Mr Roy was sure of one thing the day he retired. He would bury the trophies won in his 30 years of corporate battles in the backyard of his home. And grow brinjals on them.
He had observed; how the gardener tended to the lawn, grew seasonal flowers in the meticulously prepared beds, and harvested bountiful vegetables from the backyard of his company-given accommodation. He had envied the meditativeness he exuded as he tilled the soil, sowed the seeds and pruned the shrubs. A life full of beauty and harmony surrounded by nature, not sniping in a boardroom full of bloodsuckers- that’s what he wanted. He had promised himself that he would turn the ground of the new rowhouse into a garden of Eden by himself. Worthy of neighbour’s envy. Mrs Roy smiled at his enthusiasm. And saved the laughter for later.
A month was spent on research. He studied the angles at which the sunlight fell on various parts of the ground, its time and duration. He browsed through a wide array of garden implements listed on e-commerce websites and ordered most of them. He drew up a master plan for the arrangement of plants. He pored over the Google gardening literature and absorbed it. And consumed hours of YouTube tutorials on gardening for beginners.
After the said month, he folded the back seats of his SUV, spread old newspapers on its floor and drove to the local plant nursery. Armed with a list of plants and seeds to buy. And then ended up buying much more.
He came back home with a boot and front seats filled with a burst of colours, thorns, blades, seeds, manure and notes on where to place the plants and how to care for them. He was exhausted and exhilarated in equal measures as he retrieved crates full of them and plonked them in his backyard. Sweat poured from his balding pate and armpits like leaky faucets.
Mrs Roy brought two glasses of lemonade to the patio. Mr Roy gulped down the beverage in one go.
“Malti, before you know, we will be drinking lemonades made from freshly squeezed lemons from our backyard!”
Mrs Roy nodded with a grin. And ventured,
“Mrs Lobo from the opposite house said she can ask Mara…her gardener.”
Mr Roy knitted his eyebrows. Took a deep breath and exhaled.
“Do you take your husband for a good for nothing old fellow? Where is the need for a gardener?”
“Maybe just to dig and prepare the soil …” her voice melted away under the glare of Mr Roy.
The next morning, Mr Roy hit the west corner before the sun got hot on the ground. He dug two pits and planted the lemon and coconut saplings. Then he proceeded to the south corner and dug up three more pits to plant banana, papaya and mango. By then the sun was pounding on his back and his arms were threatening to fall off their sockets. He washed the pick axe, shovel and himself with a garden hose, shivering. He had accomplished the first part of his mission.
“See, it wasn’t hard at all! There is nothing as satisfying as getting your hands in the soil. It’s almost like meditation,” he closed his eyes and chomped on his food.
Mrs Roy brought her two hands together as if she wanted to clap. And said with her fingers interlocked,
“Good job! Is it done?”
“Of course not! There’s still a lot to be done. A few more saplings, the flower beds, the lawn, the veggie patch!” he continued exuberantly.
“Maybe we can get Mara to help?” she prodded.
“Nonsense! I have planned everything. Just wait and watch!”
He had everything planned. He would dig a few more pits in the evening and get to the veggie patch by the next morning.
By evening, he couldn’t move his arms without an excruciating pain shooting from his shoulders. Very unmeditative. Mrs Roy watered the saplings still in their black plastic nursery covers and the ones with drooping leaves on the ground. And rubbed the warm coconut oil on Mr Roy’s back and shoulders after dinner as he lay on his stomach.
“Malti, before you know, we will be extracting even coconut oil from our garden,” he murmured as the oil seeped into the pores and he slid into a deep sleep.
Malti grimaced to his back. She knew her husband too well. Whenever odds were against him, he dug his heels deeper into the ground. And held his head high.
It was a week before Mr Roy picked up the shovel again. He had updated his plan. He would dig only one pit per day. And start preparing the soil for the seeds. That way the patches would be ready by the end of October.
Fifteen days into gardening, he knew he had to revisit the nursery for new saplings of mango and night-flowering jasmine. To replace the ones that had perished. And also, to get a look at the lawn grass.
“Sir, what kind of lawn are you looking for?” the lanky assistant asked, his eyes wandering back and forth between milling customers.
“A good one.”
Mr Roy got a blank stare. And then the recommendation,
“Okay, then go for Korean grass. Needs a little time in the beginning, but worth it.”
“If I want a quick-growing lawn? Say within a month?”
“Sir, no lawn is going to grow that quick. But if you are looking for sturdy ones, go for Bermuda grass or Australian grass.”
Mr Roy was not convinced. The data he was getting was not matching with his research.
“Okay, maybe I’ll come back for it later. Give me some organic manure.”
Mr Roy came back with a few supplies. And a load of self-doubt.
He sipped the lemonade quietly. Mrs Roy placed the manure in the backyard.
Mr Roy stopped tilling at I for the flower bed instead of the L shape he had planned. He thought it looked more sophisticated and Zen-like. And thanked his stars for having the good sense to stop him from buying the patches for the lawn. His arms felt alright but his shoulder could still use a rub afterwards. He drew lines across the length of I and put in the seeds of hollyhocks, daisies, calendula, flax and marigold. He cursed his stars when the rain poured in sheets the same night.
“Everything happens for a reason,” he looked for reassurance from Mrs Roy.
“Yes. Maybe nature wants you to relax,” she smiled.
“No…woman! What I meant was it will be easier for me to prepare the backyard, now that it’s wet!”
“But…it may become dry again by the time your shoulders are ready!” Mrs Roy stated the obvious. And bit her tongue.
Mr Roy grunted and swore he will watch the weather forecast regularly henceforth. And he did. It didn’t rain again till he dug up a C-shaped patch instead of an O in the backyard a week later. To his surprise, Mrs Roy helped him fold in the manure in the tilled soil. Seeds of tomato, spinach, brinjal and bitter gourd were sown. And the water was sprinkled.
For the next fortnight, Mr Roy rushed to his garden every morning and kept his eyes peeled for anything that sprouted from the ground. On the sixth day, he was transfixed by the ellipsoidal spinach shoots. By the 15th day, when all the seedlings had reared their heads, he ran in circles around his C patch. It was a victory after the washout of his flower bed seeds. Only a few hollyhocks and marigold seedlings had made a show there.
A month passed by. Most of the seedlings turned into tiny plants. The spinach loomed over others with half of its leaves yellow and the other half mottled. Mr Roy made a distress trip to the plant nursery.
“You should have sprayed the pesticide, sir,” clucked the boy.
“But I want the food to be organic,” protested Mr Roy.
The boy gave him a look reserved for new gardeners. Impatience tinged with pity.
“Okay sir, take this neem concentrate. Completely organic. Just dilute it and spray. Do you want a spray bottle?”
Mr Roy nodded. Collected the items and exited the nursery resisting the urge to pick dahlia, chrysanthemum and some unknown fascinating plant. He will have to make do with marigolds and hollyhocks this season. If he were to become an expert gardener by next season he had to soak in the painful lessons.
He came back home. Sprayed the solution on his C patch and stoically watched it over the next month. The spinach was almost ruined, the branches of the brinjal turned black in places, the tomato just stayed the same and the bitter gourd didn’t care.
Four months in, the garden stared back at Mr Roy like a mute, complaining child. He plucked a couple of bitter gourds that were the size of lemons after scraping and squashing the mealy bugs off the spindly branches of eggplant.
He knew that something else needed to be squashed urgently. His pride.
“Did Mrs Lobo give you her gardener’s number?” he croaked as he placed the misshapen bitter gourds on the kitchen counter.
Mrs Roy continued to slice the onions and cooed, “No, but I can ask. Do you want me to?” without looking into his eyes.
Mr Roy paused. “No, I guess I will ask for it. It’s the least I can do for my garden.”