I was my parents’ problem child. (My parents probably think I still am!) I had strange obsessions with food, plants, flowers, shells, clay, pebbles, sand and junk. Oh and did I mention plants?
I’d climb half-way up our neighbor’s mango tree to break branches to make rustic “lamps”. I would knead through little hills of sand at neighborhood construction sites to dig for shells, to add to my Mum's pots of succulents, and did not mind dirtying my hands if I touched solidified cat poop during my “search”. One time I even brought home two Mutt puppies on my way back from my school bus stop, who kept howling all night. The next morning I was ordered to return them to their mother by my Mother. This was how Mum chose to repay my shell-collecting debt!
I grew up in a substantially large house. We did not have a garden though, but our large terrace was turned into a rooftop “garden” by my Mum (with help from the various Maalis she had from time to time).
There were two of us who were obsessed with this one dhoti-clad Maali (Hindi for gardener). Our pet dog Doogie and me. For reasons not known to us, Doogie would tug and nip on Maaliji’s dhuti every evening when he climbed the stairs. And sometimes when we were not watching, I think Doogie even got himself ankle-kicked by the old gardener.
But Maaliji was specially nice to me. I was the pupil he always longed for. You know, just to pass on his gardening gyaan. Even in the scorching May heat of Bihar, I would squat next to him when he was digging into roots, looking for insects and pests under the leaves, I would run to turn the water tap off when the water was overflowing from a bucket or help him undo knots in the rubber pipe. I would even get him his evening tea which my Grandmother made for him.
He would sit on the staircase leading down to the verandah sipping his chai, talking about his village farmland with my Grandmother, how consecutive years of famine disrupted his whole life! And how from a land-tilling farmer he had to become a “gardener” in the city.
Now as a big city girl in a space-challenged apartment, I am so glad I sat through all those sessions of repotting, pruning, fertilizing, bulbs being saved for the next year and all that handiwork which I watched and learnt!
I wasn’t planning for this post today, but I can’t wait to share with you photographs of our plants. For the sheer way they are sprouting happiness and soaking all that abundant sunlight we have been getting lately. The greenhouse effect in our condo has added that same cheer the old gardener brought about with his bare hands. The old man may have been illiterate and unschooled, but he sure knew through his experience that apartment gardening is not an oxymoron. Especially if you have a reputation of being a problem child with a secret green thumb.