Spring and Autumn collide in India during a season called 'Patjhar.'
When it comes to culture and identity, I'm very much a mix of Indian and American. But when it comes to gardening... my passion, appreciation and method are firmly, proudly English! (For the uninitiated, this means that I know the Latin names of more flowers than I should... I don't 'get' lawns... I love wild, cottage gardens with rambling roses, foxgloves, delphiniums, lupins and verbascum all trying to out-do each other... and I'm an anorak when it comes to things like organic pest control and composting!)
So while I'm delighted to finally be living back in India... working here as a journalist, learning about India's history, sampling its dazzling, dizzying cultures... the one thing I miss, deep in my bones, is my English garden.
I don't just miss the snowdrops and crocuses... the tulips and peonies... the glorious summer roses and hollyhocks... and winter holly and daphnes... I miss the 'back-end' of gardening. I miss the weeding, forking and pruning...mulching, shredding, edging and composting.
Here in Delhi, we don't have a garden. We are lucky enough to have several balconies and two large terraces on the roof where I can grow lots of things in pots. And of course the Indian gardening season never seems to end! 'Winter' here equates to a warm English spring, perfect for sowing salads and tender flowers. Spring is as prolific as a hot English summer, producing spires of hollyhocks, poppies galore, majestic dahlias and showers of bourgainvillea.
So imagine my delight when -- after a disastrously failed attempt to construct my own composter -- some Canadian journalist friends rescued me by putting me onto an Indian composting scheme!!! Hallelujah! And ta-da!! Here it is, my new Indian, terracotta, rain-proof composting system! It's simple - three stacking terracotta chambers (the top two with mesh bottoms), plus some sawdust, some bio-accelerator and lemongrass spray to keep fruit flies away (never knew about that!)
I've put it out on the little utility balcony behind our kitchen, next to the brooms, mops, recycling and our cooking gas canister (India now has piped gas, if your landlord will pay the measly $30 installation. Needless to say, ours will not! Piped utilities, another thing you ought be grateful for if you're not already...!)
Appropriately, the first things to get chucked in were a pile of peels from the season's first mangoes! (More on mangoes in my next post!) Otherwise, I'm doing what I'd do in London... chucking in peelings, eggshells, tea bags and a near equal quantity of dry stuff like brown paper, toilet roll cores and cardboard. The rest is down to time and the elements. I'm told in this heat... I should have ready compost in about a months' time. Now if only I had a garden to dig it into...!
Is it Spring... or Autumn...or both?
Meanwhile, the past few weeks in Delhi, I've witnessed a phenomenon I've never seen in England nor in the US, where leaves normally fall in, erm... Fall (or Autumn depending on which side of the Atlantic you live!)
But here in India, leaves have been raining off trees even as tender young shoots simultaneously emerge. This season is called 'patjhar'. 'Pat' comes from 'patta' meaning leaf. And 'jhar' is a verb meaning 'to fall'. Unlike more alpine climes, where fall/autumn can be quite beautiful with deep blue skies, cold temperatures and red and golden leaf showers... Patjhar is not a season Indians particularly look forward to. It signals the start of the hot Indian summer, when everything, including people, are in danger of being scorched to oblivion in the searing sun! We're not quite searing yet, thank goodness. Though I'm sure we will be any day now. Already, the ceiling fans are running full blast; water seems to be in shorter supply; you often need a shower right before bed, just to cool off... And, as if to celebrate to coming season of bare arms and blood-sucking buffets, the mosquitoes are out in swarms at dusk, attracted to anything warm, breathing, or (unfortunately for me) dark-haired!
Perhaps despite its portents, patjhar is not such a contradictory season after all. Watching my son paint papier-mache Easter eggs and bunnies today with his friends, I'm reminded that this time of year, no matter what clime, is a season of fasting, of renewal and of counting one's blessings! My composter just added a couple more onto the heap of blessings I seem to be enjoying these days.
Happy Patjhar! Happy Easter!