Saturday, January 12, 2008

The gardener

India is largely an illiterate country, the dust, the heat. Mosquitoes. Flies. Cows on the roads!! India is steeped in tradition. Stereotypes are firmly entrenched. Casteism can still be seen, but is no longer an inhibitor for what one can be. A large section is so not classy.

Our gardener, you see, was really our odd jobs man so he would also be entrusted with washing the car. In emergencies he would get the groceries or be the messenger who would fetch the electrician. On dhanteras, I think, just before deepavali he would bring out all the tools shears, spade, khurpi, ghamela. He would wash the car. He would apply a red sindoor teeka on the car, the tools, even the borewell pump. Then he would bow to them and reverently fold his hands for just a moment. He was not unique, my parents fully respected and sometimes would participate in the ritual if they were on the gardener's schedule. The auto mechanic down the street did the same with his instruments, and so did some of our neighbors. The annual ritual was not the most elaborate .. but it was firmly there. Worshipping tools? I was afraid of God, but a spade? C'mon lets call a spade .. just that ;-)

Tin foil caps from chocolate milk bottles, crumpled up receipts from filling up the gas. A dark brown velvet hair band. Pens, paper, dimes and even a quarter. The compact discs were not on the floor but they were strewn about everywhere else.My car was dirty again. Actually, again isn't quite the right word, my car was frequently dirty. Only every so often would I clean it ... it was unbearable yesterday. Unexpectedly, yesterday, I had to give some one a ride in my car. I was ashamed, ashamed of my unkempt behavior. Was I not the classy, successful Indian who had lived the Indian dream. Was I not educated well? What about my graduate degree? Did it not teach me anything?

My gardener, was in his sixties. He would usually dress in white. A gandhi topi, kurta and dhoti. Medium height, dark skin, a white beard that had been trimmed or had grown because he did not want to shave. It was not unkempt. At his steady pace he would work the garden, digging up weeds. Shearing off the hedge, tending to the plants. When I was leaving for America, he came up to me smiled and shook hands and then waved me good bye.

I closed my eyes and I see him working. Tending the garden, now cleaning the car and then off he goes to fetch some tomato that the kitchen has run short of. What is it there? Oh .. I see him bringing out the tools. He is washing them now .. there I can see the sindoor. I can see the reverence towards life, reverence to every and anything he comes in touch with. Acceptance, of whatever life bestows on him. To him it is all prasad. I wonder which school did he go to ? Where was this attitude instilled in him? When did I miss out? Where was I?

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