July 16, 2003

my garden turns a new leaf

tiny, very tempting, and so many…berries in my garden. i watched them, closely, for two days as they turned from green to dark green to crimson to a very deep red, and that was when i could not handle my curiosity any longer.

climbing on to the wobbly old wooden bench just under our fence, i reached out for the nearest low-hanging red bunch, plucked them out and watched them roll and glisten on my palm in the 30-degree uk sun. they seemed juicy, almost too ripe to press and feel the fleshy fruit inside, whatever it was.

…this being the first summer in our home at hemel hempstead, i’m finally able to explore my gardening potential, and enjoy the rewards. with help of course.

it was my mother-in-law’s idea to turn our confused little plot of green, to a vegetable garden. i guess all mothers make natural supervisors. and so everyone (the boys — praveen and zubin) were instantly handed out tools and tasks, moving the garden-shed to make place for more plants, ripping out the weeds and terribly unruly grass, turning over the soil in dead-mud areas, pruning the existing plants and finally, plonking in some huge sackfuls of compost for the seeds.

while my father-in-law and i exchanged (his)tories, email and online-journal lessons, and recipes in the kitchen; out went some of the flowering bulbs, ivy and i-don’t-know-their-name-plants, and in went aubergine (baingan) seeds, marrow, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, french beans, tomato, chilli, coriander and the pepper seeds, and not to forget, the onions, potatoes and ginger. before we knew it, their vacation came to an end and appa and amma flew back home, leaving me (initially) overwhelming instructions about which plant is ready to pick and when, and to water the garden twice a day, watch out for the slugs and other leaf-thieves, and ‘read’ the sky.

“if the sky has dark clouds on the west, it will rain. when its cloudy where the sun rises (east), it is less likely to.”

try and observe this yourself sometime, this works, especially when you don’t want your freshly washed and tumble-drier-damp clothes to soak in the rain again!

today, three weeks (or is it four?), since praveen and amma raided the garden and turned it upside down, we’re having a steady supply of beans (almost 250gms every 48 hours!), the aubergine, tomato, marrow, pepper and chilli have sprouted flowers too and these will soon make way for more veggies. as for the potato plants, they’ve grown almost waist-high and i have to keep praveen from plucking them out to see how many potatoes we have in there…

it’s not only the vegetables that our garden is growing. it seems to be alive, to be sort-of making me feel very generous and positive all of a sudden, and making me want to share everything there is inside, with everyone i can. what else would prompt a usually-shy-indian-girl-next-door to walk up to her very-reserved-english-neighbour for the first time in 11 months, and give him a handful of freshly-picked beans…through the garden fence!

the english are known to be very ‘formal’ here. sometimes i’ve watched (through my huge kitchen window) when a friend visits an english home he or she is rarely called inside, unlike in india, where a guest, even if its an unplanned visit, is not allowed to leave unless they’ve been served snacks or even (if it is my chitti) a full meal!

and then, there are the birds. i am yet to figure out if its the same bird, but its true. every evening when i get the water-hose out, there is this very friendly robin that hops very close to me. then he (or she?) puffs out its orange chest and tilts its head from side to side, its tiny eyes blinking very fast and happily. it amuses me so much i’ve decided to give him a name. maybe i’ll call him pakshee, because this is the closest i’ve come to being friends with a little bird. ‘pakshee’ by the way, is malayalam for bird. (pronounced ‘puckshee’)

there’s also another black bird who lands right under the thickest of plants, and hunts around furiously as if he’s lost something very important. perhaps he’s just looking for food, because he flies out again and returns with two or three more of his kind. really strange bird, this. but it makes me wish i could understand their language 🙂

…so then i could ask them about the red berries, which filled me with such bitter taste i called praveen right away to tell him i loved him very much, and then waited, sure that my whole life would flash in front of me anytime now.

it didn’t.
and i lived to tell you… that the berries are not edible.

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