Sunday, August 1, 2010
Our Kitchen Garden - Some Reflections
I am a Punjabi with an ordinary background. Though my up-bringing happened to be in a down town sub-urban place called Bootan Mandi in Jalandhar yet most of our relations belonged to rural periphery of Jalandhar. I occasionally visited those villages for social interaction particularly for marriages or other social events like melas (festivals) etc. Bootan Mandi was not a good residential area, in fact was almost a slum ( now the things are much better ), I always liked to be in a village for a good change. In the process, I found some of the activities like gud (jaggery) making quite fascinating. I liked fresh sugar cane, fresh challi (bhutta), fresh vegetables like radish, carrot, green chillies fresh tomatoes etc. for salad. I particularly liked freshly roasted green grams - ( chanas - holan ). Of course, the sag and makki di roti ( bread of corn flour and freshly cooked mustard greens ) is a recognised delicacy which I relished. Since my family was not engaged in agriculture and we did not have access to these rural savouries, some of our relations would even gift occasionally all these things to us. It helped us maintain our taste and liking and in a way rural tradition and culture. I feel good in writing and cherishing the memory of those days in Jalandhar. I am happy to say that I still maintain my sense of belonging to the Punjabi rural set up, in spite of the fact my living and work in the metropolitan cultures and societies in the capital cities all over make it somewhat difficult. Nevertheless we try. In this regard, our kitchen garden, where ever possible, came handy and kept me and my wife Vidya engaged both for the sake of some exercise and also to satisfy our rural and ordinary traits. That s why, I felt like writing on our kitchen gardens.
The kitchen garden, big or small, remained in my routine past time, where ever possible. In Beijing, we lived in a flat but the Chancery was not far off. The Security Guards were living on the premises of the Chancery. We used to play volleyball and badminton in the evening. Some Indian essentials like mint, coriander and green chillies were grown by the Guards. I tended to pick up some of these fresh things just to satisfy my traits though these things were available in the market. In Sanaa also we were living in a flat. Our association and friendship with a local Arab family provided us an opportunity to go the rural areas and sit and enjoy in their orchards of grapes. It was a fascinating experience. We moved to Kandy in Sri Lanka and lived in a spacious villa with a good garden/lawns. We had avocados, papaya, mangoes and we made a small kitchen garden too and grew mint, lady finger (bhindi) coriander and green chillies. The weather in Kandy was excellent. It was not difficult to maintain a small garden with the help a part time help and our children whom we made them involved in the process. It was difficult to pursue the interest in Delhi. The only consolation was our occasional visits to Jalandhar and to the rural areas particularly the village Nawan Pind near Nakodar, the native placeof my wife. My only special request during these visits used to be sag and makki di roti, fresh radish, fresh challi (bhutta) and sometimes freshly roasted groundnut (moongfali). Master Sat Paul, the co-brother ( Sandu) of my brother Paramjit lives in the nearby village Allewal. We will visit them and invariably they will serve the freshly roasted groundnuts. We still cherish those days. For a year or so we lived in a good villa with an extensive garden in Taby in Stockholm (Sweden). Generally, there is no much help available to maintain these facilities in Europe and one has to do personally. We had apples, berries, etc. We made a small patch as our kitchen garden with green chillies, mint and coriander. My wife made friends with Salma and Salim, a family of Pakistan origin, and found a public source of sarson da sag ( green mustard). It was a good find for us to satisfy our Punjabi taste. Even in a flat in Sollentuna, we grew in the terrace some greens. We moved to Kampala (Uganda) Our residential villa was on the slope of a green hillock. We made a nice little kitchen garden with chillies, tomatoes, mint and coriander. We had papaya and the famous fruit creepers of passion fruit, a healthy and delicious source of juice. The weather was moderate and land was fertile. It was easy to maintain. It was difficult to undertake this activity in Tokyo. We tried to grow some chillies and mint etc. in flower pots in the small balcony of our flat but could not succeed. Our kitchen garden in Prague (Czech Republic) was good. In the garden, we had a tree of walnuts. Our gardening local help Lucas was a good young man. Not only he would grow some good flowers in the summer but will help us growing seasonal vegetables like radish, spinach, beans, coriander, mint etc. The lawns were well maintained. We moved to Edinburgh (Scotland). The residence had a large garden with majestic, more than 100 years old, trees and nicely done and maintained beds of roses of different colours. As usual, we wanted to have a small kitchen garden but we could not succeed. Even in summer, the weather was not favourable. Our attempts to grow cucumber failed. We could manage to grow mustard but not fully. But mint came up very well. Now for the last two summers, we are in Minsk (Belarus). The 'India House', our residence has a good garden with cherry, apricot trees. Our gardening help Anatoly was good but he retired last year. Anatoly made a small Green House in one corner of the lawns and grew cucumber, chillies, etc. Outside, we had radish, mint, beans, green peas, tomato, coriander, blue berries, etc. We try to maintain the kitchen garden even this summer.
My local driver told me when we were purchasing the seeds for our kitchen garden that sir, these radish, cucumber etc. will be cheap in season and you may not take the trouble of planting and wasting your time and energy. But I feel the other way. It is not to save money. The sense of fulfillment and success and also creation is great when the crop is ready. Now when we pick up some green chillies, cucumber, tomatoes, onion etc for the salad on our dinning table, i feel some
sort of satisfaction which is difficult to explain. I even take pride in telling our guests on the table that some of these things have come right from our kitchen garden. They generally appreciate and some of them even feel like seeing the small garden. It further makes me happy. I think that internal sense of contentment and a sense of achievement go a long way in bringing about happiness in life which is of utmost value in these days of stress and strife.