Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Thursday, August 25, 2005
But alas, my city-bred, 'first-world-country' ensconced self had hugely underestimated the task. The tools I had bought for the only reason that they were the cheapest, were good enough, at the most, to dig around a potted plant. In spite of poking, prodding, nudging and hitting as hard as I can, with all my might, the earth won't budge. The only thing I was successful in doing was making huge clanking noises and causing few birds to flutter away in disgust. A row of ants gorging on a fallen plum had scattered and it seemed that they were trying to get as far away from me as possible.
From this angle and at this time the vegetable patch looked enormous. It did not seem that huge when I had looked at it in the morning with a cup of coffee in my hand and my mind warmed by resolve that I had made the previous night after reading an article about how to raise an organic vegetable garden. As soon as I woke up in the morning, I had gone pronto to buy new gardening gloves, shoes and whatever else I could find to wear for my new hobby and also a few seeds.
The earth looked pliant and clean when I came to the yard with a bunch of computer printouts describing the digging, plowing, planting and fertilizing. It all seemed pretty simple! But when I squatted down and took a closer look, I saw that the ground was hard and cracked and was teeming with all kinds of insects. I could only recognize the ants and the spiders, but there were others that I had never seen in my life. Some were bright orange, others jet black, but all were equally disgusting. I tried to shoo them by stamping my feet and waiving the printouts to blow them away and was successful in warding them off to an extent. But I think they were terrified of me more than I was terrified of them so they seemed to have scurried away at their own accord! Yet, there were some obnoxious ones, like this rogue spider that were stubborn enough to hang around and climb up my shoes. Still, I persisted with my task bravely, not paying attention to the spiders or to the disgust I was feeling.
I had been digging for a long time now and had succeeded in scratching only a few inches of the surface of only a part of the entire patch. I had even put some water, hoping it will make it somewhat easier to dig. I had lost all my carefulness to keep myself away from the dirt and had attacked the stubborn earth with vengeance. By the time I was half way through the patch, my clothes, my shoes, my gloves were entirely covered with mud. I had gotten some of it in my hair too when I tried unsuccessfully to push back some strands from my forehead. As I looked at the remaining work to be done, my mind was filled with dread. No way was I going to complete this, I thought. There were so many things to be done yet - the fertilizing, the planting and the weeding that would soon follow. What had I set myself against I wondered, a trifle irritated with my over enthusiasm. In a while I was frustrated with the effort and, carelessly, just threw the seeds around the patch and went inside the house to take a long, hot shower. Of course, since I was so exhausted with the hard work I put in, we went out to dinner and went to sleep early. As I slept soundly, some time in the night the Nature fairy arrived and gently touched the seeds that I had so carelessly thrown in the ground, with the magic of life.
In the days after my first half hearted effort at gardening, the vegetable patch lay abandoned in the backyard of my house. The automatic sprinkler system kept on watering it faithfully and my enthusiasm had waned as I got entangled with various things my life. Then one day, just like that, the earth burst out with tender, verdant shoots. In a few days, the seeds that I had thrown had taken to the ground. That is when I realized the innocent, unconditional love of Nature. It had forgiven my cockiness, my ignorance, my clumsiness and even my pretension and endowed me with a gift of life. It had accepted me with open arms in spite of myself. And I was no longer just a shod and gloved, pretentious outsider, I was part of the Nature. Even my clumsy, half hearted attempts at being a part of it, were accepted, appreciated and rewarded manifold.
Now if you see me anywhere, with a tan on my face, a few scratches on my legs, just a little mud in my nails, fear not, for I must have been outside in the garden, playing with Nature with my fingertips.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Ambu flicked her head umpteenth time trying unsuccessfully to push back the rogue strand of hair that had stuck to her sweaty forehead and was tickling her eye. Her hands were dirty with the mixture of dirt and tamarind that she was using to rub the copper utensils before washing them with the water she had drawn from the well. Every year, in the summer her sister made Ambu bring out the copper and silver utensils from the attic of the old house and wash them with tamarind until they shone. This year the summer was even more special as they were having the naming ceremony of her sister's first grandson. Soon Ambu's nephews and nieces and many more guests from far off cities and towns would start arriving and the household would be in frenzy. All these vessels would be used to hold the enormous quantities of food that would be cooked in the coming days.
Ambu fidgeted a little and tried to move her legs that were numb from squatting. Her back ached and her spine made the crackling noise as she tried to straighten a little from her hunched position. It is almost done, she thought, looking with some satisfaction at the neat line of shining vessels of all shapes and sizes that sat drying on the white muslin cloth. She eyed the few remaining pots and pans and sighed. Taking in a deep breath, she attacked them ferociously, making loud clanking noises.
"Ambuuuu!" her sister called out from inside the house. "Stop that noise right now!" she hollered. "Don't you know the clangor of pots and pans brings bad luck?"
Ambu flushed and started washing the vessels slowly and put them back on the muslin cloth as gently as she could. Once the chore was done, she got up with some difficulty and went to the well to draw some water to wash her hands and feet. Once more, she lustily eyed the well. Once more, the long suppressed thought scratched her placid mind - what if she just let herself slip....
She jerked her head as if to ward off that thought and slowly drew out the bucket that hung down with a rope.
The cool water felt good on her cracked feet for they were burning by staying too long in dirt. She washed her hands and splashed some more water on her face. She threw the remaining water at the base of the banana plant and smiled noticing that the plant had begun to bear fruit. Little bunches of bananas clung to the plant, snugly hidden under the lustrous fronds. The Jasmine had blossomed too and Ambu watched a few bees humming lazily around the plant, intoxicated by its perfume.
"Ambuuuuu, what are you doing outside? Hurry up, there are so many things that need to be done. It is almost time for the guests to arrive." her sister called out again and Ambu hustled in through the short backyard door to enter the gloomily lit kitchen. There was no electricity in their town yet and whatever light came into the kitchen came in from little glass windows on the roof. Ambu's day in the kitchen would begin at daybreak when the first rays of sunlight would started streaming as yellow beams on the floor and she would be engaged in chores until, at sundown, the kitchen fire would be put out after the oil lamps were lit around the house.
The kitchen had been Ambu's abode for almost fifteen years since she arrived at her sister's place. She had rarely gone out of the house, except for going to the temple occasionally. Then too she was required to have an accompaniment and had to be dressed in the most sedate of clothes. Her whole world comprised of the back yard where she had planted numerous varieties of plants and the dark, gloomy kitchen.
Ambu was the last amongst her parent's nine daughters and three sons. Her parents were worried if they could ever find a groom for their dark and simple minded daughter. In the house of Bramhins from Konkan, being dark and dull was like a mortal sin. Beauty was defined by the color of the skin and the community took pride in the intelligence of its members. Ambu’s fair, light eyed sisters had found a match in a jiffy but she had turned sixteen and was already growing past the marriageable age. Her parents fretted that Ambu would turn into an old maid unless she was married off soon. Finally, after much scouting, her parents had found her a match. She was hurriedly married off to a middle aged widower who lived in a nearby village.
Ambu never really found out what love really was. She was always quite terrified of her husband and before she knew he died of pneumonia. Ambu's dreams for a blissful life ended with him. She was only eighteen then.
There was no place for Ambu in her husband’s house after he died. Her parents were too old and her brothers were too far away to take her in. That is when Ambu’s oldest sister and brother in law offered to take her to their house. Ambu’s brother in law was a lawyer and made enough money to maintain a well to do household. Her sister was a kind woman. Being more then fifteen years older, she loved Ambu with a motherly affection.
Although her sister loved Ambu very much, she was obliged by the rules of the society and had to put all kinds of restrictions on Ambu. Widows were still treated unfairly in those days and Ambu was no exception. Her brother in law, who had once been a successful lawyer, had been bedridden due to a stroke. The stroke had crippled his mind more than his body with time he had become more and more cranky and irritable. His bed had been set up in the front room and he kept a strict eye on people coming and going into the house. He would watch Ambu taunted her if she wore a new sari or tied her hair differently from the usual bun. As her children grew up and one by one moved out of the house to seek better jobs or education, Ambu’s sister became busy serving her whimsical husband and Ambu was relegated to taking care of the kitchen.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
At night there is heaviness in the heart. All the things that need to be done but have not been done yet crowd out the vestiges of dreams and I fall into fitful sleep, telling myself I would be "good" from tomorrow. But what is being good? And for what? I don't know, I don't ask. I just resolve knowing fully well that the next day I will start slipping from it. It feels good at the time - to make a resolve - so I do it and sleep.
Where are the words in all this - all those emotions, the tenderness, the happiness? All that I thought was the juice of my life is buried under a thick, viscous placidity. I am so far from myself that when I read through my own writing, I feel I am watching a stranger. Full of fiery passion, but still a stranger. Will I be able to find myself? Will I be shaken out of this stupor? I don't know, but I hope so. One way or the other may this equilibrium be broken!