Monthly Archives: January 2014

Reunion after four decades

At The Big Jackfruit Tree, we have a tradition… the last post of every month, we invite someone to do a guest post. So, here is an exciting post about a planned reunion, after a looong time!


Having reunions is fun, always. Usually there will be a common cause or origin to call it a reunion. As medical professionals we have regular reunion meetings on behalf of the alumni association. The Medical College alumni association is a big body encompassing the whole life of the institution. Within this we have smaller batch get-togethers. Nowadays most of the batches have this and they meet regularly. We also meet regularly under the brand name ‘Milan’. We have a mega Milan every two years. In between we have Milans, mini Milans and sometimes even micro Milans at various places in the state. At our age most of these Milans happen in connection with weddings of sons and daughters.

Milans are the meeting place of doctors and only doctors. For those who try to look beyond and want to get a feel of the society at large, attending repeated Milans are not very motivating.

About a month ago I got a phone call at around 11pm. I had gone to bed and was slowly slipping into sound sleep when the phone rang. It was an old friend from Thiruvananthapuram (TVM). No, he was not a doctor. It was my schoolmate and neighbour when we were staying at a place called ‘Thampuran Mukku’ in TVM city. It was really a surprise call since I had not been in touch with my old friend for decades. We spoke for a few minutes but not with the expected vigour because of my state of slumber. But in spite of that I could instantaneously recognise him. This initiated a chain of nostalgic memories of our childhood days at TVM. The places we visited together, the joints we used to hang out etc., flashed vividly in my memory. I decided that I should meet up with him as early as possible.


Napier Museum, the art and natural history museum at Thiruvananthapuram

The opportunity came very quickly. My wife La and I had to make a trip to TVM to attend the wedding of one of my Medical College ‘girl’ friends. I had informed my friend about my TVM visit and he was waiting. We had our cousin UK’s car to roam around. We met my friend at his home at Kannammoola. Not much of a change; he was the good old friend. It indeed was a great meeting. Exchanging usual pleasantries and comments about ageing went on as expected. After all we were meeting after many years.

Being in TVM my friend had contacts with a lot of our schoolmates. My friend was working as the Chief Photographer for ‘The Hindu’, a national newspaper. It was really exciting to find out that most of our friends are in very high positions in various walks of life. Those who were in touch decided to organize a reunion of those who studied in the St. Joseph’s High School, Thiruvananthapuram. My friend told me that around 20 attended the first planning meeting. The next meeting saw the attendance rising in direct proportion with enthusiasm. 75 classmates attended the second meeting.

Methamani: the historical clock

Methamani: the historical clock

As mentioned earlier at the medical Milans we meet only the medicos. But this reunion of schoolmates is going to be a totally different one. Two of my classmates recently contacted me when they were in Calicut on official visits. They got my number from my friend. We had dinner at home. These schoolmates, one Public Service Commission member and the other one Asst. Commissioner of Commercial Taxes spent quite some time at home talking about other friends. We spoke over phone with many other classmates. I also got connected with GT my 4th standard classmate at Vanchiyoor UP School.

I am going to TVM on 8th Feb to attend the third planning meeting. We are gearing up for the reunion. A great reunion after four decades of leaving school! We are all excited. The reunion is being planned in April/May. I will write about it in detail. I thought of sharing this at ‘The Big Jackfruit Tree’ since I am too excited about the whole thing and want to share the excitement with you all. 🙂



31 Jan 2014

Making it from Scratch – Candied Peels

candied peel 2


I always prefer using home-made ingredients in cooking, if possible, to buying them from shops. I can vouch for the quality of the spice mixes I make for various dishes. Now coming to our subject “candied peel” which literally means making candy out of peels.


candied Peel 1


Candied peels can be made using peels of citrus fruits like lemon, orange, grapefruit etc. Candied peels are generally used in cakes, puddings and can enhance a cocktail as well. You can also munch on them whenever you feel like.

The first time I tried to make candied peel was when I needed some for a cake and I was in a location where I couldn’t get out and buy some. I used oranges and it was a success. Since then, I have never bought candied peels. It’s a good way of making use of the peels as well. The general principle of the process is to boil the peels in strong sugar syrup and then dry off any moisture left.


candied peel 3


Make sure firm oranges are selected for this, otherwise peeling the skin off the fruit becomes messy. Use a sharp tipped knife to core the skin into segments and then peel off. Remove the pith as much as possible to reduce the bitterness. Cut them into ½ cm strips before boiling in water.


candied peel 4


The bitterness is further removed by boiling the peels in water before candying. Boiling the peel not only makes it soft and porous (to absorb more sugar) but also removes any pesticide residue.


candied peel 5


Sugar syrup made for this purpose is a sugar to water ratio of 2:1. Once the peel strips are boiled and removed from the syrup and left to dry on a wire rack, the remaining sugar syrup can be used for making cocktails or to moisten cakes before icing them.


candied peel 6


My candied peels were dried overnight and ready to use the next day.




Orange Peel – 2 oranges

Granulated sugar – 2 cups

Water – 1 cup

Granulated sugar – ¼ cup


  1. Peel the skin off oranges, remove the pith and cut into ½ cm strips.
  2. Add this to a pan of water and heat till the water is boiled. Drain.
  3. Repeat step 2 once more.
  4. Add the drained orange peels into pan with one cup of water and add sugar. Heat the mixture till it starts boiling.
  5. Once boiled reduce heat and let it simmer for 30 minutes.
  6. Remove the peels using a slotted spoon into a bowl, sprinkle sugar and spread them on a wire rack to dry completely.



29 Jan 2014

What is in a name? Seriously?

I am a great fan of AWAD (A.Word.A.Day), a daily subscription email list founded by Anu Garg of There are certain words that I might not have ever encountered but for the daily AWAD email. Petrichor jumps to mind… that lovely indescribable scent that emanates from the parched earth after the first rains, finally got a name when it dropped into my inbox one fine morning. Bringing with it, memories of monsoons and school reopenings which for some inexplicable reason coincided most of the time. But I digress…


Last week’s AWAD theme was toponyms – words derived from the names of places. Got me thinking about how place names came into being. Also, about interesting place names.

It is easy to imagine the need to identify geographical locations in communications, even in cave people days. ‘Big mammoth felled at rock mountain; come, join the fun’ would prevent a lot of that mammoth going waste, you can imagine. 🙂 And most of the earliest place names were based on geographical features, naturally. That trend continues to the present day with innumerable names like Glendale, Riverside, Hillview, etc.

A lot of place names were carried over from the old countries by immigrants who were nostalgic for the lands left behind. New York (earlier, New Amsterdam, when it was owned by the Dutch), Lancaster, Brunswick (New, North, South), Rochester, Stamford, Berlin, Copenhagen… they are all present. When I was travelling in Egypt, the tour guide asked us why we had to have a Cairo and Alexandria in the US. The only answer we could give was that the US is a true melting pot! 🙂


Many of the current place names are derived from their original names used by the native Americans, which again were based on geographical features. A prime example is Manhattan, from ‘manna-hata’ meaning ‘island of many hills’ in the language of the Lenape tribe. Massachusetts (by the great hills), Connecticut (place of the long river), Hoboken (where pipes are traded), Passaic (river flowing through a valley)… very interesting to take a look into the thousands of such names.

Then there are place names that exist in every state, sometimes more than once in the same state. Middletown, Harrison, Bloomfield, Fairfield… can you think of any state that does not have towns with these names?

Then there are the truly interesting place names. Like Cut and Shoot in Texas, Casa Blanca and Moriarty in New Mexico, Hell in Michigan, Real and Loving also in Texas (two towns, not Real Loving!), Caliente (meaning ‘hot’ in Spanish) and Steamboat in Nevada… the list goes on. Not to forget Blue Ball and Intercourse in Pennsylvania, so inexplicably close together!

But my favourite is Truth or Consequences in New Mexico. According to my friend Google, the city called Hot Springs changed its name to Truth or Consequences, the title of a popular NBC radio program, in 1950, in response to a promise that the program will be aired from the first town that renamed itself after the show. Voila! Hot Springs got a new name!

The most poetic and literary place names I have come across belong to Columbia, Maryland. Columbia is a planned community with self-contained villages and its localities are named after places in the literary works of well-known American authors like Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Walt Whitman,

Kind Rain, Scarlet Petal, Rising Moon, Deep Calm, Open Sky, Tawney Bloom… can you imagine any more poetic place names?


Interesting thought…

According to Wikipedia though the word Manhattan has been translated as ‘island of many hills’ from the Lenape language, the Encyclopedia of New York City offers other derivations, including from the Munsee dialect of Lenape: manahachtanienk (‘place of general inebriation’), manahatouh (‘place where timber is procured for bows and arrows’), or menatay (‘island’). Which one would you think is most apt? 🙂


27 Jan 2014

Birds Galore!

Kibimba is a unique location in Uganda for its fantastic bird life.

[cycloneslider id=”293″]


Birds Galore @ Kibimba Rice Farm……

The national bird of Uganda.

The national bird of Uganda

I‘ve been visiting and spending a considerable amount of time at various times of the year at a rice farm in Eastern Uganda. To be more precise this fully mechanised rice farm is in Kibimba and covers an area that is 13 kilometres long and 3.5 kilometres wide. I’ve been a visitor of this farm since the year 2000 and I have always enjoyed all aspects of farm life especially the drives along the fields and the morning walks. Walks in the evenings are far less enjoyable unless you set out early enough as the insects that appear after sunset are a real menace.

Yellow Billed Storks

Yellow Billed Storks

During our morning walks and drives along the fields I come across many birds (especially water birds) and these are constantly identified by my companions. I always try to identify these birds by name, but to my dismay I am never very successful. This Christmas, when I was taking a guest around the fields I was appalled that I couldn’t name even an egret or an ibis correctly. The only ones I could name were whistling ducks!

Birds galore composite

Then the realisation dawned on me that it’s high time I take some interest  in the birdlife of Kibimba. Kibimba has the IBA (Important Bird Area) status and it’s a unique location for its birdlife.

Great White Egrets in the company of Storks

Great White Egrets in the company of Storks

So I decided to look up the birds I see regularly when I go for my walks in the early mornings and find out a little bit more about them. The discussions with the staff of Kibimba Rice Farm and Collins Book of Birds were my source. This exercise also helped me in identifying many birds this time when we were at Murchison Falls National Park.

Grey Herons

Grey Herons

So watch this space to know about birdlife at Kibimba.



24 Jan 2014

Waiting for the third…

AGhosh-featureWe do a lot of waiting in life… waiting for trains, waiting in lines at stores to pay money, waiting for the water to boil… all painful. But there are some waitings that are enjoyable. Full of anticipation. Like waiting for a friend to call. Or for spring to arrive. However, even such waitings are hard for me… have zero faith in the saying ‘Patience is a great virtue’. Rather agree with Ambrose Bierce whose saying goes, ‘Patience, n. A minor form of dispair, disguised as a virtue’. 😉

But I digress… At present I’m in such a state of impatient waiting. Waiting for the third and last book in the Ibis trilogy, by one of my favourite authors, Amitav Ghosh, to be published.


The first book in the trilogy, Sea of Poppies was published in 2008, followed by River of Smoke in 2011. In a nutshell, the books tell the story of the trade of opium in the early 19th century and the people whose lives, knowingly or otherwise, get entangled in its web.

The author paints the stories of individuals in vibrant colours in the background of the trade in opium, the cultivation of which was forced on the farmers of northern India and the consumption of which was forced on the population of another country, China, against the objections of their government. The snippets of history remembered from school days – the opium wars and the carving of the Chinese melon – come alive in the lives of these characters.


Sea of Poppies narrates the journey of the ship Ibis which carries opium from India to the markets of China, along with a group of passengers very unlikely to have met in any other surroundings. The intricate threads that bind these passengers to each other and to the central theme explain the circumstances which bring them to the good ship Ibis. And the drama of that voyage and the fortuitous turn of events bring the book to a satisfying end.

In River of Smoke, we follow the passengers on Ibis to their different destinations, some to new lands and new fortunes; others to age old conflicts and tensions. The characters are so nuanced that you will be hard put to root for any one side. While the conflicts of life throw them against each other, you as the reader recognises their innate humanness and can’t do anything other than sympathise with them.

If you are one to let your imagination soar like a kite braced by the breeze of words on a printed page, you will love these books and the rich and vivid tapestry of life they weave. And you will understand why I’m so impatient to get my hands on the concluding part of this trilogy. If we go by the timeline of the previous releases, the third part should be out in 2014. Waiting, waiting…


And to console myself in the interim, I have chosen Hungry Tide as my vacation reading. I have already read Shadow Lines and Circle of Reason, around when they were first published. 20 years ago? How time flies when you are having fun! 😉

You can read more about the Ibis trilogy and other books by Amitav Ghosh at his web site.


22 Jan 2014