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The Life That Waited For Me :)

March 9, 2016

Have always wanted to have a flowery garden but somehow the dream never materialized. Life in Mylapore was in a street house where houses literally sat (and still sit) on top of one another, being a typical middle middle-class area. Yet my mother whose hobby was gardening maintained a vast roof garden in our 2nd floor terrace. It wasn’t roof garden technically speaking, all she had was potted plants, creepers and climbers. Even so, the moment she would come back from school (she was a teacher), (she wouldn’t be bothered about us girls really who had to wait!), she would run up the stairs to attend to her dear plants and water them. Her No.1 favourite was a ‘panneer roja’ the baby pink rose (which pedigree breed is over 99% certainly lost thanks to hybrid cuts) that grew in a big, big round steel drum. In any single day, the plant yielded over 20 beautiful roses. We had red roses and white roses as well. Then jasmine, oleander, hibiscus all colours, then the ‘december’ flower violet in colour and also in pink and white. We had marigolds, chrysanthemums, magnolias. We had tulsi, and the karpooravalli being medicinal herbs. My mom tended to the garden personally, cutting a dead stalk here and pulling out a weed there with a huge wooden handled scissor and plucking flowers in the morning. No question of flowers going anywhere. The flowers were meant exclusively for our Puja.

With my mom died her garden; a little over 3-4 years they survived. None of us could give the blooming greens the kind of love and care she seemed to shower. The rose survived the longest among them. Normally florists or gardeners might want to show off their prizes, their passion. My mom was different, possessive! Guests were carefully steered away from our terrace! Buri Nazar, was what she feared. To her, the flowering beauties were like kids. Once we went to Rameshwaram on a 4 day trip. A neighbour was asked to water the plants but NOT pluck the flowers. We returned to some 100 roses covering up the entire rose tin and it looked like the entire terrace was carpeted with waiting flowers. I still cannot forget the morning.

The journey of my life never left me time or space to take up gardening as hobby ever. I have had a few potted plants in our old in-laws’ house before its demolition. When we moved for construction, the plants were left behind as the movers forgot to fetch them for me. They died a horrible death as the house was taken down shortly. Settling down in my temporary home with a boy in higher secondary school consumed all my energy and attention. I hold myself responsible for their cruel death – i know i did something terrible to them, after having tended to them for years. My new place had no adequate place for them.

We Hindus have a special attachment with animals and birds. My relatives who lost their pets buried them mostly under their living room. One even went on to perform the ‘Bhairava Yagna’ at home for the soul of the dog to reach the heavens safe. Tulsi is like Mother Goddess for us. Most of us have Her at home. I tried having too, but the problem was, I couldn’t water it whenever i got my cycle. My maid also is a fertile woman in her ’30s. Monthly 8-10 days the plant was suffering. Finally I gave it up, when it got too much especially during summer times. My mother-in-law would not be with me always. In any case, she wouldn’t climb up 3 fold stairs. Apartment living comes with a price. We do have a large terrace upstairs and I requested my Christian neighbour to water my plants if I didn’t (I put some plants including Tulsi there) but he had reservations about watering the Tulsi (because it is a Hindu plant!). (He maintained a careful distance from it, a plant-lover basically that he is. He has an awesome collection of Bonsais over 30-40 years old from his bachelor days). (First I tried having the Tulsi in my balcony but shifted it to terrace after drawing flak from my MIL; both I and my maid had to criss-cross it’s path day in and day out a dozen times).

Other than that hardly 1 or 2 plants i grow at home. Only very late it dawned on me how my mother never grew the money plant or crotons. We even had marudhani (henna) but never the supposedly ‘inauspicious’ cacti or the non-flowering ferns and crotons. However my taste in plants is vastly varied from my mother’s. I did have once oleanders and hibiscuses which all adorned my Puja. But I had an equal fascination for croton varieties. Cactus – we don’t have at home as per ‘Vastu’ principles because it normally grows in burial grounds and in deserts. Negative vibes, we say.

The main deterrent was the factor that I kept dividing my time between 2 countries. And another was strangely my cycle! Strictly we women don’t water the plants then. My mom had me and my sister back in those days to take care of the plants, and she kept away from the terrace whenever it was time for her.

In Malaysia, both the houses we lived in Terengganu had huge backyards. I got my flowers there for Puja all 4 years! Roses and hibiscuses planted by the house owner.

In Middle-East I got 108 silver coins for offering instead of flowers for daily archana in my Puja. It weighed heavily in my heart that there were no fresh flowers to offer for my Mother Goddess. But when talking to  a friend about this, she who lives in a big villa growing many potted plants, said she would send me my Puja flowers! I was amazed how my Mother Goddess loved and wanted and chose the flowers for Herself, NOT wanting silver or gold coins! This is the message I think I got from Her. This is Mother’s love for us. This is what She wants from us. The Mother forsaking coins… I was telling Her, next year I would get gold coins for archana. Ever since I am having a steady supply of fresh flowers almost everyday. Even otherwise, Indian shops sell fresh flowers like jasmine imported from India. We don’t normally use unscented flowers for Puja. So exotic varities cannot be used in worship. Only traditional flowers for us.

For the same reasons, I am unable to have plants even here in middle-east. For one thing we live in a 2 bedroom flat where there is hardly any space for that kind of hobby. Still I forced my husband to get me a money plant last year.

In middle-east I water my single lonely plant – cycle or no cycle! I want to have a couple of more but it keeps getting delayed.

Last month I left for India on a 1.5 month vacation. Before leaving I had watered the plant. I asked my husband to keep an eye on it and water it regularly. As it was winter, watering once in 4 days was enough. It was quite a big plant really.

I also told my husband’s driver who does odd jobs for us to take care of the plant. To open the flat once in 4 days and water the plant. My husband joined me in India for a short vacation of 15 days. I reminded him about the plant.

When I came back to gulf, I was shocked to find that my husband had sealed the entire balcony in my absence and never opened it even for a day. He forgot totally about the plant – I guess it never registered in his mind whenever I asked him about the plant.

The poor money plant had completely dried and shriveled up with not a single green leaf. The stems had gone brown. The dead stalk broke my heart completely. ‘Throw it away, I shall get you a new one. And a few more as concession’ said my husband.

Nevertheless I wanted to revive the plant. 40 days of no water. Still the temperature was under 20 degree then. Was there any hope at all? I wanted to try.

It is nearly a month since I arrived back from India. Every alternate day I went to the plant, watered it and touched it completely. First 15 days, no sign of life.

And then finally sprouted the first green stalk. Or rather life flowed back into the veins as they started turning greener once again! The first small leaf budded out against all odds. Oh what a promise! Now look at my plant! It’s been raining here for last 2-3 days. What a fighter she is! She’s back alive! Can you believe! 40 days of no food-no water, but my baby is kicking alive!

Nothing has made me more happy than this small but positive sign of life and hope. I don’t intend having very many plants – i don’t want them to suffer in my absence. But the 1-2 are those to who I talk to. I have merely 3-4 hanging plants in Chennai but I talk to them as well. Plants are living things. I am sure they know us. I learnt to touch the plants from my mother. To her, they were all babies that needed cajoling, petting.

I am sure my lone money plant daily waits to have a word with me. I think of it waiting those long, long days so very hungry that I would come back to it and give it back its life.

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An unforgettable incident is the felling of 4 Ashoka trees in my in-laws home. They were the identity of our home. They would be over 60 today if alive. We cut them some years back. They stood tall and proud giving our place the name, ‘the Ashoka tree house.’ Their roots I believe had crossed a nearby college ground and had ended up on the other side of the road.

Finally it was decided to cut the trees.  More because of complaints from neighbours and those who built new houses. Even in cyclonic storms, the trees never swayed. They stood so sturdy and strong – but I always thought they were like 4 old wise men whispering among themselves. Their leaves rustled noiselessly unlike other immature younger trees in fiercest of winds. Lots of birds had made the trees their homes – including crows and sparrows, even though Ashoka trees don’t have sprawling branches. I have even spotted bats and parrots.

When men were hired to cut the trees, they took one look at the trees and stopped. They said they had to do a ‘shanthi’ puja the next morning because the trees were like ancient men. The workers were unnerved by the towering giants. They said they had to seek the pardon of the trees before taking their lives.  It was a moving moment for me personally.

The next day, the team of workmen returned. They did a puja for all the 4 tall trees. They prayed to their spirits and left to return the next day.

The head of the team told us the age of the trees bothered his men. ‘They are like wise old men. We have to kill them’ he said before proceeding with his work, after once more praying to the trees to excuse his team. We in our house also held a small prayer. The trees stood guarding the house for nearly half a century.

Machines were not advisable as the trees were too tall. They had to be chopped part by part. Took a week in all.

I couldn’t stand seeing the trees felled. Later I learnt in India, it is always so when it comes to chopping down old trees. Men are scared and equate it with killing people.

The last evening the trees were cut was what was most terrible. The birds returned to find their nests gone. They came back every evening and cackled long into the nights searching for their homes. Along with the trees went tens of nests, the happy homes that held the eggs and chicks.   The birds kept circling day and night the empty space which once housed them on the trees. So this is what we do to other lives when we clear forests, understood? It was not just about taking down the 4 wise old men – Ashoka trees, it was also about breaking up of so many, many homes of the helpless.

With the trees and the birds died the perennial shade that we had taken for granted for years and the early morning chirping that greeted us at the break of the day. One special solar eclipse saw the sun hidden by noon 2 pm. The birds had been confused returning to their nests. When the sun came out around 5 pm, it was interesting to watch the bird reaction! So was it day already?!

The roots of the trees could never be gouged out easily. The demolition contractor of the house had a tough job at hands. Finally the construction/foundation gangs had to scoop the ground to get at the deeply entrenched dried old roots that had spread to over 1 km radius and hundreds of feet downward into earth.

Now no more we have trees at home. When I was newly married we had coconut trees, banana trees beside the Ashoka trees. During reconstruction, we have cemented the entire car park area leaving no soil exposed. I really miss the big grown up trees which were like our companions.

We grow up worshipping the Neem trees and the Peepal trees in temples. We worship the Tulsi. No wonder. We worship the Elephants, Snakes everything. And we worship Musical instruments, Books, Tools even Cars and bikes because we are grateful that they transport us comfortably! I have not found another culture where every other form of life is loved and respected the way they are in India. Aamir Khan and others may poke fun at us, but these are insensitive morons who cannot see the love and compassion and spiritual attachment Hindus have with all living and even non-living creatures. You can never, when you watch over as a kid a cow or a calf butchered in your backyard – in the name of God. And you make a meal of it.

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I have decided to send my money plant to my husband’s office next time I go out of station from here. Poor baby.

 

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