The characters and events of this story are only partly true. Many details have been lost due to my hazy memory, and some have been added to suit myself! Hope you enjoy.
A few years ago, my grandparents (mother’s parents) had hired the services of a man named Davis.
Every year, when we visited Chennai, we would see him at least once. He lived nearby, and would come whenever the services of a driver was needed.
Most of the time, I was too lost in my own world to consider talking to him. His lean figure, silver hair, and wrinkled face, combined with my rather poor judgement of age, suggested he was at least sixty years of age, if not more. That was all I knew about him.
He would often talk, and sometimes argue, with my grandmother about gardening. It was something that both of them were very fond of.
During one of our annual visits, he promised to gift us a plant. And true to his word, on the day we were to leave, he handed over a beautiful bonsai to me.
It was a shallow pot, and the top soil had been covered with smooth white pebbles. One look at the plant, and the way it was presented, showed just how much he cared for it.
While everyone was busy packing, he found a curious listener in me. He explained to me in detail the procedure of growing a bonsai. It had taken him fifteen years to craft the bonsai that was now in my palms. Perhaps he saw something in my expression, and gave me instructions on how to maintain it.
He told me to carefully uproot the plant periodically and trim away the excess roots. He told me to cut away the extra branches. He said that to make the trunk grow thicker, it should not be allowed to grow taller. I told him that I would keep that in mind. It sounded quite scary. I was sure if I tried it, I would surely kill it.
The plant looked beautiful, and the fact that it had taken so many years of hard work, made me feel proud to hold it.
Mr Davis gave me one more piece of advice. He told me, to always keep it in the sun. I told him that the summers are harsh, it would die. He repeated himself, in a more peruasive tone, ” Let it face the harshest sun, the most severe monsoon, but never ever keep it in the shade. Let it face the elements”.
Once we reached home we placed the bonsai along with the rest of the plants. It looked like the only graceful one amongst a bunch of wild hooligans.
Many months passed, and its branches began growing. I asked my father if we should cut it. He said, “Do it yourself if you are so sure”.
On the one hand, I felt sad for the plant. How it must have yearned to grow. What hardships it went through for our pleasure. It was barbaric to admire something that involved such cruelty.
On the other hand, I remembered what Mr Davis had told me. He had spent so many years doing what I couldn’t dare. All of his hard work would now go away. I felt I had let him down.
My grandparents had shifted to another house by the time I visited them again and I haven’t seen Mr Davis since. I do not know where he is. I do not remember his words. But the meaning of his conversation is clear in my head.
The bonsai was never cut. Now its branches have spread far and it has been shifted to a larger pot. I did not follow his instructions and let the bonsai grow wild like the others. But, if you are reading this, Mr Davis, I did follow one advice. I never let it be in the shade. Even as some plants were kept inside to protect them from the harsh climate, I let it face the elements.