Having a mofussil background, I was acquainted with living in big houses surrounded with large and bountiful gardens. Such was the case that we had the luxury of having a separate vegetable garden in a country where the metropolitan elite struggle to have a gust of fresh air every morning in there cramped ‘ N BHKs’ where N is evidently proportional to ones annual income. Where a mere square feet costs more than the monthly income of a significant amount of our fellow citizens. Where having a portico is a luxury and owing a pent house is a status symbol.
The urban children have to join exquisite clubs for recreational activities whereas I spent my time idling on a tree branch, searching for new varieties of leaves to feed my ever hungry rabbits, swinging in the wild or spending the afternoons lazing on the grass under the warm winter sun. Cycling in the evening was a routine affair and just pedaling into unknown streets and terrain was so much fun.
I still remember playing endlessly on a sand bank near a water reservoir and returning home covered with sand and later enjoying the process of removing it from my shoes and hair and from inside the hems of my frocks. Those where the times when the afternoon power nap was unnecessary and I could spend my afternoons exploring the gardens, sometimes spotting snakes and rare birds.
Talking about rare birds, then sparrows were family as its constant chirping was a permanent background score throughout the morning and surely it got deafening during dusk and dawn. It’s quite shocking that this bird is currently on the verge of extinction cause then they were a part of my life. It used to be so much fun warding off parrots from the lush green corn crop which my mother used to plant during the hot summer months.
The first blossom of asters, sunflowers and marigolds used to be the breaking news of the day. How anxiously I used to wait for the tomatoes to turn red and for the carrots to grow. I used my fingers to gently remove the earth from the carrot plants, just to see how much have they grown in diameter and when will it be ready to be pulled out from mother nature’s lap. I still wonder exactly how many metropolitan children actually know how the plants look like, on which their daily food items grow?
Will they be able to differentiate between a neem and a mango tree. Do they know how does a wheat field looks like or can they even imagine how pleasing is the smell of lush green rice fields. I really doubt their power of smell, cause to develop it you need more than just fancy deodorants and exquisite perfumes.
Early mornings used to be fresh and walking on the verdant lawn soaking my bare feet with cold morning dew was so refreshing. The smell of ‘rajnigandha’ and ‘ raat ki rani’ used to linger in the air and for me they were the only concept of room freshners. The idea of getting them in sealed bottles didn’t generate, ever. Fresh flower-cuts adorned my living room and in times of scorching summers when flowers were hard to find and grow, evergreen leaves used to be the slice of nature in our homes.
The first rain showers used to be a grand event and sitting on the verandah I used to spend hours just admiring the spell of rain ,breathing and relishing the smell of the wet earth amidst the gurgling sound of narrow water channels discovering its own path to freedom. The swaying of the trees felt as if they are dancing with joy, bowing in-front of the mighty clouds for satiating their thirst after the sweltering summers. Their annual bath opened up pores and with the layer of dirt completely dissolved they looked fresh and colorful.
The croaking sound then used to be our new background number, which used to be annoying but surely the definition of annoying has changed for me amidst the constant honking and rumbling in our cities. What fun it used to be to see tiny tadpoles swimming in puddles and surely I didn’t need a biology teacher to teach me the life cycle of a frog, I could see it in action! Clusters of wriggling slimy worms was such a common sight during those wet months and we had to carefully watch our steps or else the sound of them being crushed could bring a sense of deep disgust. after all it was a whole colony!
Then my definition of fresh fruits was not the supermarket’s version of ‘fresh organic arrivals’, it was to climb up a guava tree, check the degree of ripeness by digging in my nails and then picking the ones having the choicest level of readiness. Washing them before eating was unheard of and I joyfully used to eat it atop a branch , relishing each and every bite of the self- picked , self- plucked delectable guava. Every day, the lunch was served with a self prepared bowl of fresh salad. Carrots, radishes, onions, cucumbers, chillies, not forgetting lime, came right from our backyard.’ Freshly’ picked. That’s why I can’t stop myself from smirking at those advertisements which proudly exhibit their so called ‘farm fresh, hand-picked’ products.
Reciting my school speeches in front of trees used to be a live show for me and I enjoyed the attention of my audience. Watching my baby rabbits nibbling a tiny strand of grass used to be a visual treat. Letting my parrot onto the verandah grill and hearing it converse with its wild friends was so delightful .How often have you seen a bird smiling? I have. Quite often. Rare sightings of the kingfisher used to be sensational.
The rain showers generally used to dislodge the nests and we used to place the blown away abodes into a corner of our living room, a creation of the lovely tailor-bird. An architectural wonder.‘ Extreme Engineering’. We didn’t had cable television then, but my inaccessibility to NatGeo and Discovery didn’t leave me oblivious to Mother Nature’s glory.
We didn’t had an inverter then, but power-cuts during nights brought with itself a special fun-package. We had our special family time, sitting on the verandah with a small lantern on the window sill, sharing our thoughts. Talking. Listening. Laughing. We didn’t had to go for a costly family dinner in some fancy restaurant.
Our get-togethers didn’t require scheduling in banquet halls. No reservations. Indeed! Sleeping on the terrace under the star studded sky was no less than a planetarium trip. Marveling at the beauty of the cosmos, spotting shooting stars and the various constellations which were being taught in school, it felt like being transported to a new world. Rare sightings of planes were ‘wow’ moments and often left me dazed.
Now that I live in a city, I can deeply experience the void that my life currently has. Claustrophobia has a whole new meaning to it amidst the concrete jungle. Here the windows have been transformed into glass walls. After all who needs a window when you have spent so much on the split AC?
The view is magnificent, of the tall towers, of the smooth roads, of the racing metro, of the dull grey smoky sky. Here you get ‘dial n order’ trees which have been grown artificially and with such sheer perfection that if you order five, they all will be duplicates. Same color. Same height. Same number of branches too! Just to make your garden the perfect display with ‘well-behaved’ plants.
A perfect example of how orderliness can be an eye-sore. Here birds perch on balcony railings and build their nests in AC outlets. The traditional ‘branch’ is now a luxury. Here when i visit ‘open-kitchens’ and have barbeque parties , I cant stop myself from slipping into memory lane , thinking about how my mother used to cook on her earthen chulha. What fun it used to be to have a taste of the smoking kebabs right from the hot iron-rod. What used to be routine then, is now a rich-man’s exquisite indulgence.
I have realized, the things that give us happiness are the same for all. The human heart craves for space, for freedom, for a breath of fresh air. Its just that it didn’t had a price tag to it then.