Had mentioned in my previous post that I got the chance to start a garden of my own. Yes, I was about nine or ten years old and very excited about it, however, I’d no idea of how to go about it. I happened to be the only one in my family who was interested and enthusiastic about it. Now that my mother had got the fence fixed for me, she asked me to go about it independently and not disturb her over it. We couldn’t afford a regular gardener, so that option did not exist. Our resident maid “Mary”, who stayed in our servant quarter, was assigned the extra responsibility of helping me out, but she had absolutely no experience in gardening.
This was a major problem because even I’d no idea on how and where to start. But luckily, there was a very resourceful person in our campus – Mrs. Iyengar, who was the unofficial campus “agony aunt”, and had the solution for almost every problem for both kids and adults. She was a very intelligent, well-educated and widely traveled lady, a widow and lived alone in our campus ever since I was an infant. She was the resident expert on cultural matters like language, literature, festivals, recipes etc. Her recipes for Bisibelebhath (sambar rice), Puliogare (tamarind rice), Vangibath (brinjal rice) and Masala Dosa were famous all over.
She was also the universal tuition teacher for all the kids on campus. Not a single kid passed out from our campus without taking either English, Hindi or Kannada tuitions from her. She was amazingly multilingual, and very proficient in several languages, and also one of the most influential teachers in my life. I had a special affection for her because unlike my mom who thought that I was naughty, Mrs. Iyengar was very fond of me and always told everyone that I was a “bright, docile and well-behaved child” 🙂 🙂
The truth was that there was something about her authoritarian and stern look that instantly conveyed to kids that the consequences of misbehaving with her would be undoubtedly bad. Besides, there was a great perk associated with being well behaved in her presence because she was an amazing storyteller. She would indulge us with stories from her experiences, from literature and mythology, if she happened to be free after the tuition class.
I not only learnt English, Hindi and Kannada from her, but also Telugu. My Telugu tuitions started when I was around only five years old. My mother was very particular that I should be able to read and write my mother tongue, and since Telugu was not taught in school in Bangalore, I had separate tuitions. Textbooks were mailed to me by a relative in Vijayawada and I learnt how to read and write basic Telugu. However, I lost touch down the line because the Telugu tuitions stopped and were replaced with Hindi and Kannada soon.
Needless to say, Mrs. Iyengar was also an expert on gardening. She didn’t have a huge garden, but a well maintained and small one. So, I went to her with my problem. She listened carefully and patiently, and then gave me the advice that one should “start small” and slowly build up. I’d fenced quite a big patch of land, so this was very sensible advice on how to begin.
She told me that I should first acquire some pots and learn to grow plants in them, and introduced me to geraniums. Whenever I think of her, the flowers I think of are geraniums. She explained that they were a godsend for beginners in gardening, because they were hardy, easy to grow, and had flowers throughout the year. She then took me to her garden and showed me her potted geraniums of various colors and advised me to meet her again after buying some pots and filling them with soil.
She next picked up an empty pot and also taught me the right way to layer it. Pebbles at the bottom, sand above the pebbles and then the soil mixed with some manure. Also reminded me not to forget to put a few broken bits of old pots that she gave me, over the waterhole in the pots before filling them with soil. This was to ensure that there would be no water clogging in the pots later on.
She was certainly an amazing teacher because I clearly remember her lesson even today!! I soon got many geranium cuttings from her – all different colors and started my garden with them. This was soon followed by various other cuttings and many, many plants, whose details I’ll give in my subsequent posts.