In case of injury care, it is prudent to keep a separate inventory of dressing material, antiseptic lotions, pain relievers etc in a special box. It saves time and energy in going for things each day.

A quick tip that I found helpful at times is to keep a bottle of water or juice and a healthy snack on your bedside table. It helps when hunger strikes at all odd hours.

Another helpful tip is to always keep a baby monitor in the patient’s room so that you can monitor them. Keeping their room clean and airy also helps; fresh air improves the mood of the patient.

Be mindful of the patient’s mental state. They might say hurtful things or behave rudely. We need to remember, its just the struggle with the pain that is driving them. Be patient with them.

Through this process of caring for the patient, most people forget about themselves. When you are the primary caregiver, you need energy and rest too. Eat well and if possible, get some rest. Keep in touch with your other friends and relatives to keep your mind fresh and active; take a break from the stress.

Celebrate progress and improvement, however small it is. This will work as a morale booster to motivate the patient and yourself.

These are some things that I felt I could share with all of you. There might be many more tips that I am not aware of and did not mention. Please feel free to express your opinion in the comments section and let us know. Have a blessed day! And if you have a sick person at home, my prayers are for their recovery.