I stumbled across this refreshingly delightful work of writing on a friend’s wall. Turns out the author is a mad hatter with dog(s) and kid in tow living a charmed life while she moonlights as a journalist.
The post evoked great childhood memories for my mum as I read this out loud. Of indulgent parents and living in the lap of nature unspoilt and uncompromised by the baggage of modern living.
While I’m still trying to entice the author to be a guest blogger on The Glass Ceiling for now here’s her post. I can’t think of a better way to wish you all A HAPPY FRIDAY and a Fantastic Weekend Ahead.
Hope you enjoy Rachel Chitra’s The Job’s Garden of Eden with incredible photographs by Nathan.J.Novak as much as I did.
THE JOB’S GARDEN OF EDEN
In our family’s private circle of church friends and relatives, my grandfather Dr E.J.C.Job’s sprawling plot of land in Mandaveli was always referred to as the “Garden of Eden.” And indeed it was an overwhelmingly lush and green spot. My grandfather was such an enthusiastic, scientific gardener that if one were to call him a horticulturist it wouldn’t be far of the mark.
Another irony is that despite my grandfather’s deep love for the soil and all kinds of flora and fauna, he spent the majority of his life on the high seas as an Indian Naval doctor. It was only after his retirement as Surgeon Commander I.N.S that he was able to revel in his life-long passion by converting his house into a veritable paradise.
If I remember right, we had 5 coconut trees, 2 jackfruit trees, 1 really top-of-the world alphonsa hybrid mango tree, a neem tree, two drumstick trees, stalks of banana in the backyard, papaya, Ram Sita (sugar apple), pumpkins and custard apple. We also had our own lime tree and I still love the fragrance of crushed lime leaves; even today while rambling through Russell’s market I can buy a whole cartload of lemons if I spot them with their leaves intact. We also had a sapota tree and one lovely amla tree, which was nearly 2 stories high. My grandfather unfortunately cut it down later when he felt he couldn’t deal with the hordes of school boys descending on us and almost breaking their limbs in their quest for amlas.
My grandfather used to garden everyday – meticulously pruning, shaping, fertilizing and generally coaxing his wards into good health. He would also casually mention the scientific names of animals and plants as I followed him around the garden like Mary’s little lamb. For me if I can remember off-hand names like clitoria ternatea, Annona squamosa, Phyllanthus emblica (mixed up in my child’s mind as umbilical cord), Panthera leo, panthera tigris, Canis lupus, Felis catus – it can only be because like Enid Blyton I had in my grandfather a deep connoisseur of nature.
My grandfather was also a strong believer in letting children learn for themselves. So when my 8 year old father got stuck climbing a mangosteen tree, my grandfather just casually told him to come down the same way he went up and walked off; even as my worried-sick grandmother hovered around shouting frantic instructions. My father finally plucked up enough courage to make the attempt and descended in safety. It was the same with me – when my grandfather told me not to climb the drumstick tree I didn’t heed his advice. Later when I had huge welts on my skin from coming into contact with the stem-boring caterpillars, which had made the drumstick tree their domain, he never told me “I told you so.” But there was a twinkle in his eye as he ministered to the swelling, which sealed our own private pact of discovery and growing up.
We also had a lot of flowering shrubs – white, magenta & violet december flowers, gundu malli, jaddi malli (jasmine), kangambaram (red & orange firecracker flower), fiery red roses, balsam, spreading vines of pink button roses, Idli poo (jungle geranium) and abundant bushes of Vadamalli. The Vadamalli was a plant that my grandfather had never fancied much, but then nature finds its own way; and this abundant crop had grown from the discarded garland of one of our dear departed relatives.
Come March and we had the Easter lilies! The Easter lilies adorned the edge of the lawn facing our house and my grandmother used to faithfully cut them every Easter to occupy pride of place in our drawing room. And these Easter lilies were huge ones that were almost a hand span in diameter. Now I wonder if they were that huge as a result of my grandfather’s experiments as I’ve never come across any to rival them in terms of sheer size.
Another lovely thing about the garden was that it was the pleasantest place to be in if my grandmother set me down to finish my embroidery or knitting exercise for the day. It used to be so pleasant to sit under the cool shade of the neem tree, with the wind tousling my hair and listening to the low hum of local gossip as our street watchmen gathered under it like me on the other side of the fence to take their afternoon siesta. Many of them used to also pluck the neem stems to use as toothbrush & toothpaste – such a healthy habit, which I never picked up because of the intense bitterness of neem.
Despite being a gardener, my grandfather never once resented the predatory and destructive activities of my cats and dogs. He always tolerated their mischief in the manner of Issac Newton and his dog; “O Diamond, Diamond, thou little knowest the mischief thou hast done.”
During the jasmine flowering season, the garden smelled heavenly with the smell of ripening mangoes, the jasmine and the sweet pink button roses (traditionally used to prepare attar).We used to string together the abundance of our garden flowers to adorn the heads of our care-cell members and my own unruly, tight oily plaits. I used to love this job and one of the few things I’m good at it – is stringing flowers together with the speed and professional ease of the road-side flower girls!
My grandfather also loved his ferns, edible tubers (maravelli kizhangu, sakkaravalli kizhangu) & kitchen herbs (coriander, pudina). We also had plenty of medicinal plants too – like aloe vera, Kuppaimeni, Kathalai, Ceylon Spinach (that I really wished my grandmother didn’t include in her menu) and Manathakalli – it must be more than 10 years since I last had those wonderful berries, but I can still distinctly remember their taste.
One of our maids Dhanam hailed from Vaniyambadi and was a farmer herself. She used to be thatha’s assistant in harvesting our sundakka shrubs (turkey berry), grafting the rose bushes, taking a burning torch to the caterpillars on the drumstick tree, etc. But she really came to life only with our coconut tree, she would painstakingly split the leaf stalkes down with her pocket knife and hem and haw at them till they produced nice, thick broom sticks, she would fashion kitchen scrubbers from the coconut matting and little monkey faces for me from the coconut husks.
I think for my grandparents it was a marriage made in heaven. They perfectly complimented each other in every way. Apart from their deep, abiding love for each other they were also very supportive of each other’s hobbies and interests. I can still remember how my grandfather even at the age of 70 would go clambering up a ladder with a long stick & wired net to pluck mangoes for my grandmother’s jams and pickles. My grandmother was an amazing cook, who used to produce the most dazzling array of pickles, chutneys, squashes, jams, relishes and alwa from the flood of fruits that used to descend on us with each passing season. There used to be rows and rows of salted limes or mangoes laid out on clean white sheets on the terrace, on the balcony, on the window ledges, on the garage roof to be dried in the sun and later turned into bottled goodness.
Before the family’s finances permitted my grandfather to pursue his medicine, for nearly a year he studied at the local agricultural college. He was passionate about horticulture and was open-handed and generous with the efforts of his labour. Every visitor to our house – would leave with gunny bags brimming with coconuts, mangoes, jackfruit or whichever fruit was in season. For some of our friends – who were not country-born – there would be this big jackfruit-cutting session with oiled knives, newspapers and cordoning off of kids and dogs with grubby paws.
I think my grandfather’s garden was a testimony of his overflowing love for plants, animals, his family and his friends and it is with the fondest memories that I view these pictures of the halcyon days.