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     Volume 4 Issue 12 | September 10, 2004 |

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Slice of Life

The Un-Green Valley

Richa Jha

Call it the curse of the Green Gods, but the curse is upon me, big time. Plants don't survive in my house, indoor or outdoors.

To establish at the outset, I am not a nature lover. Sure, I like the thought of having trees and parks around me, but I am equally happy in a concrete environment. Here in Dhaka, I like the view from my windows, swaying trees, flitting birds, et al, but I would have liked equally well seeing a row of apartments with their pigeon-holed windows and grilled balconies full of clothes drying communicating with me. I like to hear the clutter of vessels from my neighbour's pantry, or the sounds of the motor of a car refusing to start, or the piercing noise of an aeroplane that has just taken off. Every noise tells me a story, every vehicle that passes from below my windows speaks with me, every sizzling frying pan shows me vitality. I am a people person; solitude kills me. I equate people with life, and any signs of human activity with man's eternal quest to survive against all odds.

But this has been an unnecessary digression. I began by saying that plants don't survive in my house. This, when I have grown up in a family that prides itself on maintaining one of the best lawns and gardens in town; when, the family I am married into spends a better part of the day lovingly tending to their lawns with utmost affection.

As a new daughter-in-law in their house, I had made conscious attempts to try and be moved by the smells of the flowers, by the twitter of birds in the trees, by the freshness of the early morning dewy grass, or by the evocative headiness of the aroma of the freshly mowed lawns. I learnt to give a name to each flower, which had hitherto been just a bunch of multi-hued flowers for me. Previously, a red flower had held the same charm for me as a yellow one and a white one. But that charm would be a transient fixation of the senses, and once inside the house, soon forgotten and packed neatly in some corner of my mind. But now, as a conscious attempt to integrate myself into this new family, I memorised how a red poppy looks different from a white hollyhock, and forced myself to like the pungent smell of fertilizers and chemical powders. And I also learnt to wield the plants scissors (pardon me if it is supposed to have a name, which I am certain it has).

But, as with most things forced, I realised the futility of my attempt to appease others with something temperamentally not suited to me. Soon, I gave up, and little later, the family too gave up on making me appreciate the diverse ways of communion with Nature!

As with most city dwellers, The Hubby and I have always lived in apartment houses with little or no patch of green below. Keeping indoor potted plants is a fashionable and most acceptable substitute. They say green plants bring freshness, positive energies, even money (!) into your house. I buy only the oxygen part of it.

But seeing healthy potted plants at someone's house does leave me with a tinge of envy. When I look down from my third floor balcony, I see two balconies directly below mine, both full of pots of all shapes and sizes. The one on the second floor also has several hanging pots, and there are enough plants on this balcony to open a mini-nursery!

At slightly more reflective times, I have wondered about that intangible factor that's missing from my (often sincere) attempts to keep indoor plants. The Hubby says it is love and affection that's singularly lacking. "You don't have to treat them in the same way you treat me. Thanks to you, I may be a dispassionate creature with no voice of my own. But these plants? These plants too are beings with no voice, but have an unassuming capacity to stir passions. Treat them with love." Such tangential references never register with me anyways.

To be fair to myself, it is not that I haven't tried; but obviously, I haven't tried enough. Every time I have approached a potted plant to water it, it has been mostly out of a sense of unavoidable responsibility rather than the 'love' The Hubby speaks of. To me, a fern is a fern, a palm leaf is a palm leaf, and there's no way it can take the place of my 'baby'. There are certain things I can do for a plant (remember to water it once in a couple of days, dig the soil in the pot, remember to add fertilizer with a forgotten urgency, and have it shown to the sun when the room or passage where it is placed starts smelling mossy). And then there are things I cannot do for a plant, like spraying jets of water once every hour (I wash my own face just once a day), wiping the dust off every two hours as if all the polluting atoms in the atmosphere are making a concerted effort to sully the leaves, talking to them, connecting with them and hearing them sing and breathe, and so on.

On an average, two out of ten plants survive in my home. Here in Dhaka, none of the five I brought home in the first lot survived. There has not been a second lot since. Historically, the ones to have survived my non-malicious, inadvertent indifference have fared well after switching care-giving hands. For instance, my plants used to look unrecognisably healthy whenever I would return from any long trips, the neighbours having taken ample care of them. Following my return, it would take them just a few days to slip into their earlier lacklustre mediocrity.

On my recent trip to Mumbai, I was pleasantly surprised to see the plants that I'd left in the nurturing care of my cousin blooming with a radiance unknown in my house, and what's more important, looking happy and cared for! She dragged me to them and showed me with the pride of a surrogate mater, "do you see how I've been loving your plants", she said with unsuppressed elation. I said, yeah yeah, great! But I didn't stand there long enough for the plants to start talking to me. Every moment on my trip was precious, and getting tingled by a few plants didn't feature on my agenda.

The Hubby is right when he says I lack warmth. Maybe, that is what has made him too so cut-and-dry. Time I stopped equating him with the ornamental extras in my house.


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