Friday, March 15, 2013


One day late last week, I entered my room for the last time just before going out, and was greeted by a horrendous stench. I was running late, and didn't have enough time to question my Grandmother about the possible sources of the sudden effusion of bad smell. When I returned at night, the smell greeted me in sudden spurts, as if it was snoozing and waking up with a start, and remembering its duty to spread cheer. I spent half an hour sniffing all around the room, the windows and the balcony, and gave up in exasperation. When I finally asked Thamma, she said she had no idea. I reminded her that she was doing something in the balcony (which overlooks a tiny patch of garden) in the morning, and that the stench had begun directly after that. She coolly reassured me that it couldn't possibly result from her endeavours. She informed me that she had (mysteriously) procured a certain amount of natural fertilisers, and having perfected them for two days, had finally treated them to the soil. "It's spring!" she said, with unusual enthusiasm, "and the trees will be full of flowers! The neighbours pluck our flowers every morning, but we can't do anything about that. Now that I've put the shaar, you'll see how the trees lighten up with blossoms."

My Thamma's well-meaning enthusiasm about spring was lost on me. Last weekend, the temperature in Calcutta had touched 35 degree Celsius. The sun is already merciless, and the city is doing its best to avoid venturing out in the daytime. Every year around this time, I point out with a sense of impending doom that our generation doesn't experience spring anymore. We rush ahead straight to summer from a very mild winter, and from then on, until the Pujos in autumn, the weather is one's most sensitive topic of discussion. Bring up the idea of an adda at Maidan in the afternoon, and watch the Bong bhodrolok get visibly irritated. For most of the year, the Bong Babu dreams of having ice-cream in Darjeeling, and sitting at the Mall, wearing a monkey-cap, and watching smelly horses go by. (The Bong has actually shifted summer vacation plans to Western Europe now, but I love the '70s romanticism centered around the hills of North Bengal.)

However, it wasn't always this bad. My happiest memories from childhood are centered around the spring break in March. The annual examinations would be over, the children would be relentlessly infected with chicken pox, the sun would have just the perfect amount of warmth, and the breeze -- oh the breeze -- the harbinger of boshonto (both the season, and the disease) was so beautiful, mild, continuous, and achingly effused with the aroma of new mangoes (aamer mukul actually, and it sounds so much better in Bengali). Students would receive new books, and while my mother covered mine, I would spend whole days reading the stories from the books. My relationship with the Bible blossoms only in the spring, for the best spring years of my life (1995, '96, '97) was also the time when our catechism lessons in school involved reading Bible stories. In the mild climate, stories about the fickleness of Baal, the sudden breaking of a clay pot into hundred pieces, and so on, seemed so much more entertaining.   

And there was always the music. My family is devoted to Rabindrasangeet, and during one of those springs, my father bought a new album by Sriradha Bandopadhyay from Calcutta, and played it in a loop in Siliguri. Within a couple of days, I had learnt all the songs by heart which -- by an interesting twist of fate -- were about monsoons and love. Later every one I knew, from my parents to my Guruji would be disapproving of Sriradha's Rabindrasangeet singing style. I, however, revisit those songs often now, and with a bittersweet pang which only favourite music has the capacity to arouse, remember those beautiful, carefree, and simple days.

I finally called up my mother and told her about the smell. The cook here had not been very helpful with the diagnosis, and when my mother heard about it, and my suspicions about Thamma's mysterious natural fertiliser, she said, it had to be the latter. We laughed at the idea of putting so much effort into the pitiful little piece of garden that we have here, especially in contrast to the resplendent garden and swimming pool in our house in Siliguri. I made a great show of the stench disrupting my life, and convinced Thamma to remove it. The smell magically vanished after that.

The pictures have nothing to do with spring, however. These were taken last autumn. Reminiscencing about spring in my childhood made me crave for one of the most important things in my life, and one which is gradually slipping away -- the garden of the house I grew up in.


  1. The garden is sure to have a secret wall through which one can reach Wonderland, just like Alice. :-)

  2. Or, by finding a door in the wall half-hidden by ivy, one can enter The Secret Garden. :-)

  3. Dear Particular Girl, Like you I have strong memories of the house that I grew up in and often wander through it and all about the garden and orchard in my dreams. My grown-up daughters are often with me, although in reality they have never been there.
    I'm glad you got rid of the smell!

  4. Thank you! Those of us who were fortunate to grow up with a beloved garden, never really leave it, despite being physically away from it.
    I love reading about your gardening exploits!