Author Archives: Ria

I Have Prosopagnosia!

The other day, I was listening to Radiolab on NPR and it suddenly hit me… I have prosopagnosia!
Not a severe case, but a fairly bad case, enough to be severely embarrassing when it hits me! 🙁
 
Prosopagnosia also called face blindness, is the inability to recognise faces even when one might be familiar with the person. It is a cognitive disorder of face perception where the ability to recognize faces is impaired, while other aspects of visual processing (e.g., object discrimination) and intellectual functioning (e.g., decision making) remain intact, says Wikipedia.
 
Initially, the term was applied to conditions following acute brain damage. However, recent research has proved that a congenital or developmental form of the condition also exists where people are born with it or acquire it early in life, and what is more, it affects a large number of the population.
 
A German study conducted in 2006 and reported in the American Journal of Medical Genetics found that about 2% of the population suffered from prosopagnosia. Another survey conducted by Dr. Ken Nakayama of the Harvard University indicates that as much as 10% of the general population might be suffering from prosopagnosia to various degrees.
 
In its severest form, prosopagnosiacs fail to recognise even their close friends and family. Especially when they meet people away from the familiar places where they routinely interact. Even in its milder forms, prosopagnosia can be the cause of terrible embarrassment and social discomfort. That is exactly what my experience was.
 
Take the time when I was having lunch with a bunch of people from work. And this guy at the next table turns around, ‘Hi Ria, how are you?’ He gets up and comes over and starts talking. It is all I can do to hold up my side of the conversation, without giving away the fact that I have no clue who he is! Meanwhile, I’m busily going through mental lists searching for his identity. Obviously, he is a contact from work, possibly from a past workplace. So my questions go in that direction… ‘So how is work?’ ‘Oh you know how it is… same old, same old’. No win there. ‘And how is everyone at work?’ ‘Hey, I changed jobs recently, did you know?’ And he is busy getting his wallet out and extracting a card for me. My sigh of relief was not audible, I hope! I took the card, looked at it and all I wanted to do was kick myself! How could I forget this guy? We occupied neighbouring cubes at my previous job, been a party to private jokes, mostly at the expense of cow-orkers – no that is not a typo – and shared innumerable lunches. How could I? I’m so glad that the rest of the conversation was a genuine pleasure!
 
Or think about this situation. I’m walking along in the city, with my friend Ashley. On a Friday, after work, headed to our favourite watering hole. We are stopped at a light waiting to cross. And this guy stops by us and starts talking to me. ‘Hey, hey, how are you? Long time, no see’. And I’m smiling and talking and searching in my mind for his name. And I know, I should be introducing Ashley right away. She is looking at me like ‘what is wrong with you?’ He is looking at her… and at me. And all I can say is, ‘sorry, gotta rush. Talk to you later’. And I cross the road, almost running. Fortunately, Ashley knows me well, and has no problem believing the fact that I couldn’t introduce her just because I didn’t know the guy’s name! And to this day, that remains a mystery!
 
I hardly ever enjoy a movie with many white men actors for the simple reason that I’m pretty much unable to keep the characters and their names straight in my mind!
 
Though my experiences with prosopagnosia has been totally awkward when they occurred, they have not been that frequent to warrant any anxiety. Generally I have written them off as caused by a busy mind. But now, in the light of recent enlightenment, I’m forced to reconsider. And I have come to the conclusion: yes, I suffer from prosopagnosia!
 
If you want to test your ability to recognise faces, check out this page at Radiolab Blogland.
 
You can read more about prosopagnosia at

Just Another Face in the Crowd; article in New York Times

Prosopagnosia research centers

NINDS Prosopagnosia Information Page

Face Blind; article in Wired Magazine

~Ria

11 Apr 2014

Seasons, wonderfully changing…

We are at a very interesting time now… I mean, weatherwise. The bad cold of winter is gone… but spring is not fully here either. Everywhere one can see the signs of spring… tree branches sprouting buds all over… shoots are coming out of the earth promising to be tulips and daffodils and hyacinths… the thrill of anticipation is echoing in every bird song. What a beautiful time!
The other morning, I was walking to the train station, for the first time this season without ear muffs or gloves. There was this comfortable chill in the air… and can you believe it, unexplainably I felt sad for the departing winter!
 
I love living in the north east where seasonal differences are well-marked. Recently one of my friends was talking about how she is fed up of the winter season and would love to move to California! I had to question her… how will you put up with the same-old same-old every day? Wouldn’t even greenery and sunlight go unappreciated if they are around all the time? One has to wonder…
 
The earth revolves around the sun (or is it the other way around?) and causes the seasons. Everybody knows that. And if you are living in a temperate and subpolar region, you get to enjoy the changing seasons. And what makes the changing seasons more interesting is that one’s entire life style changes with that. Food, clothes, activities… it is like you get to change your life style every three months!
 
Spring, I’m sure is the favourite season of a majority of people. It is the eye candy season; wherever you look, nature is dazzling you in resplendent colours. Even a crack in the sidewalk will sprout a dandelion with a lovely sun-like little flower. And the trees… not a leaf on them… all covered in flowers. It starts with the cherry trees which are the first ones to bloom in the season, to be followed by crab apples, dog woods, plums, golden rods, azaleas…
 
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Then the temps go up… and leaves break out on the trees. The flowers have done their thing and gone. Now it is time for the green to take over… and for picnics and beaches and outings. The sun comes up at five and goes down close to nine… still the day seems to be not long enough! Aah, the fun!
 
[cycloneslider id=”summer”]

Slowly the leaves start changing colour… the brilliant colours of fall are so much brighter than that of spring’s pastels. Yellow, gold, orange, red… the slanting sun rays add to the dazzle. But alas, fall is so much in hurry and leaves so soon!
 
[cycloneslider id=”fall”]

The first snow flake of winter! You look up and it gently settles on your face. A touch of coolness and it’s gone. Then they start coming in torrents and cover the ground with soft crunchy whiteness. Time to make a snow man! Standing at the window of a warm house, with a warm drink in your hand and watching the snow floating down under the street lights… magical!
 
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And when the bone-chilling cold sets in, it’s time to pack my bags and depart for warmer climes. To come back in another two months to wait for spring… 🙂 You know how some animals go into hibernation during the winter… my escape to the tropics is my hibernation!
 
So now I’m waiting for the beautiful spring to arrive. It is almost here, and the cherry blossoms are just around the corner… Various predictions place the peak blooming of the Washington DC cherry trees between April 8 and 15. And incidentally, guess who is going to be in DC that weekend! 🙂

~Ria

04 Apr 2014

Is today your day?

Did you expect anything interesting to happen when you went to check your mail at Gmail? How long did it take you to identify ‘Shelfie’ – Sharable Selfie – as this year’s April Fools’ Day joke from Google?

FoolsDayCloud
The tradition of celebrating April 1st as Fools’ Day has been in existence for a while. Though there are several stories going around about the origin of the tradition, the most popular one places its origin in the late 16th century. When Europe started following the Gregorian calendar, the start of the new year was moved to January 1st from the earlier April 1st of the Julian calendar. However, some of the population refused to accept the change and continued to celebrate New Year on April 1st. The rest of the population made fun of them, calling them fools, and played pranks on them… or so goes the story. Is there a very pertinent hidden moral to this story? Like, you are a fool if you fail to embrace change? 🙂 But, I digress…
 
Today April Fools’ day has become more of a corporate occasion, with companies vying with each other to come up with the funniest ad, blog post and tweet. An ‘app’ to unlock an iPhone by rubbing a beard over it, a service to rent out your desk space, an inflight service where passengers can select their on climate (Cancun Afternoon, Standard Day in Los Angeles, and Chicago Polar Vortex, among the choices), homes with chocolate floors… these are some of the interesting products and services advertised on April 1st, 2014.
 
Netflix joined in with its offering of two new entertainment offerings – rotisserie chicken and sizzling bacon, which could be enjoyed online. And Youtube too got in the April Fools’ Day game with a video that claimed credit for every viral video on the internet, including Harlem shake and planking included.
 
My favourite one is an announcement from the St. Petersburg/Clearwater tourism office about sightings of a ‘Manaphin’ off the coast of Florida. Of course, in this day of hybrid names like ‘cronut’ and ‘dossant’, one can easily make out that a manaphin can be nothing other than a cross between a manatee and a dolphin! Look at the perfect timing of such a creature appearing exactly on such a day as April 1st! 🙂
 
Of course, it all started with Google. And theirs are the best ones yet. Google’s first April Fools’ Day joke, the MentalPlex, was an advanced search service where users could do a search by projecting a mental image of what they wanted to find whilst staring at an animated gif. And on the search results page, users got awesomely funny error messages. Samples include:
• Error 01: Brainwaves received in analog. Please re-think in digital.
• Error 666: Multiple transmitters detected. Silence voices in your head and try again.
• Error 006: Query is unclear. Try again after removing hat, glasses and shoes.
 
Another one, in 2008, was Google Book Search Scratch and Sniff. To use it, users were asked to place their noses close to the monitor and click Go, which will load the odours. After several attempts, when the hapless users will click Help, they were taken to a page that described the origins of the April Fools’ Day!
 
This year, politicians in Washington DC decided to join in the fun. The Whitehouse announcing the creation of the President’s Council on Beards, Ted Cruz getting a tattoo of Churchill with a cigar, the Republican party claiming the colour blue, Bill Clinton changing his twitter avatar… all happened this year.
 
And a last one that only a local can enjoy… Democratic strategist Joshua Henne named himself Governor Christie’s spokesperson and announced a press conference in Fort Lee, advising attendees to arrive very, ‘very, very, very early – as traffic has been known to build up at the nearby George Washington Bridge during rush hour’… 🙂

~Ria

01 Apr 2014

A Peep into Spring

The annual Flower Show at Macy’s kicked off last Sunday, March 23rd. And the temperatures are still hovering around freezing. So the flower show feels like a look into the long awaited spring… a reminder that spring will get here eventually.
 
The flower show takes place in the cities of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis, and San Francisco. This year, the show will last till the 6th of April (2014). This is the 40th annual flower show to be held at Herald Square in New York.
 
dazzling

Dazzling, stunning, gorgeous… any number of adjectives can be used to describe the show. It is attractive and colourful… as only flowers can be.
 
As can be imagined, a lot of effort goes into putting up this show, which consists upwards of 30, 000 flowers, kept fresh throughout the two weeks of the show and replaced as required. As soon as one flower show is over, the planning and planting for the next year’s show starts right away.
 
None of the pieces on show are wasted and thrown into garbage, once the show gets over. All the trees are replanted and all the wilted flowers are turned into compost.
 
The flower show is usually arranged around themes. This year, one of the themes was ‘Under Sea Garden’. Take a look at these plants…
 
[cycloneslider id=”under-water-garden”]

In addition to the flowering plants, this year on display are 23 flowering cherry trees. Also, some palm trees are also in the show.
 
cherry-tree

A 14-ft tall mannequin in a ball gown woven of red flowers – mainly roses, gerberas, anthuriums – is the highlight of the show. As per the flower show tour guide, the dress is made up of individual flowers in holders so that each one can be replaced individually without affecting the whole of the dress.

 red-mannequin

 
The dress consists of close to 3000 flowers. A closeup of the dress…
 

closeup3

 
The whole show is arranged on bridge like structures above the shopping aisles and around the pillars, providing a dazzling view from the mezzanine floor.
 
bridge

Also, massive gates with flowering creepers climbing over them, are placed along the path of the show.
 
gate

Workshops and demonstrations related to the art and craft of gardening and flower arrangement are also held around the flower show.
 
pink
Indeed an hour’s respite from the freezing winter…
 

~Ria

27 Mar 2014

Union Square Greenmarket – a cornucopia of delights

When my work group moved from our midtown office to the downtown office, one of the things I really missed was the once a week lunch time walk to the Union Square Greenmarket. Now that I am back at the midtown office (Yay!) and the weather is turning reasonably walkable, that is the first place I chose to walk to!
 
It is an amazing place, specially for a food-loving person like me. The open air market is held four times a week – Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 8 AM to 6 PM – in a three-square-block area that is part of the Union Square Park, along Broadway at 14th street. Though it is a year round market, the tempo varies according to the season. Even now, when It is just picking up pace after a long long winter, the variety of stuff available is great. But just wait for a couple of weeks… man, the bounty of nature floods the place with such abundance!

A cloudy downcast day at Union Square Greenmarket

A cloudy downcast day at Union Square Greenmarket

The history of the Union Square Farmer’s Market is an impressive one. The Union Square Park has been in existence since 1839 when it was designated a public place and named Union Place as it was the site of the intersection or union of two major streets.

After the second world war, the park started to deteriorate and had fallen into disrepute by the 1970s, being frequented by drug dealers and similar characters. This kept the general public away from the park, as it was generally considered unsafe.
 
In 1976, a new initiative, the Greenmarket program, was set up in New York city, to promote small scale agriculture by providing a viable market to family farms for their produce, at the same time ensuring that the teeming millions of New York city got access to fresh, nutritious produce delivered directly to their localities.

The Greenmarket program – now called GrowNYC – selected Union Square as the location for its second market in the city, after the one at 59th Street and 2nd Avenue.

And the Union Square Greenmarket began functioning in the parking lot surrounding the park, with 12 farmers. It played an important role in revitalizing the neighbourhood by attracting consumers who valued the quality of the products.

 

Today the Union Square Greenmarket is an upscale market selling high-quality products, all fresh from within truckable distances. On an average, the market receives 250,000 customers per week. More than one thousand varieties of fruits and vegetables can be found during the produce season. Even on a cloudy day recently, with the rain threatening to start falling any minute, there was still a bustling crowd, milling around the many stalls. In addition to the fresh fruits and vegetables, there are stalls selling varieties of plants, herbs and cut flowers.

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Tulip plants…

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Herbs…

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Cut flowers…

A wide variety of baked goods, cheeses, pickles, maple products…

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The whole place is fragrant with the smell of herbs and fresh bread and cookies, it is a pleasure just walking around the place.

cheese-maple-syrup

jam-pickles

The number of farms that participate in the Greenmarket has grown to 140 at peak season. A recent addition to the market is the participation from fisheries.

New York is supposed to be a haven for pet dogs; you see the largest number of them here. And no market place can be complete without catering to them. In addition to various food items, here are a bunch of bones for them to chew on…

bones

Once the weather gets a bit warmer all kinds of arts and crafts stalls will open up, giving the market the looks of a lovely fairground. Can’t wait…

~Ria

24 Mar 2014

A bit of spamology…

Spam comes in all kinds and flavours… And it falls regularly into our email boxes promising various things. But one thing common to all spam is that they all seek to deceive us. And it is up to us to protect ourselves from such deceit, which is not all that difficult. While recognising the nuisance they are, I have often been amused by the ingenuity of many spammers.

By and large, the spam business is founded on the concept that human beings are evil by nature. And the spammers are counting on the fact that people will be tempted to act by their greed, even when there is cause for suspicion.

Outside of the phishing scams, job offers, pharmacy pitches, offers of loans and the straight forward ones that tell you to open the attachment, you can put most spam into certain categories.

The pious lady who has millions to distribute to the poor and is asking you – a perfect stranger – to take charge of their millions and use for charity as you see fit. Here it is abundantly clear that the person is counting on you to jump at the chance of getting your hands on someone else’s money. And the later request for some immediate cash from you towards setup expenses will surely follow. But even then, your greed for the unearned millions is expected to blind your judgement.

Then there is the bank officer who has boat loads of money under his control. Either one of his account holders died without leaving an heir or the heirs can’t be traced. And he has identified you as the one person who can pose as the heir and claim the money. Of course, to be divided between the two of you later. You are counted on to be tempted by the free millions, despite the danger of going to jail for impersonation!

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And people with all kinds of schemes for getting money out of Iraq/ Syria/ wherever… all zeroing on you for assistance. And very often they will have links to real news reports lending an appearance of authenticity to the emails.

Very common are the ones that announce that your email has won a huge amount of money in a Coca Cola/ Toyota/ whatever lottery. All you need to do is complete the form so that the money can be transferred to your bank account. Of course, we all know what is going to happen to your account once the email is responded to.

If you had any doubts about the smartness of the spammers, just take a look at this…

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Compensation for spam victims! 🙂

And don’t forget the damsel in distress, the young beautiful girl, whose parents passed away leaving her all their savings. Now, she is looking towards you to take care of her and her millions. Here the appeal is not only to your greed…

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There are other damsels too, who write to you addressing you as dearest or darling, because they saw your email on a search and want to make you their special friend. And the first thing they promise is to send you their pictures as soon as you respond to them. 🙂

Not forgetting the ones that promise to expand your various body parts, with scant attention to whether you are male or female. And most days you are bound to get both varieties!

Look at this… this guy is releasing the first instalment of my inheritance funds to the tune of one million to me! Can anyone blame him if he asks for some small change – compared to the millions I’m going to get – just to make the arrangements, as he is sure to do? And the blank ‘To’ field indicates that this email was addressed to thousands of people at the same time!

 

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Have you ever really lol-ed at a piece of spam? Read this and tell me… could you stop laughing?

 

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I had to explain to my colleagues why I was laughing… And now anyone has just to mention pink crocs for laughter to break out!

~Ria

13 Mar 2014

Air travel… then and now

I love long distance plane travel… This might be hard for many to fathom. And they do have some valid points too. The narrow seats with hardly any leg room, almost inedible meals, the long hours spent going through security… all true. But for me, these are all minor matters. Especially when compared with the luxury of the exclusive time I get to spend without any outside interference. Totally personal time that no one can encroach upon. Beyond the reach of cell phones, conference calls, and business meetings… And beyond the call of pending household chores, which have a way of bothering me even when I have no intention of getting onto them! 🙂
 
Me and my book, curled up in the window seat… and my mind wandered to a long gone era of luxurious airline travel…
 
The jetliners that started flying in the late 1950s changed the scene of commercial air travel. The flight time from New York to London was promised to be a mere six and a half hours in 1958, as opposed to the 17 hours 40 minutes in 1946 and 10 hr 50 minutes in 1956!
 
This Pan Am commercial from 1954 features the prototype of the Boeing 707 jet clipper that started commercial flying in 1958.
 
Suddenly, air travel became a doable thing. And the airlines of the day came out with fabulous commercials to persuade the public to use the new means of travel. The TV commercials of Pan Am and TWA are full of champagne, fine food and perfect service.
 
Take a look at this TWA commercial… a flight from the east coast to Los Angeles.
 
In addition to all luxuries, it even promises pleasant company. “Everybody nice and friendly, like we knew each other.” And maybe to prove how air travel brings out the best in everyone, it even has a kinda fairy tale ending with… no, I don’t want to spoil it for you, do watch the video. 🙂
 
Air travel apparently was an occasion, an event, with people dressing up in their best finery as if they were going for a party. In fact, the commercials exude a true party atmosphere with everyone smiling and laughing and circulating with glasses in their hands. Having lots of fun. It seemed like it was more about living high, than getting from place to place. And today’s air traveller is left wondering whether it is all indeed happening within an airplane…
 
And the food… white tablecloth, silver trays, hors d’oeuvres… even the dinner was served off a silver cart, on china, with designer flatware and linen. And the meals came piping hot from full-fledged kitchens, complete with freezers and convection ovens.
 
And get this… the early jets had lounges with huge windows, sprawling seats, and buffets, where coach passengers could socialise. Some of the flights even had actual film projectors to replicate the movie theatre experience. Even when the lounges were removed in 1973/74 to accommodate more seats, portable service bars were provided in an attempt to retain the freedom of movement. Sigh… gone are the days…
 
And the rest rooms… nothing like the teeny little spaces where you are bound to hit your head somewhere unless you are a hobbit… Separate lounges for men and women, women’s lounges with vanity tables and settees and large mirrors.
 
When looking at these old time commercials, what impresses me above everything is the space… the abundance of it. The seats were fabulously wide with legroom unimaginable today, and one could move around between seats as seat belts were optional in those days!
 
Of course, air travel those days was only for the privileged few as the cost was astronomical and beyond the reach of the average Joe. Now, it has become more affordable. And with the competition among the airlines for your dime, it could get even cheaper. More so, if you are willing to forego comforts (basics?) like an assigned seat or a bathroom… that is, if you go by the plans put out by some of the airlines… 😉
 
P.S. Did you know that during the early years of air travel all stewardesses had to be certified nurses?
 

~Ria

10 Mar 2014

41 Days of Summer…

… right in the middle of the worst winter in the last 20 years! That is a true luxury, especially for a person like me who starts shivering at the first hint of a cold breeze. Add to it awesome spicy food of a wide variety… that too, without a single day’s toil in the kitchen… Now you know why I am constantly smiling these days! 🙂
 
This was a work combined with vacation trip. The swanky new office in a brand new technopolis near HAL in Bangalore was very impressive with naturescapes and waterfalls all around. The moment I started snapping some pictures, one of the security personnel at the the entrance came running… “Ma’am, no photos please…” “Not even of the flowers in the garden?” “No Ma’am, all photography is prohibited”. I really laughed out loud… it was no use telling it to the security man, but I had to say it… “this is the number one news and photo agency in the whole world, and we ban photography on our own premises? Interesting!”
 

office-flower

Stolen photo of flowers 🙂

The whole trip has been a continuum of good food; some great, some really great. It is difficult to pick favourites from the lot, but standing out in my memory are the traditional thaali meal at Rajdhani, a taste of Goa at Fishermen’s Wharf, Manglorean food at Parika, Mediterranean at Byblos, Tex-Mex at Habanero, Mughlai at Umerkot…
 
Amazing among the places I managed to visit during this trip are Ranganthittu bird sanctuary, about 75 miles from Bangalore, and the fishing port at Beypore, Kerala. More about them later.
 

ancient-tree

Ancient tree by the roadside

And the drive through the Western Ghats (9 hairpin turns!) will never lose its charm. Though the waterfalls were not very active despite the bountiful monsoons, the view of the mist clad mountains and valleys was as enchanting as ever.
 
And yeah, I got to eat sweet jackfruit, one of my favourite fruits ever! Though it was early in the season, I found a fruit seller on the road side selling it, and grabbed some. Delicious!
 
jack

Sooo… tonight I get on the plane to go back home. The last punch of winter is waiting for me, I know. Remember, some of the heaviest winter storms in the past have been in March. It will be great to have a taste of true winter knowing that it won’t last too long and that spring is right around the corner. After all, how will we appreciate summer if there is no winter? 😉
 
Just remembered, daylight saving time will become effective the day I land at Newark Liberty! I can get acclimatised to the new time and get out of jet lag at one go! 🙂

~Ria

06 Mar 2014

Old old times… a jackfruit tree

In the old old times, itinerant mattress makers used to travel from village to village offering their services. They will come to a village, camp on the outskirts, and go to the houses which had silk cotton trees growing in their compound. If the family wanted a mattress made, they will take the accumulated cotton pods, usually stored in huge gunny sacks, and make the mattress for them. They will extract the cotton from the pods, clean out the seeds and other impurities, beat it in the sun till fluffy, and stitch the mattress with a cloth cover. Often with a striped pattern. Have you ever slept on a freshly made cotton mattress? Lovely indeed!
 
So, just like that, one evening a group of three mattress makers came to this village too. They had to cross a river to get to the village. It was dusk by the time they arrived at the river. And lo and behold, the river was in spate. It was getting dark fast and they had to reach shelter before nightfall. Without many options, they decided to brave the fury of the river. After all, weren’t they all good swimmers?
 
Alas! As they got the towards the middle of the river, the swirls and eddies started pulling them down. However valiantly they fought, the men kept sinking towards the bottom of the river. And lost consciousness…
Till they woke up, lying on a lovely green meadow… alive with birdsong and a gentle breeze. Just like in a fairy tale. They looked at each other in amazement… is this a dream? Did they all die and get to some alien place? However the pangs of hunger scratching their stomachs assured them that they were very much alive. And they started looking around the deserted place.
 
Walking along, they saw a group of people far away, sitting around and eating something. As they got closer, they got the strong smell of ripe jackfruit. And there was enough water in their mouths to steer a boat…
 
The three men approached the group and asked them for some of the jackfruit. The group was reluctant to share any of it. But hunger prompted the mattress makers to keep begging, and finally the group’s leader spoke up, “This is a celestial variety of jackfruit, not seen on human earth. If we give you some, you have to promise not to take any of it with you.” The mattress makers willingly promised and were given some of the fruit.
 
When they tasted the fruit, there was no doubt about the veracity of the group leader’s statement. They had eaten many a jackfruit, but nothing anywhere near this. This was pure nectar, absolute ambrosia. And there rose in the mind of the youngest among them, the insatiable desire to take a seed of the jackfruit back home. How to manage that with so many eyes keeping watch? On the pretext of scratching himself, he turned around and managed to quickly secret a seed in his underwear. With beating heart, he finished eating his jackfruit.
 
Once all the jackfruit was eaten, the group leader collected all the seeds – except of course, the one secreted away by our man – and led the mattress makers away, to the side of a small stream. He told them to close their eyes and wade into the stream. They did so and when they opened their eyes, they were walking on to banks of the familiar river! There was no end to their joy when they realised that they were back on earth safe and sound.
 
JackTree
The jackfruit tree that grew out of that smuggled seed was a giant of a tree indeed! The fruits that it produced in abundance were so sweet and tasty that the tree’s fame spread throughout the region. Legend has it that when the ruler of the local kingdom was passing through the village, he sent one of his servants to fetch one of the famed jackfruits.
 
Eventually, my paternal great great grandfather bought the land on which stood the jackfruit tree. (I would like to believe that the presence of the tree had influenced his decision!) The jackfruit tree continues to thrive to this day with fruits hanging top to bottom during the early summer.
 
All of us children in the family have heard this story growing up. And I swear, I do believe each and every word of it too! 😉

~Ria

03 Mar 2014

The big banyan tree and silk worms

So… so our quest to find the tribal settlement where they make their traditional jewelry ended without much success. And the time was only around noon. What now? Bala came up with a solution… let’s go take a look at Innovative Film City. And there we headed right away.
 
Innovative Film City is a combined movie shooting and entertainment facility. Located about 25 miles from Bangalore, it has a facade built up in the style of Roman monuments. Though the place boasts of many attractions, everything except for the Mirror Maze and Ripley’s Believe It or Not were total disappointments.
 
film-city
Now what? Time on our hands… And true to form Bala came up with the suggestion… Dodda Alada Mara! And we set out in that direction immediately.
 
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Dodda alada mara is a huge banyan tree, located in the town of Ramohalli, 17 miles from Bangalore. It is the fourth largest banyan tree in the whole of India.
 
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Banyan trees (scientific name: Ficus benghalensis) are a variety of fig trees that sprout aerial roots. When these roots touch the ground, they take on the role of supporting the tree and start growing in girth. Slowly, they begin to resemble a tree trunk and soon one will not be able to tell them apart from the main trunk. Thus the tree spreads across vast areas as if walking across the area.
 
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According to Wikipedia, the Ramohalli banyan covers an area of three acres and is 400 years old. It has more than a thousand aerial roots, with the circumference at the crown reaching close to a thousand feet.
 
By the way, banyan is the national tree of the Republic of India.
 
The tree is teeming with whole families of monkeys, always on the prowl for any food stuff that can be snatched from unwary hands. Curiously, they seem to have developed a taste for soda pop!
 
monkey

On the way back from the dodda alada mara, we saw an interesting sight. Huge frames made of bamboo and palm leaves are set on the sides of the road. The frames hold concentric circles with what looks like fluffy white oval shaped cotton balls in them. These are about an inch long and half as much wide.
 
silk1

Looking closely, I realise that these cotton balls are cocoons of the silk worms.
 
silk2

silk3

And sure enough, there are other frames nearby which have silk worms crawling along the circles on the frame.
 
silk4

We tried speaking to the person tending to the frames, but he couldn’t understand English. Some others nearby came to our help. I was mainly curious about how the cocoons are processed further. However, we were told that they are not processed locally, but sold to silk makers by the weight in the nearby market.
 
What impressed me throughout this trip was how friendly people are. I am always wary of taking photos without asking permission first, but was so happy to see that people had no problems with being photographed. I still remember clearly the incident where one of my friends was yelled at by a homeless person near Columbus Circle over just the suspicion of a photograph being taken!
 

~Ria

26 Feb 2014