Wednesday, 17 November 2010

For Aai...

This was written for a contest. Results will be declared in June. Wish me Luck.

I was home after almost six months. I stood in the veranda with the bag hanging down from my shoulder. The garden looked lush green and neatly manicured.
My growing up years have been associated with this place and its transformation from a vacant plot, into a kitchen garden and then in to a 'wildly growing' garden. There were trees, thickets, shrubs, potted plant, cactus, flowering plant, money name it and we had it. Or rather my mother had it.
My parents, who wanted to build a small house, had pooled their meager resources to buy the land. When the house was being built, we (my elder sibling and I) often accompanied our parents to see the construction. The area surrounding the house, looked dusty and barren except for few trees.
“Teak! That's teakwood tree,” Aai shrieked loudly.
I had looked around to see if anyone had overheard us.
“And”, she said pointing to another tree in the distance, “that is sal.”
I nodded. I didn't really care for the house or the trees. It looked dull and boring.
After moving into the new house, my mother quit her job at the PSU. I thought that was crazy.
I had asked her, “What are you going to do at home?”
She had smiled and said, “Do up this place.”
I had stared at her because I never really thought my mother was the 'domesticated' type.
Finally I said, “I hope you do something nice for my bedroom then...”
“Wait and watch”, was the reply.
My bedroom window overlooked a tiny patch. Soon I could see orange, red and golden heads – marigold flowers.
Aai had planted the seeds by dozens it seems.
“It looks nice,” I had thought.
She had also planted tomato seeds in the patch near the kitchen. Soon we were eating tomatoes, bhendi and sweet lime.
Aai had never studied horticulture, but the plants grew at her touch. She bought books on various plant species, made notes, watched Aamchi Maati Amchi Mansa and went off on her own “field trips”. It was embarrassing to accompany her on the “field trips” as she would pull out any weed and put it in her plastic bag, or approach the neighbours with her hearty laugh and persuasive manner and come away with at least one sapling.
I wished she would “outgrew this fancy,” because since she was not working, she had become a watch dog of sorts.
We had no compound wall or wiring then around our plot. So invariably many laman women, would sneak in the afternoon trying to chop off the branches of teak and sal trees.
My mother would sit up in the bed at the slightest sound. The sleep in her eyes would clear and she would listen keenly.
“Listen...just get up,” she would wake me up from my siesta. “Just go and check if the laman women are here and then shoo them away. Go, go.”
I was in no mood to go and chase the women. But didn't I mention that Aai was a very persuasive woman?
Sure enough, the laman were there pulling at the trees.
“Aye suno...jao yahan se,” I used to call out weakly.
The women didn't even bother to look at me.
And then a voice used to bellow out, “Aye suno. Tum logo jate ho ki nahi yahan se? Ya police ko bulaon? Is ped ki kimat pata hai tumhe?”
By now Aai was out of the bed and the house into the garden and on the other side of the thicket talking, cajoling and threatening the women.
I used to stand, half hidden by the door, wondering what would happen to my mother.
However, the women left quietly and Aai used to come in, lock the door and go to the bedroom. In a matter of minutes, she would be snoring!
After the first crop of marigold flowers, Aai planted papaya and palm trees.
The papaya was very sweet and so were the guavas!
“We don't have a mango tree,” I remarked one afternoon.
My maternal grandfather owned an aamrai in Konkan. Aai got him to send us a crate of hapus mangoes and planted the 'bata' of one mango in the garden.
The mango tree took 12 years to flower, but Aai never lost hope. She used to water it lovingly thrice a day and also spoke to it in Konkani... the magic worked!
The juice from the leaves of the mango trees reduced my father's sugar levels...the wheat grass juice stopped the bleeding from my nose! She experimented with fruits, flowers and us – and it all worked.
When I moved to Pune for studies and called home, I used to get an update on all the members of the family.
“Your father is keeping well. Can you smell the ratrani? It has blossomed. I am sitting right next to it..When are you coming home? Come soon, your favourite gulmohar tree is in bloom. Fiery red...what a lovely colour! I am sending you some guavas with your sister. Eat them. Juicy ones from our tree. The bluebird came and sat on the window sill. The sparrows too. I can't spot the mynah though..”Aai continued.
Sometimes I wondered if she really cared for us. Plants and trees and birds occupied her mind space more than us - her children.
Now, my mother is no more. The garden is there, the trees are there, the flowers are in full bloom, in a riot of colour, the fragrance of ratrani and mogra still lingers in the air – all protected by the compound wall.
What is missing is her loud voice and magic!
Today, as a grown up 29-year-old, I realised what my mother meant by “doing up the place.”
She was “doing up” the area around the house with plants. The joy and beauty of the growing plants and cooing of the birds had found its way into my house.

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