Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Flowers for Mrs.M

These African violets are such shy beauties. For years, they didn’t do well at all in Moraghat. Shortly after we moved here, I managed to kill a whole collection of them. That we grow any at all now, is thanks to some timely advice from a friend.
An unexpected friendship sprang up between Mrs. M and me. She was a very Burra Memsaab – tea garden manager’s wife - of the district, and the senior catering member at the club. I was the youngest of the Burra Memsaabs here at the time, and was new to the district.
Mrs. M. asked me to make a cauliflower and aloo curry, as my share of Diwali dinner for around 200 people at the club. Our poor old cook did a great job, we all thought, giving the curry a special flavour and a thick gravy. At the end of the meal, Mrs. M. summoned me to the buffet table with a little gesture. She was tall, and she looked rather imperiously at me, and said, ‘Gorry’--this is how most people from North India pronounce my name–‘Gorry, why did you make this dish with gravy?’
'Mrs. M.,’I said, ‘You didn’t specify that you wanted it made without gravy.'
‘Well, you should have checked how it was made here.’
‘Mrs. M., since I’m new here, you should have specified.’
The younger of the catering members feared a flare-up, and came hurrying to soothe me. I could tell she lived in great dread of Mrs. M!
It turned out that Mrs. M liked me for speaking frankly to her.
I found this out when her car drew up quite suddenly at our place one morning. My Ma and I were sitting in the verandah. It was a lovely November morning. The girls were at school, and Ma was busy with her knitting. Mrs. M. got out of the car, and after the briefest of greetings, she said, pointing a finger at some pots, 'Those African violets are looking really unhappy over here!' She thrust her little bundle of crochet into my hands while she picked up two of the pots and wandered around looking for what might be a suitable new place for them.
After she’d put the pots in a place which seemed to satisfy her, she climbed up the steps to the verandah and greeted Ma, while I floated around behind her with all her crochet work. That was the beginning of a warm friendship, and it was the beginning of a new life for our African violets! Mrs. M. taught me that African violets need plenty of shade, and that they are shy –shrinking violets – that love to grow hidden among other plants. They have to be watered very carefully, indirectly, in fact, in a little plate placed at the base of the pot. The roots take in as much water as the plant needs through capillary action.

Mrs. M and I enjoyed a short-lived friendship – her husband retired from tea a few months after we came to know each other. Before they left, she asked the girls around to her place, ‘To play with my daughters’ dolls house’ she said. Her own daughters were away at college then, and instead of moping about how she missed them, she asked other people’s children over now and then. Swati and Parvati, who were around eight and ten years old then, went over, and had a great time playing with the dolls house, and running about all over the lovely garden there!

I called Mrs. M. on the phone to thank her, and I found she’d taken a real shine to Swati! ‘Would you believe it, Gorry! Your little one complimented me on my heliconia plant! There are very few adults I know who know the name of the plant, and this little one not only knows what it is, but was kind enough to admire it!’
We had a good laugh. This is a picture of a heliconia that grows here in our garden!

5 comments:

Kamini said...

Such a lovely post about an unlikely friendship. Good old Gorry!
I've killed dozens of violets gifted to me by various friends - now I know why.
The heliconia is a beauty indeed (I learned its name only today!) - my parents have a plant in their garden, and I always marvel at the lovely colours.
Kamini.

RAJI MUTHUKRISHNAN said...

That heliconia is a flamboyant beauty - trust Swati to recognise and name it even at that tender age!

And a nice tale of a strong minded, plain speaking woman, who likes the same quality in others.

RAJI MUTHUKRISHNAN said...

P. S. No shrinking violet, that Burra Memsaab

Happy Kitten said...

Heliconia and I never knew the name for that one until today.. but ur daughter did at such an age.

My mother brought all her African Violets from the high ranges to our home town and it is still there.. she still feeds it tea leaves and tea water! I remember her experiments during the intial days, but the leaves will grow roots like the money plant if it is put in water.

Gardenia said...

Thank you, Kamini, Raji and Happy Kitten! Happy Kitten, thanks for the great tip for violets - I'll feed them some tea now!