By Vivek Nath Mishra
I remember my mother had built a small terrace garden on the roof. I was around fourteen years old then and I helped my mother in her endeavours. She had built a room-sized steel cage with whatever money she had saved for years. It was impossible for her to do gardening on the roof without any guard as mischievous red-faced macaque monkeys would destroy her plants. My father used to give her some money for the household expenses and she saved a little amount for her terrace garden.
After years of saving, she finally ordered for a steel cage and got a mason working on the roof for the cage. I remember, I was so excited for the terrace garden. I would take the pots, plants and a bucket of water on the roof with my mother.
She had planted many seasonal flowers on the roof. Marigolds, cosmos, geranium, dahlia were common in our terrace garden. We would go together to a nursery and buy plants for our roof garden. On Sundays we would clean the roof and give a shower to all the plants.
I remember how happy all the plants would seem. My mother had planted a money plant in a pot and it had grown wildly. It had covered the pot completely and was very dense. The creeper had clutched the steel cage and had begun to climb it. Neighbours would come to my mother’s terrace garden and have tea there amidst the greenery. They would praise her a lot. The plant of curry leaves which my mother had planted was very green and had plenty of leaves. Everyone from the neighbourhood would borrow a few leaves from my mother whenever they cooked idli or dosa.
The bar spacing in the cage was big enough for a sparrow, purple sunbird or red vented bulbul to enter. Once there was a carpenter working at my home, and my mother had given him a little extra money to make a few nest boxes for birds. She utilized all the wood cuttings.
Just a few days after hanging the nest boxes at a good height, so that nobody could reach it easily and birds could feel safe, a curious sparrow flew in and inspected the nest box thoroughly. She would hop in and then would come out at the slightest noise. The sparrow would roost in the box. And as the springs arrived this sparrow brought the small twigs of grass for nesting. It would take a twig in its beak and chirp for hours sitting over the box, waiting for an interested female to arrive.
One summer afternoon when my school was closed for summer vacation, my mother put a summer cap over my head, unfurled an umbrella and took me out with her to buy two little pots to keep food and water for birds. After this, it became my routine to keep food and water for birds. Many birds came to drink water from the pot and several feasted there. My favourite was a small bird, named white eye oleander. My sister had gifted me a book on Indian birds on my sixteenth birthday. The book was written by the famous birder Salim Ali and it helped me a lot in recognising birds that frequently visited my terrace garden. Sitting in the chair in one corner of my terrace garden I would look for different birds for hours and then would look for their names in my book.
One red vented bulbul became quite tamed later and it ate from my mother’s hands. It made nest in a bush of ficus, but it was never easy to discover it. Her nest would always be well hidden. We would come to know about the nest only a couple of weeks later when little hatchlings would begin calling for food. Finding a nest was also a miracle for us and during those days, miracle was as simple as that.
My mother was a heart patient and one evening she bid a goodbye to all of us. I had never thought this. She always seemed perfectly healthy; perhaps, it was her enthusiasm that never revealed anything about her illness. She left us with her beautiful memories like a beautiful seasonal flower does.
She took away the charm of our garden with her. I tried a lot to keep my plants healthy and green. I manured and watered them regularly but the plants were not that shiny anymore. She had some tricks that I didn’t know, perhaps the plants knew her touch. The sparrow that built nest there in my roof garden chose some other place, and the bulbul found another hand, I guess. My one friend told me that there might have been rats who have shooed the tiny birds away but I don’t believe it. I know the reason; I know that my hands are not like my mother’s.
Vivek Nath Mishra’s short stories have appeared in The Hindu, Queen mob’s Teahouse, Muse India, The Criterion Journal, Literary Yard, Indian Ruminations, Prachya Review, Indus women writing, and on many other platforms. His debut book, Birdsongs of Love and Despair, will appear soon.
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