Whenever I go for a wander I always come across something that makes me stop and stare.
It’s what makes living in Delhi such a special experience for me. Most of the time I’ve got no idea what’s happening or why. I spend much of my life confused, intrigued and frustrated. I want to know what’s going on around me.
Until recently I’ve not been unable to reach out to Dilliwalahs and ask them what is going on. But in the past few months though my Hindi language skills have come on leaps and bounds.
I can now asks questions and understand the reply. A whole new world has suddenly opened up. I’m pretty excited. So, in between the monsoon rains I took to the streets to see what I could find and who I could talk too.
India never disappoints. Delhi generously gives me at least one reason a day to stop and stare. Today’s treat was a group of women gathering up some sort of seed pod on the pavement.
Piles of seeds, a metre wide by two metres long, were being laid out in the sun to dry. Women, sitting on their haunches, on the wrong side of the kerb stone, were busily picking up seeds as cars whizzed by.
Rather than start a conversation about health and safety and the risks of being hit by a car, I smiled at one lady on the pavement and said, “Yaha kya hai?” (What is this?).
Aunty, looked at me oddly. “This is Neem,” she replied. I think she was more shocked that I didn’t know what it was, rather than that I spoke a little Hindi.
We continued our conversation. She told me she would crush the seeds and then collect the oil. She would make shampoo for herself and family and sell the rest. It was good for the health of hair she explained.
I wondered if she was trying to sell me a kilo. When I sat down I’m sure I saw one of the other women point out my bald spot.
The medicinal properties of Neem have been known about for millenia. It’s a tree that features in the ancient Sanskrit texts. In many South Asia nations the Neem tree is known as the village pharmacy.
This drought-resistant tree is planted all over Delhi. In parks, on streets and scrubland, Neem is present. Edwin Luyten’s, Delhi’s master planner, made sure Neem trees featured heavily in the plans for the city because it was an evergreen and hardy.
Luyten’s has also created a burgeoning cottage industry by planting so many Neem trees. As well Neems ability to help out with baldness, various parts of the tree have anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properites, and can also be used to as a pesticide and spermicide. It’s no wonder that the tree is called a pharmacy.
So perhaps it won’t come as a surprise if I was to tell you that the trees powerful properties were the subject of a ten year patent battle in the mid noughties between the international agro-chemical industry and environmentalists.
The environmentalist argued that nature can’t be patented. The agro-checmical industry didn’t agree. The case ended up with the European Patent Office and, in the end, the environmentalist won.
My ladies on the pavement were probably blissfully unaware about this battle. Neem seed collecting was simply what they did at this time of year. It was not only good for their hair, they could earn a few rupees for free from natures rich bounty.
As for me, I might give neem oil a go on my bald spot. I’ll let you know if it works.