“Why can’t I have green fingers?” I asked my unsuspecting friend, one day.
“It seems everything I plant just refuses to grow. Everyone in my family has green thumbs. Why am I not able to grow even the easiest of plants?”
“Oh, is that all?” said my friend. “Don’t worry. One day, you and I will sit together and draw a big green thumb!”
I eventually married my reassuring friend. And sure enough, we began growing a few plants, most of which survived! One of my wishes had been fulfilled. But in my heart, I knew there was only one way my garden could be complete. If only we had a real garden.
A real garden, to me, was what my grandmother had at their house on the outskirts of Chennai – a lawn in the front, with three hibiscus trees, a car shed with a guava tree as a roof. Papaya on one side of the house, bananas on the other. The mango and lemon trees were in the backyard. There was even a pineapple plant, and two coconut palms – my father had brought coconut sprouts all the way from the Andaman Islands. There were numerous flowering plants and cacti too.
Almost every time that we’d visit, we’d carry a pineapple, mango, coconut or some lemons back home. Once, I saw my grandfather climb up a tall stool to harvest a bunch of bananas, while I stood nervously on the ground praying for his safety.
Having lived in apartments all my life, I had made peace with the fact that we probably wouldn’t be able to have that sort of an area for growing plants. But the one thing that completed the garden, was a compost pile.
At a very early age, we were initiated into composting by my grandmother. There was always a separate bin for kitchen waste, which she’d dump into the pit in the backyard, near the fence.
Back home, my mother did what she could, to use the kitchen waste for the flowerpots – the coffee grounds and tea leaves almost always ended up going to the flowerpots in the balcony. And that was the closest, I thought, that we could get to reusing kitchen waste. Up until recently, that is.
“What are you doing?” I asked my father-in-law. He looked mischievously at me, and picked up the screw driver from the kitchen.
My father-in-law, I found out soon after I got married, loved plants. Our garden was minuscule compared to his large terrace garden. And when he first saw the small take-out containers I had re-purposed into planters, he remarked. “They need a bigger area to grow roots! These are too small!”
Perhaps he saw potential in the garden, or recognised our shared love for plants – he quickly warmed up to the idea of a small garden. He procured a few more plants and helped grow the garden – even helping me repurpose more food containers!
It wasn’t unusual for him to tinker around with the plants. But on this particular day, he busied himself with something new.
I followed him to our tiny balcony.
“I am making compost,” he declared.
Read part 2: A whole new world