'Madame, aapney to inhey maar hi dala'. Madam you have killed them. Aghast, the mali told me. Mortified, I listened. My little garden dead before it could bloom?
I had been meaning to button hole the mali into getting me a small garden started on the balcony. The thing was, I could never manage to catch hold of him, although he came to our house daily to tend to the garden downstairs. One fine, rather hot day, he turned up to accompany me to the nearby nursery. R was visiting me then. The two of us hopped on to a rickshaw while the mali followed on a bicycle.
At the nursery, I asked for plants which would be easy to maintain. I was shown three which according to the nursery chap, didn’t need much watering. Just plenty of sun light. We hoisted them onto the rickshaw and came home. A and I dragged the plants three flights up. The mali told me that he would come later and replace the pots with bigger ones and more fresh soil. Fine. In the meanwhile, I checked them regularly and ocassionally watered them. The red bougainevilla sort of crumpled. Too much water I thought. And stopped watering it altogether. The white one grew vertically. Three long upright twigs with three white blossoms at each end. The third one some tincopanna or something like that…would be all droopy and curly each evening and would miraculously revive when I watered it. The red one never recovered. And yet, the dried buds remained firmly affixed to the stems. I would however check them each night, before going to bed. I would talk to them (saw that on a TV sitcom), tenderly stroke them, mentally sending "grow and blossom" messages. One large balcony, three small ugly pots, three plants in various stages of death and decay. Never mind that. There were really precious to me.
I asked my neighbour (the president of the local kitchen garden owner’s association) as to why my plants were dying. Add manure. Really? Easier said than done. Where and how. How come the road to my office is full of hale and hearty bougenvillaes – no one ever waters them and they are under strong strong sunlight. And manure? Not many cows around either.
And that is when the mali came up to check on my plants. “Apney to maar hi dala”.
- But I was told they don’t need water.
- That’s only after the leaves have grown. Once the flowers appear, water them every alternate day. Not before that. Ek balti paani pilaya. Literally, they drank a bucket full of water. He left strict instructions to water them thrice a day. And sure enough, the tincoma grew and how. The white bougainevilla sprouted baby leaves. The red one resisted. As if withdrawn in an injured silent protest. But I still have hopes for it. It has now three new leaves. No sign of flowers yet. The dried up buds still clinging on fast like little blood clots.
The mali has since then repotted them, added fertilizers. He said that maybe I should get more plants. And he could accompany me to the nursery.
- How about today?
- No, am busy. But maybe next weekend?
- No I will be busy. Ok, how about the weekend after that?
- Madame, why don’t you tell me which plants you like, he said pointing to our neighbours gardens.
- Eeps…but don’t I have to ask their permission?
- Well, I AM the garderner out here. And I do all the trimmings and repotting. So its really in my hands.
Well, now I have a good mind to take a leisurely walk among the wonderful houses all around with even more wonderful garden, note down the house numbers and make a note of the plants I want. How about that?!
When we lived in the middle east, plants were rather expensive. She would always be on the lookout for plants...a rare sight in the desert and if she ever saw a nice specimen, would think out loud of getting down from the car for a wee bit and grabbing hold of it, to take home. She never did. Back then, R and I would immediately shoot down any such idea of ma's...what if the owner ... some irate sheikh would find out and run after us? I am doing much of the same aren't I? No irate sheikhs out here though...
This morning, I found, to my delight, a small greenish-reddish blob on the tincoma (I am sure I have the name wrong)....it wont be late now, that my balcony will be a bright splash of colours!