Saturday, June 17, 2006

Thoughts in a Garden

(Published in The Statesman, 22 March 2006.Copyright Gowri Mohanakrishnan)

I have begun to believe that the world is made up of two kinds of people: those who grew up in a house with a garden and those who didnt. I say this because anyone who enjoyed a garden as a child grows up to be a lover of nature.
Anyone who grew up in a house with a garden will remember the smell of a freshly mowed lawn; the heaps of cut grass, so aromatic, so tempting to jump into, and so surprisingly and painfully full of stinging insects. The garden hose pipe, with air bubbles rushing along in their race with the water. Those endless December holidays of my childhood in Delhi, when we would sit on the lawn listening to music or the cricket commentary on a transistor radio, while eating oranges and peanuts. We would chase the warm sunlight into the last corner of the garden before finally giving up and going indoors, shivering.

In the summer, we would carry our charpoys and spread out our sheets by eight o’clock to cool them by the time we went to sleep. The laburnum tree outside the house would be in full bloom then and the street lights would make the flowers look like luminous golden grapes. Oh what freedom it was to sleep under an open sky. The faithful transistor kept going, at low volume now, considering the late hour, and played sentimental hits like ‘Puppy Love’ and ‘Sealed With a Kiss’ on Forces’ Request. The summer nights were too exciting to sleep ever, and while the rest of the family awoke at dawn, when chilly jasmine scented breezes blew, I would lie there fast asleep with a sheet over my face as a protest against an increasingly hot sun.

We children were only allowed out into the garden in the evening after five-thirty, when the heat and the glare had reduced. Then it would be fun to water the plants, and to listen to the hiss that the hot concrete walk made when it was hit by water from the pipe. The smell of that water evaporating off the hot earth or flower pots made us feel like tasting the earth or at least biting into the flower pot.

One doesn’t see oleander trees now like the ones that grew in all gardens then. We children would pluck two of the long leaves and, holding the ends together, we’d bring them close and snap them back to make a loud noise. There was a lovely creeper jasmine with very dark green leaves and flowers that were whitest white on a pale green stem. We’d pluck them when they were still tight buds at five o’clock in the evening, and my mother would bind them into strings for our hair without using a needle at all. She’d then invert a katori over the neatly coiled strings, and within an hour the blooms would open, with a maddening fragrance. We had enough jasmine strings to distribute to most of our neighbours. We’d make a habit of counting the number of buds we plucked, and often it exceeded a thousand!

At fifteen, I sat with my history book open before me, supposedly studying for the Board Exam, but actually looking at the phlox, sweet sultanas, petunias, verbenas and hollyhocks that thrust themselves out of the earth so boisterously! And every bird in the world seemed to be singing in that garden of my childhood, mocking at me who sat indoors!The Delhi in which I learnt to love nature has changed beyond belief, and though I sometimes regret that I’ve left it so far behind me, I'm glad that my daughter, at fifteen, has the same distractions as I had at her age in the place where we now live. 'Ma, I cant study, there's too much to look at in the garden!' she wailed. She will pass it on, I know, this love of the flowers, the seasons, and the rhythms of life.

If you have ever lived in a house with a garden, even one tree, whether spotted out of a car window or during an evening walk ; one flower, one bush in the park, or one bird's song, will bring it all back, all the wonder that you ever felt as a child!


Kamini said...

Yay, Gowri, you're back!! I've missed your writing, and was thrilled to see some new ones. Sorry I've not been in touch, will write to you soon. Tons of love Kamini.

sk said...

This piece does take me back to my childhood and how much I miss the garden, now that I live in an apartment. The pic looks so like what my aunt's place used to in Rouse Avenue.

I have enjoyed reading your work and the fact that I used to be a Chief Sub Editor at The Statesman, Delhi, I can see why the newspaper has published your work...

Happy Kitten said...

How true!

Thank you so much for taking me from Kuwait in to those gardens and beautiful sunny days of childhood...

Some days mother used to dry the Heavy blankets on the garden lawn. and how i loved lying upon it.. and the smell of the warming blanket still lingers...