Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Amidst flowers

Sharada was at the dining table wolfing down her cereal, and listening to Aji's telephonic conversation with Ram. It was a ritual that Sharada never had enough of, because Aji rolled out tongue-twisters (like pyarijaat. Actually, parijaat!) with ease. Plus, she was always bullying Ram with never-ending stream of instructions – Did you water the plants? Did you clear the weeds? How many ananta flowers bloomed?
Sharada had flown in from the US to Pune during her vacations. Her mother was already there with Aji, who was undergoing chemotherapy treatment. The treatment left Aji wan and weak, but her eyes twinkled after her conversation with Ram.
Pune was not Aji's home; she lived in a sprawling house was in Konkan and loved telling stories about the house and garden to her granddaughter. Sharada who had never visited Aji in Konkan was full of questions, but soon realised that she didn't have answers to them. For instance, what was the English name for Jassuwandi? (It was jaswandi, but Sharada couldn't pronounce it correctly.) Aji didn't know.
Sharada's mother knew, but she was so busy tending to Aji that she dismissed Sharada's query with, 'Later.' Aji, Sharada discovered, didn't know how to use google. She had no photographs of the flowers to show.
So Sharada waited patiently for Aji to get better and fit to travel to her house. Three weeks later, the doctors said that Aji was doing fine and that cheered Aji and her granddaughter. Two days later they set off. But, by the time the car rolled in Aji's garden, dusk had fallen and there was power cut too.
Next morning, Sharada was startled by rooster's alarm! Rubbing her eyes, she wandered into the house and the veranda, where potted plants in every colour swayed in the gentle breeze. Sharada opened her eyes a little more wide and took in the plants and shrubs.
'Aji,' she called out and rushed to find her. She was nowhere in the house. Sharada thought she could hear some voices at the back.
'There you are!', said Sharada. Her mother and Aji were standing below the palm tree. Sharada spied a man higher up the tree. ' Ram!' she recognised him instantly. Soon he was down the tree in a jiffy.
Aji then asked him to get down the jackfruit and kelful. She also demanded to see jaswandi. And, when they rounded on the bush, Sharada exclaimed, 'This is hibiscus!'
'Is it?' smiled Aji. 'We call it jaswandi.'
Sharada knew of only red coloured jaswandi. But, in Aji's garden, she found white, pink, a mix of white and pink and even orange coloured hibiscus flowers!
Aji asked Ram to pick the flowers for her puja. Sharada followed Ram as he chose flowers with care. Hibiscus, jasmine, parijaat, ananta and tagar! The basket was full of aromatic flowers.
Ram handed it to Sharada who took the basket to Aji's prayer room. After puja, mother took out old albums and Sharada giggled at pictures of her pig-tailed mother and cousins. There was a picture in which a sulky looking mother stood near a jasmine shrub, with her palms cupped to hold flowers that Aji picked.
'Why are you sulking?' asked Sharada.
'I thought I looked funny and silly!' she grinned. 'But, now I think it's special! To be able to hold something which spreads so much joy!' she explained.
Sharada knew what she meant – she had liked picking flowers and watching Ram water the plants. Tomorrow she would request him to allow her to water plants and trees; and sit under their shade when it grew sunny. And, in evenings, she would return home, her eyes and ears blessed with sensory pleasure!
'But today,' she thought as she searched for Aji in the many rooms of the house, 'I'm going to collect jasmine flowers in my palms which Aji picks out for me.'

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