Visit to Maharashtra, Blue Lotus 2
Blue Lotus 2
Many thanks for all the loving and kind comments you all have had about the agarwood and blue lotus adventures. It is for me the fulfillment of deep help aspiriations to be able to experience these things first hand and in some small way share them with all of you. The second part of the Blue Lotus Exploration will be presented in this newsletter.
I would like to mention that a very kind and generous soul, April Shalen of Canada has kindly offered to edit the main body of the informational text of the newsletters. I am sure many of you will be grateful for this as I often make spelling errors, punctuation mistakes etc. April is a lover of plants, cats and people and lives in Canada with her partner Terry. She is a devoted environmentalist and passionate champion of animal rights. Many many many thanks to April for her help in making the writings presentable.
I would like to also mention the work of someone who I have admired and loved since I first heard about him. He has long since passed on but his words are so precious and deep that they live forever in the heart as an inspiration and guiding light. His name is George Washington Carver, who served humanity with a simple and innocent love and devotion. He became famous for his work on peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes while working at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama during the early to mid part of this century. I hope you will enjoy the few quotes I have enclosed from his life and works. A wonderful book-George Washington Carver-The Man Who Overcame by Lawrence Elliott is a joy to read. You can procure a used copy by typing in Lawrence Elliott's name at the field of the used book seach engine-
Reading about nature is fine, but if a
person walks in the woods and listens
carefully, he can learn more than what
is in books, for they speak with the
voice of God.
When you do the common things in
life in an uncommon way, you will
command the attention of the world.
How far you go in life depends on
your being tender with the young,
compassionate with the aged,
sympathetic with the striving and
tolerant of the weak and strong.
Because someday in your life you will
have been all of these.
More and more as we come closer and closer in touch with nature and
its teachings are we able to see the Divine and are therefore fitted to
interpret correctly the various languages spoken by all forms of nature
Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough. Not only have I found that when I talk to the little flower or to the little peanut they will
give up their secrets, but I have found that when I silently commune
with people . . .
Nature is an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we only will tune in.
Blue Lotus Explorations Part 2
The journey into the land of the lotus ponds inspired me to move deeper into the project. The basic commitment was already present but seeing the great beauty of this amazing plant close up, as well as witnessing the dedication of Philip and his staff to the project, gave me the final inspirational push.In the months to come Philip was able to extract many pink lotus blossoms as ponds containing them were easier to access than the ones we had visited containing white lotus. By the end of 1998 I had a sufficient quantity on hand to begin offering this precious essence to my customers. It was to our knowledge the first authentic lotus absolute to be offered in the West.
In this connection I should mention an important event that was part of the lotus project. After making several trips to India including the one where we visited the lotus ponds in Rajasthan, I came in contact with John Steele who has been involved with natural essences for a couple of decades. When John learned that I was deeply involved with the aromatic plants and traditions of India, he requested that we try to have a lotus absolute made. He had unfortunately come in contact with a company in India who had sold him what was purported to be lotus absolute but in the end turned out to be a bouqueted material (a combination of essential oils, isolates, etc). He had paid a lot of money for it, so was keen to see some authentic work with lotus and felt that perhaps I could initiate this. His encouragement helped propel me into the project.
In that first season Philip produced a couple of kilos of material and by good fortune a lot of interest was generated in it. At that time the essential oil business was just starting so this was a huge investment in one material, but enough was sold to recover the money poured into it. After that season Philip decided to decrease his involvement in the production of floral absolutes (he was also doing Jasmin sambac, Frangipani, Tuberose, Champa, etc.), and focus his attention on botanical extracts for the pharmaceuticals market. This worked out fine as further investigations into the world of lotus showed us that the deeper one moved into the southern part of India, the more lotus of both the white and pink varieties could be found.
Ramakant started interacting with a major extractor of Jasmin sambac near Madurai and they showed a keen interest in taking up the extraction of lotus, so we decided to involve them in this work.
On a practical side it is important to understand that the type of equipment used for extraction is much more complex than equipment used for steam and hydrodistillation. When one decides to take up the extraction of any flower then the entire system has to be cleaned so there is no contamination from the previous extraction. In other words, if one is switching from the extraction of Jasmin sambac to Lotus then the extraction equipment has to be completely purified. It takes over 24 hours to do this. So one has to make a certain commitment to the extractor to produce enough material to make this cleaning process pay for itself.
This time around we decided to have about 5 kilos of absolute produced. The ponds in the area were full of lotus blossoms so it was possible to collect the 500,000 blossoms required to do this. It was a staggering amount of work, and something that can only be accomplished in countries like India where the people power and the aromatic natural resources are present for such endeavors. Fortunately, Ramakant also provided financial backing for the project because that sort of money was way beyond my finances. This next phase of the work also inspired him to set up his own facility for converting the concrete to absolute, which he had not done before. Also, our dear colleagues near Madurai did not possess the expertise or the equipment to do the conversion. Their entire setup was only for making the concrete.
It was a great blessing that Ramakant took up this work because preparing the absolute from concrete is an art and craft unto itself, and it requires tremendous patience and sensitivity to perfect it. When one is working with such expensive materials the margin for error is small, but he took up this work with his customary enthusiasm and dedication to detail that has proved a blessing in many many ways. Now his knowledge on the subject is tremendous and this has allowed him to do a number of other special precision conversions of concrete to absolute such as white ginger lily, blue lotus, golden champa, Jasmin sambac, etc.
In the month of September we moved forward with a new phase of the lotus project that involved the extraction of white lotus blossoms. The season for white lotus normally comes in August, September and October in the area near where our colleagues with the extraction units live. It happened that the beginning of the white lotus project coincided with a visit to South India for a group of folks from the USA, England, Hong Kong,
Australia, etc. Ramakant and I felt that it would be valuable to bring people to India to experience the many dimensions of India's aromatic world and after careful planning it had been arranged to bring 22 people for a fragrant tour of Tamil Nadu and Karnatika.
By good fortune the white lotus blossoms were in full bloom and this is what greeted our eyes at sunrise when we visited the ponds.
When we got down from the bus at the first small lotus pond, a gradual transformation began to take place. It was just sunrise and the gentle beams of light were beginning to illuminate the elegant blossoms, encouraging them to open their petals and release their sweet aroma into the air. It was just a small pond along the main road and could hardly be called impressive, yet the flowers were already casting their spell upon the people gathered there. Then our kind hosts led us along a dirt road to a larger pond along which was situated the local temple.
Here the transformation deepened. I watched in quiet amazement as people’s faces began to soften and take on a natural lustre and relaxation that had not been present before. It was a type of intoxication but not in any overt way. Everyone was holding white lotus blossoms in their hands and gently inhaling their fragrance. It could not have been a more lovely scene. I am certainly not skeptical about the power of fragrance to uplift and inspire people but I had never seen anything like this. It was as if the heart of each one of us had cast off the many day-to-day burdens and was basking in some soft joy that was both natural and transcendent. If one could say that time could be suspended, then perhaps this was such an event.
The local people living along the pond also joined in our reverie. We all mingled together in a most congenial way. It is difficult to describe because on one level there was nothing abnormal about it. It was a time of natural happiness that is perhaps very close to what we are capable of feeling all the time were we not so weighted down with the hundreds of cares and worries of everyday life. But be that as it may, it was wonderful to see the sweet beauty on everyone's faces. The lotus blossom—a symbol of enlightenment and perfection—had certainly worked it magic upon us. In ancient India the sages often created these special situations so that people could feel drawn towards their natural center. They knew that in certain environments one would automatically turn inward and get glimpses of a world within their own heart. In some small way I think that is what happened with us.
In retrospect, another dimension of this experience that seems very special to me now was that the question of feeling uneasy in a totally foreign environment seemed totally absent. India can be quite unnerving to a Westerner unaccustomed to the peculiarities of that culture, and rarely can one enter such a rural environment and feel comfortable. But such was the case in this instance. I thought it was quite remarkable because when I first started going to India in 1971 I was often totally out of sync with what was happening around me.
From this large pond we went to yet another larger pond. Underneath tall arching trees we sipped fresh coconut juice straight from the shell as one of the villagers had brought dozens of them for us to enjoy. People wandered up and down the edge of the pond drinking in the beauty of the blossoms, the wild birds flying in and out of the reeds, the richness of the farm life surrounding us, and the entire ambience of an ancient land saturated with a spiritual life which has been alive and intact for thousands of years.
Reflecting on this time, I think one can safely say that with all the best efforts we make to create beautiful oils, there can really be no substitute for the essences as they exist in nature in the setting in which a plant grows. The plant somehow extracts from the earth the most precious of substances—the invisible vibrations of a hidden life—and perfumes the air with them. Those who come into the influence of these plants imbibe an entire experience that somehow unites the various visible and audible parts of the world one has entered. The impact this has upon the heart is very deep. I think at that time, without knowing exactly how it happens, one can begin to understand the language of the plants and to hear what virtues are contained within them. It may just be a very personal message—one that reminds us to be appreciative and open to the more sublime influences within and without us—or it may be one where we are capable of understanding how to better use such plants in the service of others; but however that may be, one certainly comes away with their own life touched in a deep way.
That evening the first white lotus blossoms were brought to the extraction unit to begin the production of white lotus concrete from which the absolute would later be made.
Gradually these two absolutes began to find their way into the homes of my growing number of customers. In a way it inspired me to work harder at understanding how to make such a business succeed in the Western world. Since so many good souls had worked on the India side to bring this precious and exotic essence into manifestation, I also began to see that I had a responsibility to represent a world that is not very well known to people who have never experienced the behind the scenes work involved with the production of these fragrant substances.
It was a bit of a scary thing for me because the truth is, I do not have any practical business background. I had plenty of good ideas and enthusiasm, but no knowledge of how to interest others in what we were doing in India.
As many of you already know, the learning curve for making a business succeed can be very steep especially if one does not even know the basics of proper bookkeeping, inventory, packing and shipping, and the many other small details that go into such enterprises. It is only by the greatest good fortune that I married someone who is not daunted by any challenge, which is a really amazing thing because the challenge that faced us was significant.
Before Suzanne began pouring her talents and skills into the enterprise I did my best to do all the things that I thought would make the business work, but at the end of the first full year I found myself buried under a mass of paperwork that was difficult to sort through. I took a stab at making some sort of sense of it and after two weeks came up with my version of "the books" to give to the bookkeeper. In short, it was a disaster. About this time I began to fall apart at the seams. Then Suzanne decided it was high time to piece Mr. Humpty Dumpty back together again and set the operation on firm business foundations. This is a story in itself but suffice it to say that through her sterling efforts the foundering ship righted itself and through steady work we were able to learn how to manage things in a practical way.
The details of this type of learning experience are not important, but there is a part of it that may be meaningful to those of you who are engaged in direct sourcing or those of you who wish to be. In a very real way, a person who is procuring materials directly from the distillers (and hence the farmers) is in a way acting as an ambassador for the environments, plants, and the people and the oils they distill. If the individual procuring these oils can make a success of selling them, then he or she then becomes an important source of revenue for rural communities.
It is important to note that there has been a significant change in the way oils are bought and sold. Previously, the international essential oil industry was almost exclusively controlled by a few large flavor and fragrance houses. With the advent of e-mail, the internet etc., that control has been loosened and many small entrepreneurs have entered the picture. This has led to the consumer having access to a greater range of oils than ever before, many of them being rare and exotic.
Authentic distillers are no doubt rare as well but there are more of them than one might think. They are often delighted to work directly with small entrepreneurs who have a deep love and genuine passion for quality oils. But once that process starts there is a need to create a long-term relationship with a sound financial base so that everyone benefits. It is just to say that if one takes up the work of direct sourcing they need to realize that they are at least in some instances representing intricate worlds that are composed of environments, people, plants, insects, mammals, etc. By bringing this world to others, the small business owner is not only offering a beautiful product but also an insight into a world which his or her customers may never have known about.
To be able to share this vision and also be successful financially so that many other people are successful requires a great deal of insight and understanding on many levels. Suzanne and I did not have the practical tools or business background to do this but necessity made us draw upon those inner resources that brought the skills into being. Having gone through this process I can say with certainty that if we can do it, I think anyone can do it if the heart is moved by a real concern for both the world of the farmers and plants, and the need of customers for superb oils.
While all of this was evolving, a new idea was beginning to grow in my heart and mind. I cannot exactly remember the dates when all these different events were happening because I made many trips to India from 1997-2000. But on one of those trips we made a survey of the lotus ponds found in the area of Ramakant's distillery in the State of Maharastra. We were delighted to find a totally different type of lotus growing there. It was sky blue in color, was much smaller in shape and size but possessed a wonderful ethereal fragrance that was totally different from the white or pink lotus.
Ramakant was already beginning to develop some real expertise in extracting absolutes so he figured that he could also prepare the concrete as well. He sent one of his trusted workers, Shakar Ji (who is also the best cook in the universe), out to make a survey of the area so he could begin to develop relationships with the people who manage the ponds and see if he could get enough flowers for extraction. It is very important to realize that all such projects are founded upon many intricate interactions with real live people. Flowers do not suddenly appear at the extracting unit. One has to network with the people owning the ponds, the people who collect the flowers etc.
This is a fascinating world in itself because aromatic flowers are a big business in India. Indians have a passion for fragrance because it has a lot of sacred significance. Flowers are not just an ornament for the home but are an offering to the deities whom the people worship. A visit to any major flower market will totally boggle the mind and senses. Every day hundreds of trucks come into the Dadar Wholesale flower market laden with aromatic flowers, and thousands of people come to buy from the vendors there.
It is one of the most intoxicating, aromatic, and seemingly chaotic scenes (from a Westerner’s viewpoint) imaginable.
So for someone like Ramakant to establish a real relationship with the local people for use of their lotus blossoms, which already had a good market in Bombay, he had to make sincere efforts to show them he was a genuine buyer who would require substantial amounts of their fragrant wares. The blue lotus in particular has spiritual connection with one of the most revered of the Indian gods, Lord Krishna, so the blossoms are treasured by those who are devoted to him. One can easily see why, because through the course of the day the blossoms exude the most wonderful aroma, which fills one with energy and enthusiasm.
Gradually the local people and vendors began to see that Ramakant was sincere in his request for significant amounts of blossoms, and he paid them promptly. This gave them the confidence to channel some of the blossoms towards him and gave us enough material to start producing the absolute at a very modest and experimental level.
As fate would have it, my own trips to India were put on hold for 2.5 years during which time the blue lotus project gained a firm foundation. Personally, I did not have a chance to come close to these special flowers during that phase, so this year’s trip held a lot of significance for me because I wanted to fully appreciate and understand everything associated with the blue lotus project.
Part 3 will talk about this experience in detail.