Mar 22, 2012

A Garden of Memories …


I spent my childhood in a lazy government colony. The house had huge airy rooms with high ceilings that kept us cool in summer. There was a garden at the back of the house with a thick hedgerow running around it. The hedgerow was home to a variety of insects, especially ladybirds. As children, we loved to capture the ladybirds and hold them cupped in our hands. We giggled at the ticklish feeling as they crawled across our palms, their black and red bodies glistening in the sun. 

The garden also had a huge banyan, a Gulmohar and a Peepal tree. A pink and purple bougainvillea trailed down the side of the house. The Gulmohar turned a flamboyant red every summer and together with the bougainvillea, added a burst of color to the otherwise summer parched garden. We used to collect the fallen gulmohar flowers, stick them behind our ears and behave like a group of Hawaiian dancers or use the petals as spooky nail extensions.

We kids believed that the Peepal tree had a ghost living in it and never ventured near it after dark. The ancient Banyan however, was a favorite spot for all of us. The branches were thick enough to keep out the hot summer sun and the earth under it always felt cool to the touch. My grandmother and I would spread a rug under the tree and I would sit reading while she pottered about gardening and when it got too hot, sitting in the shade and fretting over what the hot summer sun was doing to her plants. Nestled comfortably within the massive roots of the Banyan, with my back against its trunk, I would stare up at the thick leaves and daydream, or watch the antics of the squirrels running up and down the branches. Slowly with the aid of some food, I befriended the squirrels, and some even grew bold enough to eat from my hand.

My grandmother loved gardening and grew vegetables on one side of the garden and flowers on the other. In the evenings she would get the big water hose out and after watering the plants, would sprinkle the whole garden with water. The wet earth would make the whole area pleasantly cool. The smell of the wet earth combined with the scent of the Raat Ki Rani which bloomed every summer night, was simply heavenly. We would all drag our chairs out and sit talking under the stars, till the mosquitoes eventually drove us indoors.

Grandma’s favorite activity besides gardening was feeding the birds. A large variety of birds lived in the trees and their song would fill the air as soon as the sun rose. Birds’ chirping was the first sound I heard every morning. I would lie in bed hearing them sing, while my grandmother stirred next to me and got up murmuring her prayers. My grandmother never used a clock, for her the time to get up each morning was when the birds started to sing, and then dusk, when the birds returned to their nests, would be the time to light the evening Deeya.

I liked to help my grandmother feed the birds. We would venture out in the early morning sunlight, I carefully holding the bowl containing the bird seeds in both my small hands. We would scatter the seeds about and then fill a small earthen pot with water for the birds to drink from.

A wide variety of birds came down to feed; parrots, mynahs, pigeons and even the exotic bulbul, but my favorites were the sparrows. Somehow I liked this humble black and grey bird even more than the parrots or bulbuls. Most of them had their nest in the Peepal tree. They didn’t seem to be scared of the ghost!  The birds were also used to my grandmother and I liked to think that they waited for her each morning.

Sometimes my grandmother would take a little longer than usual over her prayers and we would be a little late in feeding the birds. The birds would get restless and the cacophony they created had to be heard to be believed. In summer the sparrows would use the earthen pot for not only drinking water but also for cooling off. I would never tire of seeing them duck themselves in their bird bath and then ruffle their feathers to shake off the excess water.
The Sparrows also seemed to love the old brick structure of our home. There were some loose bricks near the roof and they always built their nest there. My grandmother would never let anyone remove the nest and would try her best to guard it against the grey tabby that spent all its time prowling under it.

One day I found a little sparrow – hardly a fledgling lying under the neem tree, hurt and gasping for breath. I picked it up and took it in to my grandmother. She made a nest for it by putting some cotton wool in an old shoe box and nursed it back to health. I wanted to keep it as a pet but my grandfather convinced me about how unhappy the sparrow would be in a cage. I let the sparrow go, and later wrote my very first short story in Hindi about a sad little bird in a cage. Some years back, I rewrote it in English for my niece. It can be read here.

Years passed, my father gave up his government job and we moved to a flat in a more urban part of the city. We no longer had a garden but my parents made do by filling the front verandah with a variety of plants. My grandma however, returned to Chandigarh where she continued to lord regally over her immense garden. Even with her gone, we still continued the tradition of feeding the birds. I would put some bird seed and water out in the verandah and a few birds would come flapping down from the surrounding trees. Instead of having our tea in a garden we now had it in our living room but we kept the door open so that we could see the antics of the birds each morning. For the first few years the birds still came, specially the sparrows; but as more and more people shifted in and more and more trees were cut to make space for flats, slowly their numbers dwindled and finally they stopped altogether.

I am now woken up by a different set of sounds, that of cars honking, taps running and a door banging loudly somewhere. But in this medley of sounds, there is one sound that I so badly want to hear, and can hear no longer – the chirping of birds.

The seeds remain un-eaten and the bird bath lies forlorn and empty.

I suppose this is the price we pay for urbanization …..

22 comments:

  1. Yes, it is the price we pay for urbanization. I could never be happy in the city. Thank goodness I live in a place just outside the urban area. We get birds, bugs, monkeys and (shudder)snakes even

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  2. Excellent post. Simply loved reading it and living your life through your words :) Where I live, I still get to see a lot of birds. Woodpeckers pecking away, kingfishers, barbets, cuckoos, kites, mynahs,parrots and not to mention the crows too.
    Once again, this is an awesome post!

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  3. @Ritu - Lucky you ! I can handle the monkeys and the bugs but not snakes !

    @Shail - Yes you do have a lovely garden don't you ! And thank you, coming from you, it does mean a lot !

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  4. My squirrels scold me when I forget to keep the food for them and make a ruckus sometimes. I never tried feeding them with my hands though. Lovely post Ruchira.
    It has been long time when I read this blog as I wanted to go through your travelogues in one go some day...the day would come soon now :-)
    BTW this post has triggered the want to read them anyways :-)

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  5. Beautiful nostalgic post.

    As I was dropping the kiddo off at daycare today morning, it was very still (no wind), clear sky, and the only sound I could hear is the chirping of the birds. We both stopped and spent few mins trying to spot them on the bare branches of the trees...and when we did, we were both delighted :). It was only a few mins but it was a lovely start to our day!

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  6. A very nice post, One hardly does see those little sparrows these days... Thankfully we live in a gated community which is fairly green and we get a lot of pigeons on our balconies.

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  7. @Sangeeta –Thank you! It takes a lot of time and patience to get the squirrels to come and eat from your hand ! So glad you want to read the travelogues. Hope you enjoy them !

    @Shachi – Being in nature is so very important! I am glad Ruhi is getting such lovely surroundings to grow up in !

    @Prats – Thank you ! Pigeons are one species that seemed to have survived the onslaught of urbanization. The sparrows sadly have almost disappeared !

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  8. Beautiful beautiful post - a blast from the past for me ..i have spent my childhood in similar surroundings. But must say - we moved away bit sooner for jobs etc.
    It's an altogether different life to wake up to such sweet sounds of chirping of birds and rustling of leaves.

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  9. hmmmmmmmmmmmm you know that why I love it when i go to india, for after the initial couple of days in the city I can rush to my village which is far far from the urbanization.. and it is such a blissss

    with all that you have described .. I am blessed for even though had a pucca house built etc , still kept the old one it still stand and i can go then and reminisce and live a few moments that I had lived in my childhood ..

    birds trees even some wild animals blisssssssssssssssssssssss

    Bikram's

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  10. That one was as sweet as they come! Loved the tour of the garden and the activities you did with your grandma. Yes, the sounds of birds have all but vanished from the cities and now we have door chimes that imitate them. I used to feed the crows with rice after pooja, but now there are no crows or even other birds to eat that. Only pigeons which make a nuisance of themselves. But wait I shouldn't be knocking the only birds we get to see! Who knows, in the not too distant future even they might disappear?

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  11. I liked the way you ended the post..what a true note!
    I remember the ghosty nails created using the flower petals! The details of your garden, activities and that of your grandma reminded me of my childhood summer holidays in a village in Tamilnadu.

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  12. Beautiful post .It is sad how we are depriving our coming generations of all the joys of nature that we experienced as kids.Loved your writing style.

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  13. @LigeBegins – Thank you! I think people who spent their childhood amongst nature are the most fortunate. I wonder if the coming generation will get to see any of this !

    @Bikram – I can very well imagine what makes you go to your village and how much you must be enjoying yourself there!

    @zephyr – Thank you so much. Glad you enjoyed reading it! Well yes we must be thankful to the pigeons even though they are a nuisance at times! Who knows we mgith not even get to see them in the future !

    @ Vaish – Thank you. I do miss that garden and my grandma even now !

    @Kavita – Thank you ! and welcome here ! Yes we are depriving the future generation of a lot of things – I wonder if they will even know what bird song is like !

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  14. It is as if someone woke me up from a magical dream and I tried to sleep again and continue the journey but sadly, those silken paths had vanished forever.

    The language is as poetic as the life it depicts. I read it twice and got soaked in gulmohar, peepal, banyan, bougainvillea, squirrels, sparrows and parrots each time.

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  15. @umashankar - Welcome to my blog and thank you so much for your kinds words.Childhood is a magical time isnt it!

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  16. Ruchira, this was an amazing nostalgic narration and I could so well relate to what you described having been brought up in similar surroundings! Incidentally, my latest post today, happened to be on sparrows, what a coincidence:)

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  17. LOL as kids we also believed that the peepal tree in our neighbour's garden had a ghost and it flew to our neem tree at night sometimes :)

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  18. Lovely post Ruchira..
    Anything abt childhood is nostalgic n u have drawn a vivid picture here.. I could really see n feel n hear everything - ur garden, ur grandma n the birds chirping :)

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  19. You paint such wonderful imagery of the ambience with your words! Really lovely!
    I remember the sparrows from my childhood so well...sadly, those birds are gone. What happened? Did each morph into a giant fugly pigeon? There seem to be millions of those around now...

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  20. I missed reading this one. I grew up in a small town and in a huge government bungalow. I can so identify with climbing trees, picking up flowers, playing with ladybirds, running after butterflies and counting fireflies. Lovely post Ruch.

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  21. Well, I am lucky that my home at Kanpur still has all of those things you mentioned in the post. It's a pity I cannot spend as much time there as I would like to. But, there is something about green pastures which pulls me towards them , reincarnating childhood and teenage memories.

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  22. Such a nice nostalgic post. What we lacked at home, we made it out at parks...the parks were full of life - the birds and the most brightest varieties of butterflies which I have never seen since my childhood. The park still remains where it has always been, but the butterflies and the birds are long gone. We used to go there for adventure (we thought we were rock climbers) as there were huge rocks in that park...they still are today but, we are afraid of human predators.

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