Last Friday, I and novelist Githa Hariharan travelled to Chandigarh, where we were guests of the Arts and Heritage Festival taking place in that city. I think I can speak for both of us when I say we enjoyed our visit tremendously. I've visited C'garh once before and enjoyed it then too. We were both struck by how clean and orderly it was -- a reminder that it's actually possible for an Indian city NOT to look as if it is inhabited exclusively by Homo Garbagensis.
It was a time of year when many flowering trees were sporting their colours. Particularly eye-catching was a tree with small, bright leaves -- they looked like flowers from a distance, but weren't. When I say "bright" I mean a really lovely, gleaming scarlet. When I was back in Delhi I got out our copy of Pradip Krishen's excellent
Delhi's Trees: A Field Guide and thumbed through it till I found what I was looking for and there it was: !Schleichera oleosa, familiarly known as the Kusum or Kosom tree and a good host for the lac-producing insect, Laccifer lacca. As a result of visiting C'garh and seeing this tree, I now own one more tiny fragment of trivia (via Krishen's book)! The seeds from this tree yield an oil with the name "Macassar" which was used in Victorian times as a hair oil. On account of the popularity of this hair oil, Victorian home-owners used to protect their sofas with a sort of doily, draped over the back and arms. Countless variations of this decorarive cloth are visible still in middle-class Indian homes. And the name for this doily-like item is ... antimacassar!