A few days ago, I visited the Sarasota Botanical Garden with my family and friends. It was just a weekend getaway, a simple picnic as per the plan. You know..., venture into a new place which won't cost you up much on gas, just relax, at the same time entertain the kid(s)... kind of outing.
It turned out be really an enthralling experience. Stirred up bundles of memories of the botany classes I attended 'once upon a time'. The classifications, 'binomial nomenclature', taxonomy, field trip, the herbarium, the lab work.... ah, all those beautiful ways of associating with the nature, which I had almost forgotten. Right from the ambiance- the green house and specialized gardens, gently tied placard on each plant with the scientific name on it, large green ferns with tiny spores on their back, radiantly colored orchids, spiny cacti and the duplicitous insectivorous plants.... each thing dug and brushed up the memories buried under the weight of time.
My friendship with the plants developed when I was very young and progressed gradually. As a little girl, I lived with parents in a remote village. Our farm house was surrounded by thick forest from three sides. Only in the front there was little open space, a small lake and paddy fields beyond it. Again where the fields ended, trees lined up like giant soldiers in dark brown uniform and huge green hats, guarding the mysterious darkness behind them. Though I never attempted to cross the lake and fields to reach or explore those dark woods, the green cover neighboring our farm was like my playground. Whenever my father would go out there to gather bamboo or wood for farm work, I would join him. He knew of my interest in the plant life. He was equally interested and knowledgeable too. He would tell me the name of every plant/tree, their special qualities, some fun facts related to them and things like that. He explained me that bamboos bloom only once in 60 years and soon afterwards, perish completely. He showed me that 'Misri' beehives can mostly be found in the hollow of 'Flame of the forest' (Butea monosperma) trees. He taught me that beleric (Terminalia bellirica) nuts can dull your senses, the jackfruit wood (Artocarpus heterophyllus) is so durable that a boat made of it can be in water for over a hundred years without any damage, when Matti (Terminalia tomentosa) blooms the whole forest smells like honey.... and many more interesting things which I would have never known otherwise.
There was a time when I would find solace in the company of plants. During my elementary school years, I had to live in my grandmother's house. I missed my parents very much. If I were hurt physically or emotionally... feeling lonely or neglected, I would simply go out to the plants and comfort myself. A stroke on the brown barks would divert my attention from aching body towards rough, scaly surface of it. While the leathery softness of the green leaves acted as an ice pack, their sometimes earthy; sometimes pungent and occasionally sweet smell would calm me down. Whether cultivated or wild, beautiful flowers would sooth my restless mind and always fill me with hope. The way fruits, seeds, sprouts grow from a tiny spot to a well defined shape would always feed my imagination. Whether a small plant or a huge tree, it would always provide support to lean on and lend me ears to share my secrets.
After I joined a residential school, all my association with the forest and plant life took a backseat. Though the barren landscape around my school was a constant reminder of what I was missing, I had no choice but to live with it. Later college offered me better choices. When I chose Botany for graduation studies, my high school Mathematics teacher was very disappointed. 'What are you doing with your life? How will Botany ever help you achieve anything?' - he reacted angrily. 'I don't know the exact answer for this Sir, but I can not learn a subject very well if everything I do is based on a 'suppose' or 'if' or any imaginary theorem. I should be able to see, touch and feel the things I study. I am sure at least that is possible in Botany'- I replied calmly to him.
Indeed, I had made a good choice. I enjoyed every hour of my graduate studies. I could relate the theoretical knowledge with the my childhood observations. I could repeat my practical experiments at home. I did even amuse my parents occasionally with the scientific names and classifications of the crops they were growing. I was able to better understand and reason many of the natural processes happening around me. At the end, I came up with good grades too!
But when it came to career choice, my passion for writing scored over the plants. I joined journalism. Buried my head in the world of letters. As I shifted my base to a concrete jungle from a real jungle and started inhaling the exhaust gases rather than fresh air, my interaction with the plants became scarce. I was so taken by the loud but alluring charm of the city life that unknowingly I dissociated myself from my silent friends. Then I got married, had a child and got really busy in life. Family, society, travel... things came along to keep me occupied. Still, occasionally when I would go to my parent's place or go out with my family for an outing (like this time), I would just sit quiet for a while and cherish the memories.
Memories of those giant friends who consoled me, who shared their leaves-fruits and flowers with me to play, who swung me to sleep and at times tolerated to be at the receiving end of my frustration or angst.. And amused me, surprised me, educated me about a hidden world behind those green and brown colors. I am happy that I studied Botany... I am happy that I visited botanical garden.