My brother and I grew up on a farm and spent nearly every daylight hour outside. We couldn’t imagine how adults could shut themselves indoors when there was so much to do outdoors — mud to play in, lizards to chase, trees to climb, irrigation ditches to dam, dogs to be wrestled with, dry leaves to be set on fire, treasure to be dug ...
We knew and loved every inch of the three-and-a-half acres we owned just outside Bengaluru. Each corner was special and had a different set of attractions, from the huge mango tree and borewell at one end, to the chicken sheds at the other, and our favourite climbing trees in the garden at the front.
If you’d tell us that one day this beautiful farm would be built on and tiled over to create two blocks of flats and another building, we’d have been inconsolable. Just the suggestion from my father all those years ago that the road in front may be widened and that we’d have to give up a strip of land upset us deeply.
Today, only a hint of that farm remains in the four or five trees that have survived the construction. I look at all the children of the apartments playing and think about how madly possessive we were about “the farm” and how we’d have hated the thought of other children calling its nooks their own. Watching them ride round and round the building on their bicycles, or playing badminton or cricket in the small common area, I feel sad for them — as happy as they seem. The space they inhabit was once a children’s haven — a literal garden of delights. Now all they have is hard tile, unforgiving concrete and hefty supervision.
When I was that young, I believed that as an adult I would never fritter away an afternoon on something as wasteful as a nap. So I feel sad at the thought of living in a flat for the rest of my days (as I see them), but I have to say I’m coming round a little. In spite of all its construction, Bengaluru is amazingly green when looked at from on high and having an uninterrupted view from the top of a building is a wonderful thing. I made sure our flat has windows anywhere it can get one, so there’s a horizon visible from every room.
I have plans to continue playing in the mud, just that this time instead of dams and tunnels, I hope to grow food on our rooftop. I have no idea what it takes to grow plants, but I can feel the call of the earth and it’s very strong in me. The roof-top garden is still some way away, but the compost is coming along nicely. It’s not too difficult and it’s surprising how relaxing it is to spend five or ten minutes every day stirring through the rotting remains from the kitchen, especially while contemplating that one day you will be consuming some of this matter again in the form of juicy red tomatoes or a big head of cauliflower. The nicest part is that if the compost is going well, it quickly starts to smell deeply of damp earth and not rotting garbage and so this is how, even though there are seven storeys of concrete between me and the mud that raised me, it’s as if that compost pot is a lighting rod with a strip of copper connecting my hands to deep inside the earth, de-stressing me, and yes, it has to be said, grounding me.
Gautam Raja is a journalist based in Bengaluru, India.