A Gardener’s Tale
I meet my father on the porch. "Father, it’s a nice morning."
He grins. "We don't give a damn about nature in this part of the world. All we care about is plants." He speaks between chewing twig that he is using as a tooth brush.
The only person that has no work is me, myself. Too proud to do menial labor, I squander my time. I'm overtly surprised, how my father - who has seen places, met people, read books, and knew things - is compatible with a rural life. After he retired, I had wanted him to remain in Kathmandu, freelancing in papers and writing memoirs, autobiography and even novels. His story, plot and characters - when he revealed to me - had looked promising.
I cross the lawn and walk towards vegetable garden, my mother is watering the plants. “Want to give a try?” She asks. But before I could say yes or no, she hands me the water pipe. I watch plants soaking in the water, they dance.
“Mum what is the best thing you like in this garden?” I ask not because I want to know something but I want to start a conversation.
“Eggplant,” She laughs. Seeing her laugh, I laugh. She knows I don’t like eggplants.
“Mum, why don’t I see any cucumber, here?”
“Every dog has its day.” What does that mean? I turn to look at her. She is weeding, hand fork and trowel in her hands, her head askew.
“Don’t pester me boy,” she says without looking at me. “Cucumber gets cold and easily dies in winter.”
“Mum, what are we going to do with these all cauliflowers, cabbages, broccoli, tomatoes...”
As if in a cue, I pluck a tomato, and take a deep bite. "Do you think I’m Kumbhakarna?" Kumbhakarna, identifiable with my face, flashes in my mind. This mythic eater in the epic called Ramayana slept six months only to be awakened by aroma wafting from food brought into his chamber.
“Mum, how long are we going to do the gardening?”
“Until the sun is warm.”
“And when’s that?”
“Ten, or perhaps 11.”
“Ten, alright. Happy?”
I push the wheelbarrow as I walk away from the garden. “Mum, its ten fifteen!”
“Okay, I’m done.” She stands up and rubs her palm. “Turn off the water pump, alright.”
From garden to the lawn and then to the backyard, it takes almost ten minutes to reach at the compost pit. I moan as I stretch my body. Father laughs, I laugh. Father, who had not even washed his socks before he retired as the editor of a news agency, is now shoveling manure into a wheelbarrow. He says, “Throw that stuff into the pit and take this one to the garden.”
“Dad, how long are we going to work?”
“Until your mother calls for lunch.”
“Dad, mum is still in the garden!”
He stops, perhaps to take a deep breath. “You know, our ancestors had helped the Great Prithvi Narayan.” Ugh, not again. “And also the House of Ghurkha.” This is not the first time he is telling me the story.
What does this mean to me when a great-great-great grandson of Prithvi Narayan has been forced to abdicate the throne? He has even shown me a torn page of a document, safely stored as a coveted prize, stating that a certain king had burrowed three thousand rupees in gold from our progenitor and given them this farmland as a token. What is this legend to me when I live in a Republic?
Father is shoveling again, I’m pushing the wheelbarrow. At 60, father has given up his tryst with journalism for his family occupation - gardening and livestock business. At 30 I’ve given up my job in Kathmandu and tying to follow father’s footsteps.
“Potato harvest has become a disaster this year, but cauliflower and tomatoes fetched me a good price.” In a remote village all he thinks is about his garden. A publication had accepted his manuscript, but he retired from Kathmandu.
Tomorrow morning I have to go to the market to buy seeds, in the afternoon I’ll scrap the terrace and till the soil, and in the evening I’ll plant, beans, peas, zucchini and what not. I’m also a gardener now, burrowing time to create an identity.
The garden love
The morning is bright. I walk into the animal shed with a bucket, trowel and rake. I scrap dung from the floor and fill the bucket. Then I walk towards the bio-gas plant, empty the bucket into the blender, pour another bucket of water and churn the mixture of dung and water. Every day I have to do this otherwise there will be no gas in my kitchen. ‘Clean energy,’ I smile at myself.
At the plant outlet, I shovel bio-waste from the pit and fill the bucket. Then I walk towards the vegetable patch, sagging on the left side with the heavy load. Right at the garden, I unearth a plastic can from the soil and pour its content in an empty bucket lying on the freshly tilled ground, and then empty the bio-waste from the bucket into the same can. This mixture when let to decompose for two weeks will be useful as organic insecticide and compost for my plants.
Two hours later, I’m at the deck. Mother peeks through the screen door. "Done with running, laughing, crying. Kissing your tomatoes, cauliflowers.”
Sometimes she is too sarcastic at what I do.
In a coffee parlor, the woman sitting next to me was Maya. She went on touching her lips, smoothing her long hair and ordering a cup of ice mocha. She was talking about history - Prithvi Narayan and Prachanda, the one who unified the modern Nepal 238 years ago and the one who waged a war to topple the State. She placed her hand on my knee. “Do you ever think about what would have happened if the Maoists have won the war?”
While I was paying, Maya was sliding her long index finger around the rim of her cup and then licking it. She said, “The price of oil...It’s almost like we’re living in wartime.”
“But we are,” I said, “we are living in wartime, the war between the Communists and the Democrats, between the Monarchists and the Republicans.” And then her finger stopped, she looked up at me and said, “Oh, I know, but I mean really at war, like you and I are here.”
I was a typical urban guy and I just began loving Maya.
It’s a warm afternoon, but there is no time to squander. I'm warming my stretched back, standing below the water tank. I turn on the tap and gaze water running into the transparent pipe. I almost run towards the vegetable garden. The sprinkler is rotating, hurling thin jet of water into the plants. I watch my plants, dancing rhythmically, enjoying the rain. Tomatoes are flowering, radishes and carrots getting taller, their white and red roots poking out of soil. Cabbage and cauliflowers are so young, and tender. I must be very delicate to them.
With the sprinkler - still rotating on my hand, soaking me thoroughly - I walk little farther. I have to treat my plants equally.
What was Maya - a long time cynic about men and their ways, disgusted with capitalism and the smugness of the shopper-citizens in a country ravaged with a decade of Red Army, and sick of the story of the nation-building in progress?
One day she popped in my room. "I'm breaking off,” she said. We had been together for more than a year.
“What’s wrong with me?”
“There’s nothing wrong with you,” she said averting my gaze. I felt to meet her expectations, perhaps.
The following day, I packed my rucksack and took a bus. During the 12 hours journey, I began thinking about possibilities, but in vain. But then when I saw my father’s farm, an idea struck me.
Life in the farm
In the village evening comes soon, not with the cacophony and blinding glitters of city, but plants and the earth titillating me; ephemeral sound of birds twittering birds, mooing of cows…
With a hand fork I uproot weeds and toss into the wheelbarrow. My plants need neat place to grow healthy. A while later, I take a hoe and scrape the terrace, the saplings need breathing space. I stretch my body, take a deep breath, and dig again.
I’m done for the day. Standing at one end, I look into my garden. I caress the tomatoes. The ripe fruit makes me smile. Cauliflower buds are white, pure white.
I sniff cool breeze. Flowers, vegetables and raw earth invigorate me. Love that is.