After nearly six months of isolation and remote execution of academic tasks, I decided to visit Mr & Mrs Sahi at Karlsruhe. This visit was a crucial break as with every passing day my belief grew certain that I was pacing towards a burnout on a personal, professional, and artistic level.
Though corona spread like wildfire for a few months in the starting of the year, things started to work either out of need or force. Even when many knew the trouble was still hanging around and more of it was yet to come. The bitter reality was that except for covering faces with masks that were not just unsettling but mostly non-helpful due to the intellectuals who used them without covering their nose, there was nothing anyone could do.
So, with varying climates, unsettling streets, panicking public, I finally met them. Though the absence of the little prince was evident, the cosy chambers, spicy food, positive ambience, & healthy atmosphere were the most needed comforts for a time. Not to mention the unlimited screen time, evening walks, winter shopping, & short trips.
Though most of the trip was as expected, there was one uninformed event planned at the Botanical Garden of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology organised by the Friends of the Graden (Freigelände des Botanischen Garten des KIT). Not that I have not seen the garden before. Dr Sahi ensured that I visited it every time I visited them with detailed explanations of every fancy plant we could find.
This time, however, plants only from India were being explored from a Socio-cultural, therapeutic and political point of view. Something I have never heard of before, especially regarding plants. Knowing Dr Sahi personally for a few years, I knew he would not hinder in expressing his views about any political personality, historical reference, & cultural differences. I knew he would not shy away from expressing his opinions indiscreetly.
So, being offered an entry pass, I set forward to rejoice statements relating superfood, Jesus, palm tree, Hindu rituals, bamboo, drumstick, & colonization. Believe me, they are not disjointed but work wonderfully together in this context.
We visited the afternoon session starting from thirteen hours and were nine companions including myself & Mrs Sahi. The goal of the speaker Dr Sahi was to explore three main chambers namely Garden of Harmony, Garden of Taste and Garden of Politics. These greenhouse rooms with varying temperatures help the institute grow mango, tulsi, sugarcane, cotton amongst many other tropical plants in Germany where shrubs resting beside the heater would not last the winter.
GARDEN OF HARMONY
The third in the list was Bamboo which surprisingly represented fertility and prosperity. Aspects I have never heard in-reference to bamboo. Though regular uses were mentioned like usage in building & cooking, the cultural representation was interesting and unique.
The last in the list was black pepper which was also referred to as black gold. This spice as Dr Sahi says is not only one of the major contributing factors for the search of India opening the doors for trade and later even colonization, it was even so influential that a guild in Europe was formed to control and monitor the trade of the black pepper.
With this, the discussion in the first chamber concluded with a mention as to why the chamber was named Garden of Harmony. Curated by Mrs Sahi, the garden in her opinion was a spot of harmony since plants being extremely competitive for resources under the soil somehow managed to co-exist in that selected habitat. Being humans with the same capacities or partly even more capacities we are binding ourselves in an ever-ending conflict rather than a preferential co-existence.
GARDEN OF TASTE
In the second garden, Dr Sahi introduced coconut, tamarind, chocolate, betel & mango. As the name of the garden suggests, all of them are related to taste. This chamber was not as much informative as the last one but was rather appreciative as to what the plants offered.
One unique aspect that I could notice was the way we Indians depended on mango leaves. Talking about the hundreds of varieties of mangoes, Dr Sahi mentions, “In the Hindu system, there are sixteen rituals in a lifetime. Most of these rituals in some or the other way make use of the mango tree, either using the leaves, the fruits or the wood. So much so that mango wood is one of the preferred woods for cremation, the last ritual for a Hindu”.
Except for this remarkable statement, discussion on tamarind’s help in digestion, coconut’s fibre being used in bed mattresses and cooking, an introduction to the cousin of black pepper and the betel plant was discussed.
GARDEN OF POLITICS
The last of the chambers was the garden of politics. Aptly named due to the presence of sugarcane and cotton although it also has other important plants like the tulsi, banana, ginger and turmeric.
This is where the British entered the discussion again while mentioning about the way opium, & indigo led to the exploitation of the farmers. An introduction to the tea and opium trade was also mentioned.
The best piece of information that I would like to mention here was the way British introduced tea to the Indians. Turns out, to make tea into a lucrative business, the English had to spread the habit of tea drinking among the Indian populace. Since it was not common and many were averse to the idea of drinking tea, the English tea companies used beautiful porcelain and tea sets to allure people.
Even the tea consumed never had sugar in it initially. It has become integral over time due to various reasons mostly concerning economic benefit.
With the discussion of the sugar, Dr Sahi clarifies, “The crystals of the brown sugar and the normal sugar are not so different. Brown sugar is just one step less processed than the normal white sugar. It is the raw sugar that is quite healthy and preferably consumed when compared to the processed sugars.”
Lastly, the discussion came to indigo the cultivation of which was reduced in India after the Germans found an artificial way of producing the blue colour, thereby making the Indigo trading less exploitative, Dr Sahi concludes by mentioning that plants go unnoticed in history and general conversations but were one of the major reasons for many wars, & crimes while also being the reason for prosperity, wealth, & health.
I have personally enjoyed the trip to the botanical garden of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology this time. It turns out that the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology would offer these sessions once every month. If any of you are interested in learning deeper, as I have not even scratched the surface, you can contact them at http://www.botanik.kit.edu/garten/
I must admit that this was the only productive task I have done during this whole trip but mentally, I am in better spirits visiting Mr & Mrs Sahi. Hopefully, everyone is trying their best too. Take care & stay safe.