“Vatsa stop watering rose pot. Too much water would drain the nutrients, water these tomatoes instead” shouted Sarala Paati (my grandma). I was playing with garden hose, experimenting different water fountain patterns with thumb. I must be 7 or 8 years old then. “Bring me that chisel and dig right here” she ordered. I was always the chosen minion amongst the bunch of cousins spending summer at Sarala Paati’s home. I would dig until my hands pained and dirt crept up under my finger nails. I longed to go back to playing and asked “Is this ok? “, every few seconds. Invariably, without lifting her eye from pruning the plants, she would reply “dig a little deeper”. She must be awfully bored to do this, I thought.
By afternoon most of the adult napped providing us enough time to do unsupervised activities. We did everything from shooting vegetables to setting fire to the trash pit with powder from old fireworks. I made a bow and arrow for shooting vegetables. The string was made from rubber band and arrows were sticks from broom stick. My favorite targets were the hanging bottle guards, tomatoes and plantain trees. This is how I took revenge for gardening chores. She would shout “How can you be so cruel to my plants, my eyes bleed looking at the torture you have done to my babies”. I even remember getting lashes from my uncle for this act.
There was another side to Sarala paati that I really admired. Everyone in the street she lived, knew her by name. Anyone who passed by admired her garden which was full of flowers and vegetables. I have witnessed her giving out saplings, seeds and flowers freely, to anyone who asked. From milkman to our grocery shop owner everyone spoke good things about her. She baked cookies and cakes in makeshift sand filled vessels and hand fed us at night. And When it’s time to leave home, she would meet me in garden or in front yard, to pass me some money secretly. She did this with grace. She would pass the bundled up notes hidden in her palm to mine as if she were shaking hands with me. “Don’t give it to anyone”, Get something for yourself “she would wink.
Last time I went home, I had the chance to walk by the street where Sarala paati lived. It looked nothing like what it was before. No garden, no known neighbors and no Sarala Paati. Sarala paati passed away one silent afternoon without any trouble to anyone when I was in college. After she was long gone, the home was sold to a builder. Now standing there is an eye soring apartment, named “Sarala Home”. It felt like I walked through her cemetery and forgot to pay my respects.
I look back at Sarala paati : dark skinned, uneducated, poor and unexposed to the worlds of great ideas. She wore kanakambaram (firecracker) flowers in her oiled up hair and carried her curves with elegance and swift. She taught me to garden, to work hard for something, to weed out the bad and nourish the best. She taught me to save up, to socialize, to provide without expectation and to keep secrets. She taught me to live like I am the lover of life. She taught me, 'that which lives after us' is what we should be living for.