Curry leaves are indispensable for Kerala cuisine. We use it in almost every dish. So it was that the mid-morning found me carefully navigating the wet and mossy backyard towards the curry leaf tree standing next to the wall. Well, when I say tree, I actually mean an aspiring tree. It is still young and looks like one of those teenagers who has had a sudden growth spurt and grown only vertically. Slender and tall with very few branches.
This particular curry leaf tree came home with mother when she moved in. Tall and lanky, it was already beginning to develop a ‘stoop’ having outgrown the pot in which it stood. Kind folks that we are, we replanted it in the backyard. Now it could grow straight and tall, and stouter too if it so wished, also send branches in all directions as it pleased. But the tree with single minded purpose aimed for the sky. This meant that I had to stretch quite a bit to get a few sprigs of curry leaves, sometimes even jump and catch hold of a branch and bend the tree towards me.
I was thus engaged one day when I heard a rustle. There is one thing about me which many of you may not know. I don’t ignore rustles, ever. No siree, I don’t. Nor do I let go unchecked moving objects that sometimes I merely sense rather than see from the corners of my eye. Believe me, this has saved me on countless occasions from dying of sheer shock. The Earth is not ours alone, I know. It is as much the realm of the creepy-crawlies as it is of humans. It is just that I draw the line at them sneaking upon me when I least expect and scaring me half to death.
Accordingly, I paused in my pursuit of getting more curry leaves and instead scanned the surroundings. The curry leaf tree stands close to a custard apple tree, which in turn is towered over by the ambitious neem tree (Azadirachta indica) aiming for the sky. To top it all there is an Indian bay leaf tree (Cinnamomum tamala) growing lush right behind them. On the other side of the curry leaf tree stood a lone bush whose name I know not, not yet anyway. Once in a while this bush bursts into lavender blooms while the rest of the time it is all fresh green leaves and nothing else.
Out of them all, I chose to scrutinize closely the lavender flower bush. The rustle had come from somewhere within it. Something shone from its interior. I could make out something small and brownish with eyes. Was it a baby bird? Could there be a nest inside the bush? How exciting! But I was not willing to get closer and investigate. What if it was the head of a tiny snake? If you must know I have once caught a lizard by its tail thinking it was a string. I have even pulled the tail of a chameleon mistaking it to be dried leaf. Nope, I was not about to make any more bloopers of the sort. So I prudently withdrew.
After spluttering the curry leaves in oil along with the mustard and dried red chilies, and pouring it all over the curry, I closed the lid and went in search of the L&M to relate my adventures to him. Trust the L&M not to let things be. Soon he was at the bush, shaking a stick at it…. I mean poking its insides gently with it. I was already into my next task when he called, ‘Come and look what I found!‘ I was busy. What is it? Is it a bird? I called out. He insisted I had to go take a look. There on the wall sat someone, a someone very offended at the unfair intrusion of its privacy. It was Mr. Green, a green, green chameleon.
Sorry, no pictures owing to my having been in the middle of cooking.
© Shail Mohan 2021