When I hear the Tamil word for honey - then (rhymes with lane) – it feels very old, because it's a one-syllable word in a polysyllabic language. A bee is theni. Yesterday I learned that the word for beehive is then-koodu. Both Lakshmi and Mary were excited -- they approached me separately saying, Do you know there's a then-koodu in the garden?
Mary says that the honey will be most abundant by amavasi (the new moon) which is coming on May 16. After that the bees will drink it away, and the hive will dry up. R eats honey in his oatmeal, so they were trying to figure out how to get the honey for the household.
I went out with Lakshmi to see it. She pointed, but it took me a long time: I was looking for something like the cartoon hive which is swung at by a dim-witted bear, and which bounces back in his face like a punching bag, full of angry bees. But this was formed around a branch, very high in a eucalyptus tree. It was more than 2 feet long, and black, like a thickened growth on the tree itself. I felt it as a kind of natural blessing, and saw with relief that it would be very tough to get all the way up there. I said, "Let it be; we don't need that honey."
Now I am making a transition, from the Tamil word for honey to the Sanskrit word, madh; and on to its relative, the old English word for honey-based liquor, mead; and finally, over to an article in yesterday’s paper. The article says that our state of Tamil Nadu will soon sell imported liquor through the state-owned liquor stores, as part of compliance with WTO requirements. I am hoping that at the same time Indian wines will become available here too. It would be ironic if I could legally drink imported wine, but not the local stuff. And that in itself could be a good enough reason not to change – we need our ironies, after all.
One more transition, to another kind of sweetness: yesterday Ethiraj, the gardener, climbed up the big mango tree with a cloth bag tied to a long rope. He picked the fruit and lowered it in the bag, where the watchman waited to empty it, with Lakshmi on hand to call out advice, above and below. Now we have 100 mangoes, in addition to the 90 from the first picking. This year they really are good and sweet, better than ever before; and plenty for everyone.