Tuesday, August 23, 2016


I was sitting and chatting with a friend yesterday when the topic turned, naturally, to the madness that is sweeping over India. 'At times like this, you just want to dig a hole  and crawl inside it' she said. 'Sometimes, just digging is enough' I replied. Passionate gardener that she is, Mrs.L smiled agreement.

Gardening is hope. And forgiveness. And love. Reading gardening books and talking with my gardener friends tells me that there are some things that are common to all gardeners.

We look at our gardens with the eyes of love. Most of the time, we see things not as they are, but as they would have been in a state of perfection. And therefore the new advice is  to photograph your garden and look at it as if it is not yours. But most people I know do not do that. Why would you want to consciously seek out warts in the face you love?

And there is always a next time. No matter what you do, the garden does not hold  a grudge. The year rolls around, and you get a second chance.

And right now, I am plumb in the middle of  the season of Hope. The Monsoon.  That magical time when a broomstick stuck into the ground will put out shoots. Mian  bought me a jar of  rooting hormone powder (that most romantic of men- he knows what will get his wife weak-kneed!) and I have been going a little crazy. Lavender, rosemary, roses, hydrangeas- next year, my garden will be lush!

Here are photos:
Lavender and rosemary. For the south wall in the yard.
Hydrangea. I tried rooting cuttings for three seasons but they all rotted on me. This time, I filled the planting hole with sand for drainage. They are alive so far. What did  I say about forgiveness?
Doesn't look like much,but there are 14 plants of 5 different types in there!
Lily bulbils. Mrs.L gave me scores when she learnt I don't have any tiger lilies. In 3 years, my garden will be on fire!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Avian woes

As I write this, I am sitting on the porch with a spray can of water next to me. The can is both for protection and for assault. Protection against the rooster, who is programmed to attack anything other than his hens. And assault against a drongo.
I normally like these cheerful agile little birds. Their antics as they catch flying insects is fun to watch. But  this one is the smartest and laziest drongo ever. S/he has found a convenient perch just outside the beehive. All the bird has to do is sit there, beak agape, while bees offer themselves up. Well, not on my watch.
But bird troubles never end. I am driven to write this now because my nose nearly got taken away by an aggressive winged thug. I wish  I could name something like a falcon, but it was a dove. I was walking past the chicken coop, and it shot towards me, with murderous intent. I am so glad I ducked.
Not all the birds we have are malevolent. Some are ailing. One of our hens is lame, which  means she cannot hunt for her lone chick (all the others died). Besides which she does not allow me to inspect her.
And finally, one of the chicks in the other brood has a deformed beak. It is shaped like a hook, which is fine if one is an eagle, not so much fun to eat seeds with. So I need to be mindful about spreading seed on the grass for her where she can pick them up- she can't grasp seeds scattered over stone.
Who would have thought that adopting 4 birds would lead me to being obsessed with the innards, sex lives, and territorial drama of an 11-strong flock?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Thursday, April 21, 2016

My real mother.

My mother's most cherished photograph of herself is the one where she is wearing a tightly cinched National Cadet Corps uniform. In the post WWII years, the NCC was serious stuff. She relished climbing telephone poles to 'tap' the messages shuttling back and forth, she learnt to shoot, she showed off during drill. Her adventures had begun well before college and the NCC. In school, she was the tomboy of the class- preferring to exit school from a tunnel under the boundary wall rather than through the gate.

Later, she worked in the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research as a 'scanner girl' looking for electrons. In those days, that was the most technical job a woman could have. She talks with joy of those days, of smuggling her friends into the scientists' lift, of talking to Homi Bhabha, of the foreign scientists who would visit.

She also had a non-traditional sense of style. With her first salary, this girl from Mangalore walked into a fancy jewellers and bought a stunning single strand of pearls- like the Hollywood actresses. She would wear none but printed silk sarees and sleeveless blouses. I remember a nightie of hers that I would play with as a child; she probably decided she didn't want to wear it after Baba died. It was nylon, I think, with a front made entirely of lace. It was a very 'mumma' thing to me then, now it strikes me that I only own one thing that even comes close to the risque-level set by my mothers nightie.

She was a part of the audience during a strip show. It was out of the ordinary, but not too much so for this fun-loving girl. When single, she would always be surrounded by a court of devoted and gallant admirers. When she got engaged, my dad and his friends simply joined the club of those who admired Saroja.

Much much later, she found herself a widow with two children and a hospital. That girl stayed alive though. She shone through in impromptu holidays, in movie marathons, in riverside picnics, in a love for rum-and-coke combos.

I need to remember these things. The religion, the credulity is all new. It saddens me that she is all that Mian knows.

I atleast need to remember the woman I knew, my real mother.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The apple of my eye

Well, no. But you didn't expect me to refrain me from making that pun while talking of my beloved iris, did you?
Nothing's quite as magical as a bed of iris backlit by the morning sun.

And this is the most spectacular one I've seen:
 But there is lots else happening this spring.
The Amaryllis:
 The Azalea:
And everywhere, the promise of more sweetness to come. Here is the honeysuckle over our window, waiting to flower till Mian is back home.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The little stone house

I suppose I always knew it existed. It alone knows what  it was in the beginning. Before Mian and I moved here, G briefly used it as a place to store fruit. But it was already rundown and he quickly gave up the attempt. And for 4 years it stood there on the edge of the orchard and on the edge  of my consciousness.
Till a couple of  weeks ago when I walked past it  with eyes newly opened by David Culp's stunning book  about his garden. When I came across the little house, it was early morning and the sun caused the house to glow like honey. The ferns were cool, the air was scented with apple blossom.
The stone house. Perfect just as it is

Charmed, I visited the house several times. I saw the lovely exposed rock face with ferns growing down it and reflected that Gertrude Jekyll would envy me for that 'ready-made' feature. I looked at the rose growing in the corner and thought of how it would scent the area with a little encouragement. I carefully noted the moisture and sun available in different areas and fantasized about planting arrangements.
And then I spoke about this to G. He was deeply suspicious of my plans.'Saheb' he said, meaning A whose orchard it is, 'wants to use it for something.'  I showed the stone house to Mian. He was ecstatic, but not quite in the way I was. 'What a lovely guest house this would make! Just need a roof. and a floor. and a little straightening.' humph.
I would do it, I decided. I would make me a walled garden, alone if need be.

And today when I was pulling up the weeds, G came by. He stood warily while I explained that I would plant things so that the structural integrity of the place was not compromised. And then I spoke of the rose.
'I am planning to string wires between the walls,' I said. 'and train the rose along it, so that in a few years we will have..'
'A white roof!' breathed an awestruck G
Together we stood and smiled at the nodding clusters of roses we could see so clearly.
I think I might have an ally.
A fireplace. Revealed after an hour of pulling weeds

Thursday, March 3, 2016

I have a face.

I am at a workshop these days, with some old friends and some people I've just met but find fascinating.

Today morning one of them walked up to me with a pendrive in his hand. 'Here is my pendrive' he said. 'That's nice', replied I. 'What do you want me to do about it?' 'Oh' he said 'not you. The other woman'.

The other fat woman he meant.

Not bothering to learn my colleague's name or look at her face, he had just looked at her body and walked up to the nearest person with the same body type.

And later in the day, I spoke about my work on the Ramganga. During the tea break after, I was surrounded by a small group of people who wanted to know more and let me know they appreciated what I said. I was gratefully basking in the nice comments when one person said, 'you speak like Vandana Shiva'.

 'eh?' I was confused- while I appreciate what Ms. Shiva has done for the visibility of India's agrobiodiversity, we don't share an area of work and certainly not a speaking style. What he said next made his thoughts clear. 'You also look like her. Actually, you also look like Usha Uthup. And Shubha Mugdul.' 'Ah.I see.'

Look, I know it might be confusing, this proliferation of large and loud women. But here's a tip. We have different faces.And we do different jobs. Focus on those two things.