The Cup That Cheers!

‘The cups that cheer but not inebriate’ would be one of the best lines extolling the virtues of TEA. During my college days I was never a great fan of William Cowper, even though later in life I have often borrowed his phrase many a time to caption my photos of steaming cups of tea. Some of our tastes and views change as we grow old and I have been reading Cowper, who was known as the forerunner of Romantic Poetry. Considered as one of those pioneers who started writing about simple everyday life of the English countryside, Cowper’s poems would have been a breath of fresh air after the reign of metaphysical and cavalier poems.

On a cold February morning, I met this stout, confident, nonchalant woman in a flower and vegetable market in Jaipur, Rajasthan sipping her cup of tea after unloading a heavy sack of vegetables from her head. Though at first she looked a little intimidating , she gave a broad smile after enjoying her tea and started conversing with us.


The cup…



…that cheers!

Here are those famous lines from Cowper’s The Task Book IV, written in Blank Verse. Lines that bring warmth and a smile! It is said that the phrase The cup that cheers but not inebriates was much quoted during the 19th century Temperance Movement against the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

“Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,

Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,

And while the bubbling and loud hissing urn

Throw up a steamy column and the cups

That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each

So let us welcome peaceful ev’ning in”

~William Cowper~

3A Station, Saigon


Saigon’s 3A Station is a 3 year old memory now. A favourite haunt of the youth, 3A
(Alternative Art Area) Ton Duc Thang  Street used to house small cafes, handicraft shops, art shops, small boutiques and so on; a vibrant art venue where the alleys pulsated with amazing wall graffiti. 3A used to be a youth culture hangout with regular art fairs and live music happening.



FB_IMG_1587341311117The three warehouses, built during French colonisation, were said to have served as the base for the French International secret service, later a centre for the South Vietnamese Intelligence agencies and American CIA.
To many art lovers’ disappointment and heartbreak, 3A Station was closed on May 1st 2017 and was later demolished to pave way for an urban development project.






Elegy to an old sentinel

Before the next floods hit him or the storm fell him our Ungu tree (The Indian Birch tree) was called to sleep a few months back. Nature would have taken his thousand emerald leaves to her bosom, his strong sturdy trunk and bark would have lit someone’s hearth.

“Now that I have opened that bottle of memories they’re pouring out like wine,crimson and bitter sweet’ ~ Ellen Hopkins

We don’t remember our Ungu in his young days, for us he was always there , strong and stout spreading shade in all seasons. We love and hold tight to the memories we share under the shade of the tree.. The happy family time when chairs were pulled out to sit in the the courtyard and evenings were spent talking and discussing countless topics sitting under the tree. That time of the day was the most favourite time of our father..


The tree was a solace, a comfort after our father has left us. The tree was a symbol, the shade that achan gave us literally and metaphorically.

At a time when this tree was not so common, achan got the sapling from Neeliyad, where a beautiful Ungu stood spreading his arms giving shade to the wayfareres. I can’t recollect the young tree however much I try and I always love to visualise the tree in his majestic form.


Hot summer afternoons of April-May would be filled with chirps and cries of jungle babblers, rufous treepies, drongos, bulbuls and many birds that perch on the branches. Among his boughs he provided sanctuary to all these winged friends. As years passed the pretty antigonon started stiffling the tree and smothred him by decking him with bunches of her fuschia pink blossoms. The tree hosted a variety of swiss cheese plant, thadiyante valli as we called it, that never troubled him but added grace. The murmur of the leaves, the mild scent of the blooms, the sometimes profound and sometimes tender green of the leaves, the energy that emanates.. all could bring an unexplainable calmness to the mind while sitting in our balcony staring at the tree.


The tree became synonymous with our home Kousthubham, The Ungu stood next to the entrance gate like a sentinel, rooted firmly in the earth, a silent witness to our joys and sorrows; he has witnessed all the goodbyes, all the jokes we shared sitting on the veranda, all the games our children played. As Ungu was right in front of the house, he could peep into the house, could listen to the activties happening upstairs, he would have known the feelings of the inmates, would have laughed and cried with us; he has seen our children grow, the changes that came over to the house. Ungu was our achan’s presence.


He stood seasons of time, elements did not dare touch him; he never did bend or break in the heavy Kerala monsoons all those thirty plus years. He was as old as the house, the house changed, he aged gracefully, remained more or less unchanged. He welcomed and received the first rays of the sun that touched Anakkara, he bathed himself in the milky beams of hundreds of full moons as he majestically stood facing the east, as nothing hindered his view but the shallow paddy fields.


Antigonon or Coral Vine, the usurper

His presence was taken for granted, until the floods that happened two consecutive years. Being a small town, everyone in the neighbourhood has an opinion about everything ; how the Ungu is going to be a threat to the house was a heated topic of debate very soon. Blake rightly has said ” The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way...” As the compound wall crumbled down with the flood that struck Anakkara last year, pros and cons were weighed ,decision was taken to cut down the tree and rebuild a new wall ….


With a silent prayer in his heart the tree would have fallen down, heart broken. He would have sadly smiled at the hasty decision, also at the non-intervention of those who love him. He would have sighed and reflected upon at the similarity between the brevity of his master’s and his life. He would have closed his eyes with the assurance that changes or loss, this would remain their home and that he was part of those memories that Time would not be able to erase from their hearts.

Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it~ Lucy Maud Montgomery

“His bill an auger is…”

” His Bill an auger is

His Head, a Cap and Frill

He laboreth at every Tree

A Worm, His utmost Goal

~Emily Dickinson

You name a bird, Emily would have sung about it! Emily’s magic brings the woodpecker and places the bird right before your eyes!

The black rumped flameback woodpecker is the one that is commonly seen around my house in Kerala. That reminds me, I have never seen the bird sitting on a branch idly. They are always on their toes (seriously! They have zygodactil feet, with four toes, for strong grip) engrossed in the rhythmic carpentry work.

I learnt some interesting facts about these hardworking folks in vibrant armour and cap. (courtesy to outdoor They are the only ones among birds that do not collect twigs and grass to build nests. They construct spacious wooden houses to dwell in and are said to be the proud owners of some luxurious homes. Woodpeckers drill out chambers and are primary cavity-nesting birds. They change their cavities often and this love for moving houses, make them good samaritans as the old homes are by default donated to other small birds and small animals like squirrels.

It is amazing to know that the woodpecker knocks at tree trunks around 12,000 times a day, an average of 100 times per minute! Nature has her way of protecting their little brains. A bone loops around the brain and that saves it from injuries when the powerful hammering happens. The upper and lower beaks are of different length, hence the impact of the hitting is evenly distributed. The woodpecker’s tail is strong and sturdy and acts as a third leg.

Woodpeckers have bristles in their nostrils to filter the dust! To protect the eyes from the debris that fly around while they chisel the wood, there is a third translucent eyelid that moves forth and back keeping the visibility in tact at the same time. Amazing are the ways of Mother Nature!

Woodpeckers are the drummers and not the singers among the birds. As they don’t have vocal cords, they tap on metal or wooden surfaces to communicate.They are monogamous, one mate for a lifetime.

Ted Hughes too has written about the Woodpecker, about its bouncing rubber brains and about the poor oak that cries in terrors and pains as the bird bangs on the wood! Dickinson being my favourite her Woodpecker is my favourite too!

And Australia, New Zealand and Madagascar are the three places where these drummers are not seen!

Gorgeously Generous January!

It has been seven days and January seems to be kind and generous so far, lavishly gifting splendid dawns and sunrises. Everyday dawns with a vibrant and cheerful note, unlike the grim, gloomy mornings of last year..

It is believed that January is named after Janus the Roman God of beginnings and transitions. The god who is depicted with two faces, looking in opposite directions. One towards the Past and the other to Future. As per the Roman farmers’ almanac Juno was the tutelary deity of the month.

While distressing news pour in from all quarters of the globe, let’s hope that Janus and Juno together would make the transition a brighter one leading to happier, peace filled times!

Here is my first post of the year; I’m sharing some of Saigon’s January mornings.

Here’s wishing everyone Love, Happiness, Peace and Prosperity throughout the year! May Peace and Love prevail our Earth!

” With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” (Desiderata)

Meet the Lilliputians! Chevrotains aka Mouse-Deer

The smallest hoofed mammals in the world, chevrotains are in the lime light since the beginning of this week! The news that scientists spotted the silver backed chevrotains or Vietnamese mouse-deer after 30 years in the jungles of southern Vietnam is doing the rounds on media. It is said that there are 10 different species of chevrotains in the world, mostly seen in south and south east Asia, west and central parts of Africa. The silver backed ones are the most elusive, say the scientists.

My encounter with the timid, tiny mouse-deer was quite unexpected; spotted two to three of them among the dark shades of a corner in the zoological gardens. This happened a few months back. Big surprises come in small packages! I was elated at the sight of these adorable creatures that I have never seen before! It was a tough task to click a good photo as they were too shy and were startled even at the sight of birds; I somehow managed a few decent clicks. After reaching home I did some research, gathered some information about the mouse-deer.

A tiny package of a mouse, a deer, a squirrel, all in one is what the mouse-deer looked to me! They belong to Tragulidae family. Unlike deer, they don’t have antlers or four chambered stomach. They have two fangs projecting from either side of their lower jaws. These needle like fangs of the males are fiercer than that of Dracula’s, they say! They use it while fighting with their rivals.

These tiny creatures are preyed upon by many animals, including man. They are seen to lead secluded lives. The spotted chevrotains are seen in some parts of India. I realised that they are seen in Kerala too when a friend mentioned that she has seen one. In Malayalam they are given a term meaning puny; kooran or kooramaan (കൂരൻ, കൂരമാൻ). That throws light on a term of endearment my great grandmother used for my then toddler sister. Later when I grew up I used to wonder where the word ‘kooran’ derived from! She would have been referring to the dimunitive figure of my sister.

It is interesting to learn that in Indonesian and Malay folklore mouse-deer appear as tricksters. Kancil stories are popular in these regions. Sang kancil, in the folk tales and fables, is a clever mouse-deer that triumphs over stronger and bigger animals. Sang kancil’s song goes like this

“Am quick and smart as I can be

Try and try, but you can’t catch me

Be quick and smart, little friends and thrive well!

May your tribe increase!

Fairies’ sweepers, so says the poet!

“Peacocks sweep the fairies’ rooms; They use their folded tails for brooms;

But fairy dust is brighter far

Than any mortal colours are;

And all about their tails it clings

In strange designs of rounds and rings;

And that’s why they strut about

And proudly spread their feathers out

~Rose Fyleman

Isn’t that a lovely poem! I chanced upon this poem by Rose Amy Fyleman, an English poet who was well known for her fairy poems for children. The poet says the peacocks were the sweepers of fairies. Thus the idiom ‘proud as a peacock’ is fully justified!

Peacocks fascinate everyone with their resplendence. Poets say, when the rain clouds gather in the sky the peacocks dance with joy! The birds were familiar through poems and stories, in my young days. Other than zoological gardens or some temples they were hardly seen elsewhere.

The birds were seldom seen near human habitation those days. But in recent years, they have become a common sight. In most parts of Kerala, including our small village Anakkara, peafowls are seen fearlessly strutting around, flaunting their iridescent plumes and train.

The shrill shrieks of the peafowls from the paddy fields in front are quite normal during my visits to amma. Along with the chirp and tweet of the smaller birds, Anakkara mornings have become noisier with the cacaphonous calls from these birds! The bevy of peafowls parade in the fields across the road with the chicks, forage around the house and walk across the road without any fear.

Caution! Peahens crossing the road. Madam Peahen is hurrying to join the ‘party’ on the other side of the road!

Some peacock facts I learnt recently: Peacocks shed their train after mating season, hence Man can gather the feathers by not harming the bird, unless he wishes to be too greedy. Tiny crystal like structures present in the feathers give the shimmering blue and green colours of their plumage. Usually there are three to four females and a male in a harem of peafowls. A peahen’s crest has sensors and is attuned to the vibrating frequencies of the rattling of the male’s train!

Contrary to my belief, the white peafowls are not a specific species. They are the ones with a genetic mutation called leucism, that causes lack of pigmentation.

It looks exciting to follow the colourful trail of peacock tales! The bird has a prominent place in Greek, Egyptian, Roman and Hindu mytholigies. Hopefully I shall unfurl the stories in another blog post.