An image of my Dadu and Didun (maternal grandparents) engraved in my memory – Didun in the kitchen cooking a special meal for us while Dadu is looking over. When the dish is almost done, she takes out a spoonful from the pot and gives it to Dadu to taste. “A little salt and a dash of sugar maybe,” would be Dadu’s response after savouring the gravy, sometimes rolling it in his tongue like a wine taster. Didun was a great cook. She would delight us every day with some delicacy and she trusted Dadu’s palate who would always get the balance of salt and sugar right, so her grandkids could have the perfect meal. Good food was a big part of all the fun we had at Dadur bari (maternal grandparents’ place).
Later when I started cooking, I realized that the right balance of salt and sugar was what mattered the most, the other spices just added to it! Like the right amount of water sunlight that a plant needs, something I realized when I started gardening.
In my early days with plants, I was obsessed with fertilizers. A mali, who taking advantage of my naivety convinced me fertilizers would make my plants lush green and bloom, would come every fortnight to fertilize them. I would overwater the plants as well at times. It’s no surprise most of those plants succumbed to over-fertilization, suffocated by too much attention. But thankfully I didn’t give up gardening. I fired the mali and started reading and talking to people who are into gardening. I am more hands-on now, planting and pruning plants on my own. And I soon realized all that matters is the right amount of water and sunlight.
Periwinkles are thirsty plants that bloom in the sun. Same with the pretty nine o’ clocks, though they don’t care that much for water. But keep these plants in the shade they will droop and stop flowering. Peace lily on the other hand needs light but not sun, needs water but just the right amount, not too much, not too less. And the worst part is that it droops if the water is too much or too little, the edges of the leaves turn brown. So, it takes a while figure whether you are watering in right. I love the more generous jades and the money plants that can survive with or without water for days. Getting the water right is most important, sunlight you figure soon enough and place your plants accordingly – indoor, outdoor, the balcony that gets more sun or the balcony that gets less.
Another thing about gardening is the surprise element. Sometimes a bloom delights you when you are least expecting and sometimes like my peace lily, no matter what you do flowers don’t appear. The plant is too young, I was told by a friend. It should bloom next year. I do hope so.
Often, I feel cooking a great meal or making the garden bloom is like our life. It takes us a while to figure that it’s the simple things that matter the most. We keep attending to the futile excesses, shower our love and attention on the wrong people, focus too much on the frills. Last year I have realized that the wardrobe which I have built so painstakingly is of little use. My shoes are lying listlessly in the closet, and I wish I never spent money on jewellery. My favourite attire is comfortable pyjama, tea shirts and a chappal. All I care about is getting up healthy every morning and knowing that my loved ones are doing well. Well, I do wish I was wiser, but wisdom comes at a price!