Thursday, April 02, 2009

Chandigarh Visit

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!

2 comments:

Paul said...

Hi! Looked up Schleichera oleosa, on flicker images. Nice looking tree. Schleicher is the botanist it's been named after and oleosa, apparently means a herb / shrub /plant from which oil can be extracted. I guess that's where we get the usage 'oleoresins' from.
And Geetha Hariharan, too is a familiar name among us, watchers of the indian lit. scenario.( I do the watching, though I don't do much reading. (smile).

And this simple lace_y thing we used to call 'chair back', 'chair lace'etc., ghosh! never new it could have such historical significance!

gt said...

i think - i was told when i was moving around in chandigarh - that not only had several parts of the city been architected (?) by le carbousier - but that he had set up a system where every cross road belonged to a numbering system such that perpendicular roads always gave you a certain sum (maybe 17??) so that if one road's number was lets say "6". the perpendicular road it hit would automatically be the number "11". anyone know if this true? gt