Posted by: cochinblogger | July 10, 2009

The Blue-Veined Beauty

Hi, this is Cochin Blogger at your service. I’m based in a town called Cochin (officially, Kochi) in the state of Kerala, which is perched at the southern-most tip of India. It’s just a stone’s throw from Sri Lanka, and is famous for its unique natural beauty. Kerala is a slim, blue-veined beauty, with canals, backwaters, lagoons, rivers, lakes, ponds, and puddles galore, a thin strip of land caressed by the waters of the Arabian Sea.

Kerala’s trademark is tropical fecundity. It’s a paradise that is still largely unspoiled because of the low level of industrialization. Kerala first hit the international headlines when it voted the communists to power in 1957, this being only the second time communists anywhere in the world have formed a popularly elected government (the first time was in the tiny republic of San Marino).

Right, I’m signing off now. I’ll be sure to keep you posted. 🙂

Posted by: cochinblogger | March 23, 2019

Mein Schiff at Cochin Harbour

Even the sun needs a drink at the end of the day.

Shot from Subhash Park.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | February 24, 2019

“Celebrity Constellation” at Kochi Port

Shot from Subhash Park.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | February 20, 2019

The Name of the Rose

I sat at the table, trying to read the face of the bank manager seated opposite me as he spoke on the phone. What was his mood like? He seemed alright. There were no telltale signs of tension that I could spot. I was apprehensive because the purpose of my visit was unusual. I had a question to ask him about his bank that had nothing to do with banking. I had entered his room tentatively, had smiled my greeting, had been invited to take a seat. And here I was.

He put down the phone and looked at me inquiringly. I cleared my throat and arranged my face into what I hoped was a disarming smile. "Err … I've come to ask about a plant growing in your compound." He looked at me quizzically. "It has bright orange flowers. Would you happen to know its name?" He took it well. "Hmmm … some plants were sent over by the regional office for the inauguration. I will have to check with them. But let me see which plant you're talking about." He rose (pun unintended!) from his chair, and I accompanied him outside. The plant had grown over the wall, and the branches peeped out into the street. They were studded with brightly colored orange flowers that looked strangely artificial, as though a skilled craftsman had fashioned them out of wax. The manager took in the scene for a full minute. Finally, he said "I will write to the office and ask them. Give me a couple of weeks. " I thanked him and left, happy.

To identify plants and trees, I have several resources that usually get the job done: Kehimkar's Common Indian Wild Flowers, Karthikeyan's Discover Avenue Trees, and Srinivasa's Discover Garden Climbers. There is the wonderful Flowers of India website, where one can browse flowers by color. There is Google Search by Image. There are nature forums where one can post a photo and request an identification. And last but not least, there are knowledgeable friends to consult. I'm never in a hurry. There is pleasure in lingering over the problem, and I enjoy the thrill of the chase. In this case, for my orange flower, Google Search by Image turned up the name of a variety of rose. It looked similar, but I needed confirmation. Hence, the visit to the bank.

A few days later, at a family gathering, I met a horticulturist. This was too good an opportunity to miss. I pulled out my phone and showed her the orange flower. "Oh, that's a cactus flower," she said. A cactus? Those spiny plants that grow in the desert? I couldn't think of a less likely candidate. My plant looked nothing like a cactus; it was a right proper shrub, luxuriant, with spreading branches bearing leaves and flowers. "Isn't it a rose?" I asked.

"A rose?? Does it look like a rose? Did you notice the leaves? That's not a rose. It's a cactus flower. I don't remember the name. Give me a few minutes." She reached for her phone, and a little later, I had my identification: Rose Cactus (Pereskia bleo). "So, there is a rose in the name," I observed. She was not amused.

Later, I examined the shrub more closely and saw spines on the thick, dark green branches. They were more blunt projections, bony knobs, than true spines and were easy to miss from a distance. A strange plant, this. It was a cactus alright, but it certainly didn't look like one. I learned that it is one of the oldest cactus species, which is why it has true leaves. In later cactus species, the leaves became modified to spines. The home of the Rose Cactus is not the desert but the jungles of Central America, and I could imagine a brilliantly plumaged bird perched on its branches.

Two weeks later, I dropped in at the bank. I had my identification, but I was curious about what the bank manager might have found. As before, he was alone in his room, talking on the phone. I entered and tried to catch his eye. He was frowning as he spoke, looking out of the window. It seemed to be a tense conversation. I began to back out of the room, when he put the phone down and noticed me. For a moment he looked at me blankly. "Ah!" he said. "I wrote to them, but there was no reply." He turned to a letter lying on the table. The frown reappeared on his face. I hesitated. Should I tell him what I had discovered? He had picked up a pen and was writing rapidly.

I turned around and left the room, a little sad — for he would never know the name of the rose.

Photo: Close-up of an orange Rose Cactus (aka Leaf Cactus). The inset (extreme right) shows the knobbly branches.

Scientific name: Pereskia bleo

Where to see it: (1) Rama Varma club, near the entrance. This specimen is in its prime. (2) Maharaja's Stadium, M.G. Road entrance, near the metro station. Enter and turn right. You will see several juvenile plants.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | January 29, 2019

A Piece of Bolivia on T.D. Road: Heliconia rostrata

I spotted this flower hanging over the wall of a house on T.D. Road. It's common names are Hanging Lobster Claw and False Bird of Paradise, and its scientific name is Heliconia rostrata. I had no idea what it was called when I saw it, but I felt then that colors like these belonged to the Amazon. Indeed, the plant is a native of South America, and is one of the two national flowers of Bolivia.

I identified this flower using Reverse Google Image Search. It doesn't always work, but this time it was on target, giving me "heliconia" in the search box after it had finished, with matching images displayed below.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | December 28, 2018

Selling Wild Honey on Broadway

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Posted by: cochinblogger | November 22, 2018

Don’t Take Drugs: Get Married

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Posted by: cochinblogger | October 12, 2018

Crescent Moon over Cochin Harbour

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Posted by: cochinblogger | September 29, 2018

The Pagoda Flower

Purple-rumped sunbird (Leptocoma zeylonica) on pagoda flower (Clerodendrum paniculatum; Krishna kireedam). Shot in the front yard of my house.

"Come," she said, "I'll show you a plant that's a butterfly magnet." The path led us away from the well-tended garden in front of the house to the unkempt mass of greenery outside. She came to a halt in front of a tall plant I was seeing for the first time. It was around 8 feet high, crowned by pyramidal clusters of small bright orange flowers. "We call this Krishna kireedam," she said.

This was a resort in Vagamon. The owners, an elderly couple, had been amused by my diligent stalking of butterflies to photograph them, and hence this introduction to the "butterfly magnet."

Thus it was that two cuttings of the plant were taken back to Cochin. The plant is not demanding; it doesn't ask for anything other than what is available in the soil and the air. The first flowering occurred in a few months and was followed by many others. The plant propagates itself vegetatively by suckers, so it wasn't long before the original plants were surrounded by their progeny, brightening up a drab corner of the front yard with splashes of color.

The striking, unusual geometrical arrangement of the flowers is what gives the plant its name. The pagoda flower is all straight lines and sharp angles, an unabashedly male, rectilinear design that is unusual for flowers. The bright orange color catches the eye, and the large dark-green leaves are the perfect foil for the flowers.

The bird perched on the flower is a male purple-rumped sunbird, a tiny hummingbird-sized bird found only in the Indian subcontinent. The purple patch on the rump is visible only at certain angles when the light is right. The female is dowdy in comparison. Years ago, a couple used to frequent the yard and had even built a nest on a branch overlooking the passage to the road. They then disappeared, so I was happy to spot this bird in my yard again.

And what of the butterflies? The pagoda flower is the favorite plant of the Swallowtails, but the city is not a welcoming environment for butterflies. Still, I have seen them around on occasion. Intrepid explorers, after all, are not the monopoly of any one species. I believe they will come.

Yes, come they will, the butterflies. The glad tidings will spread by word of wing — and the fluttering gopis will yet find their way to my Krishna kireedam.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | August 30, 2018

Red Bleeding Heart Vine

Red bleeding heart vine (Clerodendrum speciosum). Shot at Kalamassery.

I was hurrying to the bank after a critical online transaction failed unexpectedly, and my mind was full of the upcoming meeting with the bank manager. A splash of color on my right – a fence festooned with wreaths of flowers beautiful enough to decorate a wedding stage – caught my eye. Intrigued, I paused.

Time was of the essence, and this was not the moment to stand and stare. The voice of reason said insistently: "Move on, move on, you have important business to attend to. You can always come back another day and take a look." The heart won over reason, and I walked over to the fence.

It was an unfamiliar vine, planted in a garden on the other side of the fence. It had climbed over the fence, and the flowers dangled over it in a riot of scarlet, pink, and white. Glossy dark green leaves peeked through the slats of the fence. Climbers, like us, are transgressive by instinct, forever pushing boundaries. I moved forward, took a quick photo with my phone, and resumed my mission.

The next time I passed that spot, a couple of weeks later, all I saw was a bare fence. There was no sign of the vine. It was as though it had never existed.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | July 26, 2018

Prakasam, Auto Driver

As I was settling down in the auto-rickshaw I'd just boarded, the driver spoke: "When you get down, please make sure that you've taken all your belongings." I thought this a little odd, but assured him that I would not leave anything behind. At my destination, as I was handing over the fare and preparing to disembark, he reminded me again: "Please check that you have taken all your things."

Did he think I might leave a bomb behind in his vehicle? He sounded like a man who had burnt his fingers in the past. What lay behind his unease? I asked him: "Why are you so concerned? You sound worried."

He then narrated the following incident. It was night and he was at home when he heard a mobile phone ringing outside. Nobody answered the call, and the ringing continued, insistent. When this went on for some minutes without stopping, he stepped out. The ringing was coming from his own auto, parked in the yard. He found the phone behind the passenger seat. It must have slipped from a passenger's pocket and slid down the gap between the seat and the back rest.

He didn't know what to to do, he told me. Pointing to the side mirror of his auto, he said, "The phone was that big. I didn't know how to operate it, else I would've answered the call or called him. Look at my phone!" He took his phone out of his pocket to show me; it was a basic Nokia model.

The act of paying my auto fare has always been automatic: I step out of the auto, at the same time whipping out my wallet and counting out the fare, which is handed over in an instant, completing the transaction. It is over in a matter of seconds. Today, I had been stopped in my tracks while initiating that action: one foot was on the pavement, my hands held the wallet, and my body was aligned toward the door of the auto. One step and I would be out, caught up in the whirl of scurrying commuters. On my right, the traffic streamed past, a never-ending flow. And yet, I sat there. I could not move. We were no longer driver and passenger; he was the storyteller, and I was the listener. He had not held me with a glittering eye like the Ancient Mariner, but he had reeled me in, alright.

He decided to go to his daughter's house, which was some distance away. His daughter made contact with the owner of the mobile. He was relieved and grateful that his phone was safe and had apparently found its way into honest hands. It turned out he stayed in Thodupuzha. He was tied up there for a few days with urgent matters, and could someone come down to Thodupuzha with the phone? It was an extraordinary request (Thodupuzha being a good two hours away from Kochi by bus), but my auto driver told him he would be in front of the Thodupuzha police station at 6:30 am the next day.

There, they met. The owner of the phone was profoundly grateful. He was preparing for the Public Service Commission exams, and his entire preparation material was stored in the phone. "My life is in my phone," he said. He took the auto driver to his house and introduced him to his family members. He was served jack fruit and mango as well as a variety of snacks. The phone, he learned, cost Rs. 30,000. The owner of the phone gave him Rs. 5,000 as his reward. I bid farewell to the auto driver, and went about my business. But his story stayed with me.

A few months later, I boarded an auto. It was only when I got down that I recognized the driver. I greeted him, but he stared at me blankly. All I had to do was mention the passenger from Thodupuzha who had lost his phone. At this, he smiled in recognition and folded his hands in salutation.

Last Sunday, I hailed an auto to the Metro station. To my surprise, it was the same driver. This time, he smiled when he saw me. As we sped toward the Metro, he spoke: "Sir, something interesting happened the other day." This is what he said.

"A mother and daughter boarded the auto, asking to be taken to Chennai SIlks. A couple of minutes later, I asked them to be sure to take all their belongings when they left the auto, leaving nothing behind. They replied that they would be careful, the mother adding that she appreciated his warning." They got off at Chennai Silks. A few minutes later, he pulled into a petrol station. Something fell from the passenger seat with a loud noise. It was a brand-new umbrella. The auto driver was crestfallen.

From the petrol station, he sped toward the Chennai Silks showroom. There he had to pay the parking fees for his auto. Entering the building, he found his passengers climbing the stairs. They were surprised and pleased to get back the umbrella, which they had never expected to see again. The daughter said she had put down the umbrella momentarily to take money out from her purse, and forgotten to pick it up again. Our auto driver was given Rs. 50 for the up-and-down travel.

I was struck by his sense of responsibility: if something was left behind in his auto, he felt honor bound to return it to the passenger. Until that was accomplished, the burden of unearned ownership lay heavy on his conscience, denying him peace of mind.

I stepped out of his auto, paid my fare, and was about to walk away when I realized I didn't know his name. I needed something concrete to tag his memory with. "Prakasam," he said. Our paths diverged, as I turned toward the Metro station and he headed into the traffic.Note: The photo above is a representative image.

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