My mum and her sister’s passion for flora and fauna is a reflection of their sprawling plot of land in Rajahmundry often referred to as “The garden of Babylon”. And indeed it is an overwhelmingly lush and green spot. The Williams sisters are such enthusiastic, scientific gardeners that if one were to call them a horticulturist it wouldn’t be far off the mark. With my parent’s fondness of their deep love for the soil, they were able to revel their passion by converting our homes into a veritable paradise. Their life-long adoration for gardening boils down to their school days.
My parent’s garden everyday – meticulously pruning, shaping, fertilizing and generally coaxing their wards into good health. They would also casually mention the scientific names of animals and plants as I followed them around the garden like Mary’s little lamb. I am flabbergasted at their memory. Like Enid Blyton, they had a deep connoisseur of nature. Well, I cannot remember the scientific names though, because of amnesia.
We have coconut trees, jack fruit trees, mango trees, a neem tree, curry leaf trees, stalks of banana in the backyard, papaya, Ram Sita (sugar apple), guava, pomegranate and custard apple. We also had our own lime tree and I still love the fragrance of crushed lime leaves. We had a sapota tree and one lovely amla tree, which were nearly 2 stories high. My parents unfortunately got it cut down when they felt they couldn’t deal with the hordes of school boys and the line men from the electricity board descending on us and almost breaking their limbs in their quest for amlas and sapotas.
We also have 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 Virajajulu & Sannajajulu (fine jasmines).
Come March and we had the Easter lilies! The Easter lilies adorned the edge of the lawn facing our house and my parents 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 their experiments as I’ve never come across any to rival them in terms of sheer size. Now, they are no more. We had to cut them down as part of the road extension by the municipality. What a shame!!
Another lovely thing about the garden is that it is the pleasantest place to be with my parents sipping filter coffee and listening to their endless tales of experiences in life. It is so pleasant to sit under the cool shade of the neem and mango tree, with the wind tousling my hair, fragrance of sakala phala sampenga & yellow sampenga (Magnolia champaca,commonly called yellow & green jade orchid tree) wafting through my nostrils and listening to the low hum of local gossip, our house helpers 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. With our coconut tree, our house helpers would painstakingly split the leaf stalks down with their pocket knife and hem and haw at them till they produced nice, thick broom sticks, They would fashion kitchen scrubbers from the coconut matting and little monkey faces for me from the coconut husks when I was a little girl.
During the jasmine flowering season, the garden smells heavenly with the fragrance of ripening mangoes, the jasmine and the sweet pink button roses (traditionally used to prepare attar).When my cousins and I go home, mum strings together the abundance of our garden flowers to adorn our hair. Now, it’s my eight year old nieces who are basking in the love of their grandparents. Mum still loves stringing flowers together seamlessly with the speed and professional ease of the road side flower seller!
My parents are amazing at cooking; they produce the most dazzling array of pickles, chutneys, squashes,jams, relishes from the flood of fruits that descend on us with each passing season. Rows and rows of salted lime or mangoes or amla are laid out on clean white sheets on the terrace, on the window ledges, to be dried in the sun and later turned into bottled goodness.
My parents not only loved gardening but are also open-handed and generous with the efforts of their labour. Every visitor to our house – would leave with gunny bags brimming with coconuts, mangoes, jack fruit or which ever fruit was in season. For some of our friends – who were not country-born – there would be this big jack fruit-cutting session with oiled knives, newspapers and cordoning off of kids and dogs with grubby paws. Mum packs fruits from all seasons to the near-by government schools for children and rickshaw wallas.
I think my parents garden is a testimony of their overflowing love for flora and fauna, their family and their friends and it is with the fondest memories I pen my thoughts.