by Gautam Pemmaraju
A distinct advantage to my small rental in the once ‘leafy suburb’ of Bandra in western Bombay is its garden. Actually, not quite a ‘garden’ in the sense that it is arranged with great care or acuity, tended to diligently, or bedecked with decorative flowers and plants, it is rather, for the most part, an unkempt, somewhat derelict yard with several planted trees and a wide range of wild ferns, creepers, fruit, herb, and vegetable plants. The diversity of botanical life is pretty fascinating, not to mention the many song birds, from the White-Throated Fan Tail, the Oriental Magpie Robin to the Asian Koel, and lest I forget, the many worms, slugs, bees, butterflies, garden lizards, frogs, squirrels, snails that are to be found in residence – occasionally at my doorstep. Itinerant cats, the odd fatigued kite, noisy crows, sparrows and pigeons, barn owls, and bandicoots pass through, and I have often imagined an irascible rodent knocking at my door demanding a change of music.
The space around me is a wild urban garden.
Encircled by tall apartment blocks, the low-rise character of the structure allows for immediate contact with what is outside. Boundary walls enclose this very modest plot of land that supports an impressive range of plant life. When in season, there are guavas that may be picked from outside my window; some ripe ones, half eaten by parakeets, fall to ground and release a squishy, heady aroma. Two types of bananas – a large beveled plantain (possibly from Kerala) which can be used raw (in cooking) or eaten when ripe, and the small, squat and delicious local elchi (butter plantain). Cultivated coconut, including one variety brought from Singapore, and seasonal mangoes are in abundance. The lone lime tree, verdant and generously fertile at one time, which used to catch the fancy of telephone linesmen, postmen and other civic workers entering the premises, is in need of some help. Recently, the jackfruit tree bore fruit for the first time. Several others though – custard apple, tamarind, Java Plum or Jambul, fig, locally known as umber – are yet to be as productive as the others.