The green flowers of the Sneeze-wort (Dregea volubilis) stay well camouflaged among the leaves of the creeper. An important medicinal herb in the tropics, it’s floss producing pods are more noticeable in winter when all the leaves have fallen off.
An ancient megalith stands in Zarme village in the Sattari taluka in Goa. Local legend tells that the stone stood on the same spot five centuries ago , when the ancestors of the current villagers migrated to the region. Those days it used to grow a little every year. That fact was noticed only after the wooden temple had been built around it, so the village carpenter had the thankless job of raising the height of the roof every year , a bit, to accomodate it’s growth. Atlast, one day the carpenter finally lost it, he struck the ‘head’ of the megalith with a sledge hammer and it stopped growing ever after. Since then , no carpenter has been allowed to settle in the village of Zarme.
Funnily enough, such legends of stones and megaliths ‘growing’ are reported from around the world. Some geologists hold that compressed sedimentary stones can expand and ‘grow’ by a process known as Diagenesis. Flint stones are known to grow in nature and circles of flint stones are found to ‘grow’ in ‘families’.
The rice has sprouted and grown tall in the seed beds and now it is time to uproot it whole and transplant it onto the paddy fields that have been carefully prepared.
This is one of the most arduous tasks of growing rice as the workers have to work in calf deep muddy water , as they carefully remove and transplant every rice plant by hand.
In many places this work is done exclusively by women, who work bent double for hours, as they stick the rice plants in neat rows into the soft mud of the paddy fields, that have been ploughed over and over into a doughy smoothness.
Snake bites and water borne diseases like Leptospirosis (rice field worker’s disease) are common in the rice paddies and yet there is a feeling of joyous anticipation as the workers sing their way along the rows, thankful for the monsoon rains that have flooded the fields and praying for further showers so that the rice will grow tall and give a bountiful harvest.
Little, if any, protective gear is used by the average field labourer . As it was a sunny day, you can see the plastic sheet lined, woven body covers laid aside at the edge of the field (upper right). The tough plastic slippers have been carefully put aside before climbing down barefoot into the mud. Typically, the workers will wash themselves well after their days work is ended and go home in clean footwear.
The low lying rice fields of Goa are famous for the variety of rice they produce, what often goes unnoticed is the clever system of canals, weir bridges and sluice gates that form their lifeline. On my walks around Moira village ,I came upon this weir bridge which has typical sluice gates that swing shut at the peak tide, limiting the amount of saline water that enters the shallow river basin. This is essential not only for the low lying rice fields as well as for the fisheries inland. By also regulating the amount of water that flows out at low tide, the system ensures that the stream basin with it’s valuable fish nurseries never go dry, even in the peak summer .
The bridge is a favourite hangout for the village anglers, while the narrow footbridge over the weir is used by the motorcycle-taxi man as well as by pedestrians. The local village diety ‘Rashtroli’ ,besides patrolling the rest of the village also keeps an eye on the waterworks. He carries a cudgel and torch on his nightly rounds and the villagers make him offerings of good ‘feni’ (cashew liquor) and local cigarettes. Of course one wonders how he kept up with the monotoniety and endlessness of his job before the Portugese arrived in India with these two offerings, tobacco and cashew.
The other day, I ran into the senior most resident of the village I have moved into, in Goa. Mr Salgaonkar is 94 and spent the better part of his life working as a roof repairman. Here in Goa, most houses have sloping roofs covered with terracotta tiles which weather the heavy monsoon rains well, but are often damaged by falling tree branches and jumping monkeys and often have to be replaced. Mr. Salgaonkar was the village ’tiler’ for more than half a century, until he took a fall from the rooftops of one of the larger houses and broke several bones. He was bedridden for nearly an year during which the villagers used to religiously carry him down to the river bank once a day, just as the tide was coming in and let him soak in the incoming sea water. The cure obviously worked, for 25 years later he still rides his bicycle through the village and stops every evening at the village bar for his sundowner shot of Whiskey. A simple man, he lives with his son and donates generously to the village charities and temple.
The ancient tradition of worshipping the Earth -mother goddess in the form of a termite mound is found in many parts of the world and still persists in Africa and India. In Goa, certain termite mounds are worshipped as the aniconic representations of the earth goddess Sateri.
A relic from a tragic past, a Sati stone stands on a school playground. It is a memorial to two women, the wives of the same man, who on his death committed suicide by burning themselves on his funeral pyre . It is a recognised fact, that while a large number of these ritual suicides were coerced, many where infact occasioned by the cumulative social factors, of the lack of safety for women during the war ravaged medieval times, the low status and vulnerability of widows and the prospect of being reverred as a paragon of virtue in posterity.
The stone memorial bears the motif of two upraised right arms, flaunting the bangles,symbols of the auspicious marital status, for all eternity.
The monsoons are here, finally. There have been several false starts this year, with rains starting in May and then disappearing for the whole month of June. Here in India, where most of our agriculture and farming depends on the timely and adequate monsoon rains, it is downright scary to have sunny days and blue skies in June.
Even all of nature is agog and waiting for the rains at the end of summer. After the early rains , the weaver birds had started to build their nests enthusiastically. They are curious and complicated structures woven from strips of grass and coconut fronds, and attached to the high fronds of the coconut leaves. They even have false entrances to fool a snake ! In early June there is a lot of fighting and shrill arguments between the males for the choicest locations , and then a lot of to do as the crafty nests are constructed from scratch. The dull grey coloured females oversee the nest building, checking out the different nests on offer. They only mate with a male whose nest they like.
This year, nest builing had started earlier than usual as the pre monsoon showers arrived early and in great force. However, in the intervening sunny month the half built nests were all abandoned. Now, as the monsoon has turned up in strength atlast , the Baya (weaver) returned and took charge of his nest, replenishing the dry straw with fresh green strips of grass.
The Indian Harvester ants build a mud fortress around the main entrance of their underground burrow that keeps it safe during the torrential monsoon rains. Built on a slope with a tilt, the mud structure has labyrinthine channels that drain the rainwater away from the main entrance of their underground home.