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Karma Yogi


Neeshant Srivastava

In walked a tall, skinny old man in a proud swing, a thick muddy- brown turban on his head and the fag end of his “dhoti2” wrapped around his fingers, to Laxmi’s doorstep. Prabhu or “The Almighty” arrived at nine sharp after hearing about a vacant gardener’s position from Laxmi’s maid. In a near toothless smile Prabhu squatted on a barren lawn answering questions and treated to a hot cup of tea as the interview wore on.

Laxmi was convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that Prabhu was the right person for the job looking at his unblemished track record as an ace gardener in all his working years. He had proudly served the Christian Family Hospital as a head gardener for over thirty-five years. On account of his sincerity, honesty and exemplary service he was exclusively offered a piece of land, all his own, by the Ganges, promised pension on his retirement and decorated with a shining silver medal before an auspicious gathering of the day. ‘Lucky’ Laxmi, wife of a retired Army officer, had a history of helpers in her household who loved to burn for her as even their own lives, they declared, were not worth her kindness and magnanimity. The interview concluded and Prabhu was given a tour of the entire 150 square feet cultivable area. There were weeds, knee high, wild foliage in the backyard instead of green vegetables.

The lawn was a mess and dry rock hard beds with dead uprooted roses were not pretty to look at. The huge muddy patch next to the lawn had become a haven for stray dogs that preferred to curl up under the huge tree at the edge on cold nights.  The flowerpots saw dead brittle plants jutting out of stone beds, burned out in the scorching summer heat. There were not enough trees to protect the topsoil, which got blown away in hot summer ‘loo’ storms.  Looking at Prabhu’s frail framework there were doubts if he could do a reasonable job, all alone, reconstructing an impoverished landscape. Laxmi retired to her chores indoors while Prabhu  started right away that hot summer day in the backyard.

The sun went down in the western skies as Prabhu emerged from the backyard to an unxpecting Laxmi who didn't know he had been working all this time. There were snacks and tea for Prabhu as he tied his turban around his head.  The tall wild weeds had been uprooted, one half of the huge backyard ploughed and fine dark soil unearthed. The thick wild jungle with numerous wild saplings that came from nowhere had been removed. Laxmi was impressed with the neat job and now could move freely on areas she feared to tread before. The next few days were spent in intense thrashing to clear up the entire thick jungle at the backyard under the hot summer sun by Prabhu’s deft hands. Seeds of vegetables like ladyfingers, spinach and tomatoes were sown and it was a pleasure to walk by the area in the evenings just at twilight with the soft waft of cool breeze touching ones parched skin. 

The vegetable bed looked impressive with a rich dark brown colour like someone had dumped such rich soil from the heavens. There were mounds of soil in straight lines, neatly separating the beds with tiny sprouts equally spaced in perfect geometry. It was as if an accomplished artist was at work with his delicate, yet firm strokes, resurrecting a lost masterpiece. There were sticks in lines buried into the ‘rich’ soil to support those tiny saplings stand up and grow straight with abundant sunshine on their faces. They were constantly sprinkled with insecticides and clear water before they could stand on their own. Prabhu now shifted his focus on the front portion of the garden with an occasional visit to the backyard.

What Laxmi saw was unbelievable as she would often drag her busy husband for a look at an amazing spectacle. There were saplings, so green and healthy with tender buds sprouting tiny leaves. There were young plants now almost one and half foot long, green and so erect as if they had a back bone. Not one dead leaf, not one sick leaf as the doctor kept a round the clock vigil at his young ones. Laxmi would stand there, dumbfounded, for hours, long after Prabhu had left with a growing love for her plants and rich soil. By the time Prabhu finished digging the front lawn in a constant sweat with damp towels round his head for relief and protection, lo and behold there were young green tomatoes kissing the earth below under their weight. And these were no ordinary tomatoes as could be seen with their immense size. When curious Laxmi asked Prabhu the breed of those amazing tomatoes: “Sir, this is the superior hybrid variety, known exclusively to the top gardeners in the region” came his prompt reply. These were the words of an artist forgoing the hard and meticulous labour that went into creating such works. There were ladyfingers, green onions, potatoes and spinach to follow.

The old tree, barren for countless seasons bore jackfruits as leaves turned to a healthy green. Prabhu was a man of few words as each day from sunrise to sunset he spent his time attending to each plant, each leaf as they longed for the tender caress of his loving hands. Next Prabhu brought Italian grass for the lawn given their soft texture and ability to sustain in harsh environments. The lawn was levelled, medicine sprinkled and watered before his attention was drawn to the ‘stray – dog’ area. The trash, dirt and the stench that came from the area had attracted the animal in the first place. It took him hours to clean and disinfect the area, as he crouched turning the hard soil with his long spade. There were huge gravels embedded in the soil which could hinder the growth of a new plant. He dug deep with his spade to leave enough room for young roots to develop.

The boundary was laid down with a perennial shrubs and at the centre stood a tiny Christmas plant which would become a tree later on. Two rare cycus3 plants were rooted on the sides and the flower beds surrounding the muddy patch was dug up and watered. Countless kochia3saplings were pushed in with fingers on the wet soil, in straight rows, huddled together in a neat bush. This was one man at work bringing a turnaround which had started showing. He started from his home along the ganges on his six mile walk at the break of dawn and back again long after sundown; his bag slung on his shoulders. 

“I can walk faster than a moving bicycle” he often said.

In his younger days he often took part in marathon races and no one could ever come close to beating him; quite evident given his atheletic body. Numerous ‘Ashok’ trees were planted along the boundary, a ‘litchi4’tree in the backyard and two varities of bougainvillia, with red and white flowers at the entrance in a semicircular wooden frame. Exciting ‘fireballs’ next to the bougainvillia, like Laxmi or her family members had never seen or heard before, with green leaves turning red with time giving the illusion of flowers. The pale roses were dug up, roots pruned and treated with rich manure, returned to soil with some new exotic varieties added. Prabhu in all his working years at the hospital garden had developed a sense of what each plant exclusively requied for it to prosper.

Certain trees were given abundant sunshine while some were given partial exposure. This sense worked miracles when flower beds were to be populated and umpteen pots prepared for a large variety of flowers. The summer had a lot to offer and each passing day saw numerous seeds, saplings and young plants sown and planted; Colourful zinias, delecate cosmos, tiny potulacas, abundant mogra, divine Rajnigandha or tube rose,champa5 and chameli5. Truck loads of healthy animal manure was brought in for flower beds and countless flower pots. The garden had put on a new dress as signs of wilderness had totally disappeared. Evergreen crotans were potted together and continuously watered so that multi-shaded and leaves of varied patterns had a shining green colour. Prabhu’s work load increased and he never left sight of every single leaf, flower petal or grass. He attended to all his plants, religiously each day from morning to sundown. Majority of crotans were cuttings he had collected from gardens all over and that now had a look of new life.

 Prabhu was a man with a golden touch – his touch and perception of what a plant wanted was enough for its healthy growth. It didn't take him long to diagnose and he was done before you could sense an abnormality. He could foretell the arrival of a new season just by his senses and direction of the wind. He was a conservationist as a live plant was as significant as a dead one. Dead flowers were collected in plastic bags to sow their seeds the following year. Life never gave a chance to read and write yet Prabhu deciphered the mysteries of life in his own language and Mother Nature played a big role in his understanding. The flowers were a full glow, the leaves as green as could be; awe struck people stopped by or lingered at the entrance for a glimpse of the garden as pretty as they had ever seen. Little kids crowded the entrance prodding their elders to stay a while longing to touch the velvet green grass. Word went around the small community about this pretty, small garden. Laxmi’s long time friend Roma from a big city dropped  in and couldn’t help being spellbound by what she saw; out came a suggestion that fit right in Laxmi’s mind. Thus was born a small nursery aptly called ‘LaxmiVatika6’ with Prabhu it’s sole architect.

There was a huge crowd that morning all happy to finally step within the garden for the small inauguration ceremony of the nursery. A brief  ‘puja7’, coconuts burst open and finally the ribbon was cut by the lanlord, Laxmi’s proud husband. There were complimentary flowers, saplings of rare varieties at low rates and ‘prasad8’ offered to all the attendees.Thus a small sign board at the entrance and the small nursery took off under the supervision of its creator, Prabhu, the ‘Lord’. Prabhu spent longer hours at the nursery with a scrumptuous, wholesome , lunch at noon, milk and bread in the morning, chapatis and salt at sundown and umpteen rounds of hot tea, courtesy Laxmi. He grew stronger, looked healthier and with naps on hot afternoons under the ceiling fan in the corridor his work scaled new heights. Work totally absorbed him; all day, all night his thoughts revolved around the nursery as his mind drew strategies, schemes, his imagination soared high in his dreams – all focussed to making an ‘extraordinary’ garden. The word went around fast and ‘Laxmi Vatika’ was gaining popularity by the day. People from all walks of life stopped by on their lunch breaks or after their day was over for a glimpse of multicoloured flowers with a size they had never seen before and bought a few pots for their home. “How come, I have the same plant at my home and it looks sickly compared to the plant out here , not the same size, at least?”, they asked.

“Sir, how many children do you have?”,Prabhu questioned.

“Well, two sons”,

“Do they have the same shape and size, are they not different which dosent make either one of them healthy or sick”, came the calm reply.

That completely answered their question and they went home satisfied with a few tips on how to take care of these love ones. Old, retired people, never seen before, stopped by for a cup of tea with a kind word for the amazing show of flowers and the general health of plants all round. It was a pleasure just to sit on the lawn on evenings when soft fragrant breeze touched your face after a long day in the sun. Environmentalists, horticulturists from all over the city called on the owner of the nursery to discuss at length the myriad plants ,flowers and the general look of the nursery. What they saw was unbelievable as they had read in books and knew it was theoretically possible to have an all-healthy crop or garden but this was none like they had seen before and all made possible by a single man and his effort.  “Being illiterate, how could he know so much about plants in general?” they asked Winter came and it was time for some more flowers; those huge and amazing chrysanthemums, colorful and varied dahlias, pinks, manifold poppy, vibrant asters and ‘dog’ flowers or pansies. Laxmi Vatika entered a flower show that winter at the Governer’s residence.

A small display of the best that the nursery had to offer was noticed and appreciated by a huge crowd gathered to watch the display. The huge chrysanthemums in cream, light yellow , and pink colors with drooping petals stole the show, numerous press photographers lined up to take pictures with a smiling Prabhu to appear in local newspapers the next day. Laxmi Vatika became a household name, an intitution and was included in the map of the region. The ‘litchi’ tree had grown tall, ‘Ashok’ trees huge and leafy as the nursery put on a new dress with each passing season. Prabhu became an integral part of Laxmi’s family.He had never seen such kindness and freedom at his work. He left all jobs to work full time at the nursery. Prabhu proudly gave his shining silver medal for exemplary service to Laxmi and wept a tear when Laxmi’s son was leaving for a big city in search of a job.

Time passed by as his trust and love for the family grew even stronger. Prabhu sometimes complained of a sudden darkness before his eyes and how it bothered him. His intense work schedule wore his strength inspite of Laxmi’s warmth and care. He could no longer walk six miles to and fro each day. One day he fell terribly ill, was admitted to the Christian Hospital and all Laxmi’s family members rushed to the hospital. Prabhu was adviced complete bed rest till he felt stronger and so he sent his son-in-law to carry on the work at Laxmi Vatika. Prabhu never came to the nursery in the next one year except once with his wife before he passed away. And thus ended an extraordinary life and work as a proud man left behind his mark in his own simple way.

He is remembered by one and all as a man who was completely devoted to his work, kind and gentle, in all his humility; an artist in his countless creations. His honesty spoke volumes of this man as he didn't  swindle even one ‘paisa’ from the nursery and Laxmi knew that. What is a life worth when it leaves us one day; a proud farmer who burnt in the sun in his devotion to nurturing each new crop in all four seasons just to bring a little love and warmth in someone’s heart as they passed by each day. He who never learnt the alphabet yet knew the words of wisdom, could read the seasons as they changed and found inner peace through his work. A true artist lost in his all consuming art; a gift of tranquility. Laxmi Vatika stands proud in the footsteps of the ‘Karma Yogi’.

1: One who adheres to duty (dharma) while remaining detached from the reward.

2: A loincloth worn by Hindu men in India.

3: Written with varieties found in East India in mind.

4: a tree that bears bright red fruits, each of which has a large single seed with a white, fleshy, edible aril.

5: Common flowers found in India.

6: a predominantly agricultural region.

7: in Hinduism or Buddhism, the ritual daily devotion involving offering of food and drink and prayers to a deity.

8: Is the sacred offering to the deity returned to the devotee after the worship as part of the deity's

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