Saturday, 14 June 2014

Paradise Lost

“The true paradises are the paradises that one has lost.”
Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

In South Delhi, close to a popular multiplex and an elite school, are two old houses inhabited by two lone matriarchs. In a lane where most old houses have been replaced by apartment complexes, there is a small patch of wilderness amidst which these two houses stand. The Parijat flowers (night flowering Jasmine) carpet the gateway. Other attractions include a huge Bel (Indian Quince) tree, a Shatoot (Mulberry) tree, a row of Ashoka trees, an old Mango tree, three Lime trees, old Bougainvilleas with gnarled branches, many creeping vines and shrubs– Madhu Malti (Rangoon creeper), Peeli Kaner (Yellow Oleander), Hibiscus etc.

A yard once planted with care left to grow as it pleases. The plants well established took on a life of their own and birds*, bees, butterflies, squirrels, and mongoose moved in creating an urban paradise.

But life was far from ideal. The ladies often had unwelcome visitors. While walking in the garden or coming back from grocery shopping, men would come up and introduce themselves as estate agents and without wiping the smile from their faces accuse the ladies of causing ‘national wastage’– living alone in houses that could be replaced by two four storied buildings with16 flats each; every bit of the land had been blueprinted. Did the women know the value of the land? Then an offer would be made. Ending with ‘think it over, there’s no hurry’. The ladies persevered, surrounding themselves with tenants and watchmen. But sleeping with an extra lock on their door.

Unaware of the hint of violence that underlies the ways of men and the world of their making, the plants and birds thrived. And so, every morning the red-vented bulbul called, the house sparrows created a ruckus, the purple sunbirds hovered among the creepers, the robin minded his quiet ways, the squirrels chattered in the mulberry tree, the spotted doves cooed, while the mongoose bustled among the shrubs. A paradise, but like all others, counting down to its ultimate fall.

*In an old diary I found a list of 25 species of birds spotted in one year– numbers swelled when the trees were fruiting. The houses and the accompanying wilderness were still standing when last checked in 2011. 

No comments: