Friday, January 15, 2021

Happy New Year!

Dear Readers, 

Happy New Year!

I hope you've all been well and healthy.

My January turned joyous when I saw this animated illustration yesterday. It's been done by the amazingly talented @bohrasisters. 

I've been following them on Instagram for sometime. One of their recent animated illustrations reminded me of my grandfather. So, I sent them a message and we connected.

I wasn't sure why I reached out but I could see my memories reflected in their art. So, I shared a couple of my A to Z (April 2020) memoir posts with them.

Then magic happened.

They were as thrilled as I was to illustrate some of my memories. 

Here's the one that arrived yesterday:

It's a scene from the post that follows. You may have read it in April, but if you've not, then enjoy:) And even if you have, come along for another reminiscing...
This post is an amalgamation  of genres. Imagination has been allowed to fly to the land of  fantasy despite the lockdown. Names of  two main characters have been picked purposefully: one from a children's book and the other from Greek mythology. Their names may be imaginary, but all the characters in this tale are real. All events are real too, well mostly. 

Thank you and I hope you enjoy it.
(Picture: clicked in 2019, Jhinjhi Village, Uttarakhand, entroute Kuari Pass)

                                                                                                                        

Milk for Radishes

Surrounded by High Mountains of the Himalayas in the north and Shivalik Hills in the south, lay a valley called Doon. The green, green valley gurgled with gushing waters of River Ganga in the east and River Yamuna in the west.


Legend has it that a wise Wizard once lived in this land. The people of the valley called him Papadash the Perfect. No one knew where he had come from. Some say he hailed from a faraway Western Kingdom of the Northern Frontiers: the land of Perpetual Spring. But, everyone in the valley knew one thing for sure: the fact that Papadash the Perfect had magical powers. 


People of Doon, the Valley of Green, had heard stories about the wise Wizard's ability to talk to plants to help them grow. It was believed by the young and the old that he sang lullabies to the climbing vines so they could sleep peacefully at night. 


For it is common knowledge that only a well-rested vine can bear sweet grapes and this is the way of the world.


Also, in the Valley of Doon, not far from Papadash's Great Garden, there lived a little girl whose only dream was to be the Most Green Gardener of all times. 


Her name was Artemis.


The Moon had hung so low and so full on the night of her birth, that her mother decided to name her after the Goddess of Moon.


“We shall call her Artemis.” she told her husband.


Artemis grew up in a field of Wildflowers where her mother and father lived. They were the Beekeepers of the Valley.


“Half for us and half for the bees.” Her father would sing when they went collecting honey.


For it is common knowledge that Man was assigned by the gods of All Things Sweet as nature's Beekeeper, so the bees would never, ever go hungry and this is the way of the world.


 By the time Artemis was six years old, her dream to become the Most Green Gardener of all times had taken root in her heart. 

 

 “Why don't you work as an apprentice with Papadash?” suggested her mother who wanted to help her daughter but didn't know how.


Artemis's big brown eyes opened up like saucers. She dashed off before her mother could finish saying what she had to say.

 

Dragonfly’s wings, transparent and tender, rose up in protest. She had spent the entire summer teaching Artemis how to dance like a Dragonfly ballerina. In fact, Artemis had only recently mastered the art of hovering still in position 5 on the very tip of the guava tree branches. It was a secret the two friends shared. They were preparing a dance to surprise mother and father on Summer Solstice day. This apprenticeship would get in the way, thought dragonfly and decided to follow Artemis.

   

With her wild hair blowing in the breeze, her apple red cheeks flushed with excitement, Artemis reached the Big Metal Gate of the Great Garden where Papadash the Perfect lived. 


"Ah...Ah…hh..." Artemis huffed for breath as she stood face to face with the wise one, looking up into his gentle eyes, trying to get a few words out. 


"What is it child?" Papadash asked.


"I want to be your apprentice forever and ever and... I want to be the Most Green Gardener of all times and ...I want to most certainly I want to and ....you have to say yes... and I cannot go back now... And I want to and... please and..." Her words rattled off like a woodpecker's drumming: on and on with no gaps for gulps of air.

 

Dragonfly flew in. She hovered anxiously between Artemis and Papadash.


"Child." said Papadash softly and put both his hands on her shoulders to calm her down. "What took you so long? I've been waiting for you all these universes."


He smiled. His eyes twinkled. He patted Artemis's wild hair and took out a twig that had hopped on for a free ride.


Artemis's heart was singing like a lark. She was trying really hard not to jump up and down. Instead, she used the back of her hand to wipe off drops from the tip of her button nose. All that running had made her nose run too.


Before taking her hand to lead her down the crisscross bricks of the path that led to the Great Garden, Papadash bent down to pick up a bottle of milk that was lying by the Big Metal Gate and slid it inside the deep pockets of his robe. 


Blue Bird of Middle Himalayas, perched on Mulberry, watched as they reached the shade of her tree.  Papadash turned to Artemis and said, "Now, I know I said I've waited for you for many galaxies which is true, but this apprenticeship is very, very special. You have to accomplish a Task before you can be accepted. For this is the way of the World of the Wizards."


Artemis's eyes opened wider. She shook her head up and down to show the Wizard that she was listening.


"You can be my apprentice for ever and ever as long as you can spend One Day--Today, with me in the Great Garden without asking a single question."


"That's easy!” chimed Artemis, cheering up at the thought of such an ordinary Task.

 

Dragonfly, too, cheered up.

 

Papadash the Perfect nodded kindly and carried on walking holding her hand. He bowed his head low as he passed under the pink blooms of Bougainvillea. 


For it is common knowledge that all blooms and flowers are a gift from the gods of All Things Beautiful and bowing to show them respect is the way of the world. 


The first stop they made was by a short Pomegranate tree. 


Papadash picked up some mud, mixed it with water in his bowl of brass and turned it into a paste. Artemis watched silently.


He then took a big helping of the paste and applied it on the trunk of the tree like balm.


"You'll be fine young man. You'll survive. Those silly cats don't know how to climb. I'm sorry! Here... here." Papadash kept talking to the Pomegranate in his soothing voice while applying the paste.

 

“You can ask him, he won’t mind.” Whispered Dragonfly in Artemis’s ear softly.

 

“No, Dragonfly. I want to pass the test.” Artemis stated clearly to her friend.


Next, he took a long strip of cotton cloth and wrapped it around Pomegranate's trunk like a bandage. 


"There!" exclaimed Papadash, happy with his workmanship. "This will do."


A tiny whirlpool of questions was beginning to churn inside Artemis's tummy. Bandages for trees? But she reminded herself of the Task and kept quiet.


They bid Pomegranate goodbye and Papadash added, "Get well soon." before he turned towards the patch that was the Giant Bed for Radishes.


Artemis saw rows and rows of bright green leaves sitting up straight in the Giant Bed. 


"They like their Bed fluffy like you do." smiled Papadash. "So, I rake the soil and mulch and mulch. Air loves to tickle Earthworms you know. And when Earthworms are tickled happy, they make the Bed fluffy like clouds."


"How does he know about my bed?" wondered Artemis but bit her lips hard to stop the words from escaping her lips. This Task was making her tummy ache with all the questions that were piling up inside her belly.

 

“Go on….you know you want to ask him.” Encouraged Dragonfly.

 

Artemis ignored her and carried on.


Next, Papadash took out the bottle of milk he had been carrying in his robe and undid the lid. He bent down towards the Bed of Radishes and poured out a little bit.


"There...there...my babies...drink up the sweet milk. It's fresh from Cow. She knows you need it to make you sweet and ripe." whispered the wise Wizard to each Radish as he poured a little milk down into the soil.


It was getting too much for Artemis. She had never been silent for this long. And the whirlpool of questions was churning inside her like a hurricane now. If she kept quiet any longer, she'd burst open like a seedpod, she thought.


The wise Wizard uprooted a Radish. It shone smooth and white like the moon in the afternoon sun. He shook it a few times to get rid of the fluffy soil and gave it to Artemis to eat.


She was happy to take a bite for this would stop the question from escaping her lips. 


"Crunch...Crunch..." Artemis could not believe how sweet the Radish was.


She thanked Radish and the fluffy soil for giving her such a tasty treat. 


For it is common knowledge that all food is a gift from the gods of Soil and Earth and saying thank you to them is the way of the world.


By the time she had finished eating the Radish and saying her thank you, Dragonfly had filled her ears with more questions.

 

Artemis could hold back no more. She blurted, “How do you know Radishes like milk Papadash?”
    

But, before she could finish her question, she was back at the field of Wildflowers, under the guava tree where Dragonfly had taught her all the movements and poses.

 

 “No!” sobbed Artemis. “This cannot be.”


The Mountains High of the north and the Shivalik Hills of the south still recall tales of the wise Wizard who lived once upon a time in a Garden where Radish drank milk. The River Ganga and the River Yamuna babble about his magic that turned the whirlpool of questions inside Artemis into songs of belief, of magic and of the way of all the worlds across all galaxies and universes. The Wind carries tales of Dragonfly’s selfishness who wanted her friend to be only hers and how Artemis worked hard for a whole long year before she found the path that led her back to the Great Garden to ask Papadash once again if he’d take her as his apprentice.

 

For it is common knowledge that dreams are worth pursuing through disappointments and hardships and that is the way of all the dreamers of this world and beyond who are able to turn their dreams into reality.

 

************************
Papaji, my grandfather did indeed bandage his plants and feed milk to his radishes. He even soaked seeds in milk before planting them. Whenever we asked him, he'd say it makes his radishes sweet like milk. We often ate vegetables pulled straight out of the ground, unwashed. And if Mummy complained about hygiene, he would say: "A little dirt will make them stronger.

I continue the 'talking to our plants and trees' tradition in my garden in Doha. 

A note about the names:
Papaji's name was inspired by my daughter's favourite book character when she was a toddler. He's called Balderdash the Brilliant. Artemis was an easy choice.