Some of my earliest memories are those of hiding in the little kitchen garden in our house. What I remember most vividly are the hibiscuses and the roses. Roses of that deep magenta color, the color of sirens and wine. Hibiscuses, I think there were red, pale pink, and peach. There were a whole lot of other plants that I can no longer recollect, but I remember they were all roughly as tall as I was, so the setup was, to me, quite a jungle! In all of my photographs from that era, I have two braids on either side with a rose pinned to each, and a neat bindi in the centre of my forehead – like the “good” south Indian girl my mother desperately wanted me to become. There was one particular photograph of me smiling away among the hibiscus pots; it was a particular favourite of mine, and is now with an old classmate who liked collecting childhood photographs of her friends. I wonder if she still has it.
This was while we were living in Goa. When I turned four, we moved to New Delhi, and I think the saddest part of that move for me was to lose my mini jungle. In our new flat, there was a balcony twice the size, but perhaps the loss of the old garden hit my mother hard, and she was not motivated enough to start a new one, knowing even this residence was temporary. Nevertheless, she planted a money-plant. A low maintenance little thing that you find everywhere, from office corridors to desks to nearly every Indian home. She put it in the corner of the balcony where it got a lot of light, and the rest of the balcony remained bare. Boring. Like a desert. Un-homey. Like New Delhi.
To this day, I hate money-plants.
Now that I’m all grown up and nearly the age my mother was when the events described above occurred, I decided to start a small garden of my own. I don’t know the first thing about gardening, and I would not have gone ahead at all, but at my last job, I had a lot (way too much) free time, and I stumbled upon a kitchen garden website. As I read, all those long ago memories, buried like shadows, resurfaced and I just wanted to do SOMETHING. I have three balconies, and they’re all bare, and they reflect the hot sun like steel and concrete. Like deserts. Like New Delhi.
I went to a nearby nursery and picked up two plants. My son made friends with the owner’s puppy and that’s a story in itself, but for another day. And bit by bit, I got one side of my balcony lined up. I have a creeper that grows on the grilles and the leaves are the richest shade of green I’ve ever seen.
Last week, one of my plants died without a warning. It seemed healthy the day before but was all wilted the next. That was the first plant in my care that died. The thud in my heart was painful, and strange as it may seem, but I’m sure I could see the cloud over my head. I did not have the heart to throw it out. I’m trying to revive it, but I don’t think it’s working.
Ever since I’ve set up the mini garden, the balcony is the first place I go to as soon as I return from work. I examine each of my plants, ask them how they’re doing, if it’s all good, if I could get them anything else, some water or a pair of scissors to prune them perhaps? Like a good waiter who wants a good tip. I see each new leaf, healthy, waxy, and so beautifully tiny come out the parent branch and each time I’m filled with renewed wonder. I spend several minutes just staring at them – too afraid to touch – like it’s a miracle happening right in front of my eyes.
On the day the plant died, in a neighboring pot, I saw a new shoot come up. I had planted seeds the week before, and I’ve heard from people that seeds you get in the market never germinate, which is why you should always go for saplings. I have to say I was shocked when I saw the shoot raise its head in the sun. It was so beautiful, so fragile.
And the day after, there were more shoots.
There is a certain joy that comes from seeing something that you least expected. Dramatic misty-eyed-ness aside, it’s the surprise that fills you up to the brim.
Yesterday it rained here in Bangalore, and the raindrops rested on the leaves of my creeper. I was mesmerized by it. It was like a love affair in itself – the stormy clouds, the heavy rain, and a gentle flutter of the leaves letting the raindrops rest on them.
I still don’t know much about gardening. I still haven’t gotten over the death of the plant. (Or even the loss of the mini garden from childhood, for that matter). But I talk to these plants, and sometimes, they smile back to me. They know I’m there, and I can feel it. And little by little, they grow like a wonder.