Managing the Ecosystem

June 9, 2014

First, there was a sapling.

It was a jacaranda sapling – about 5 ft tall, slim as a stick (I do mean that literally) and with very few stems and even fewer leaves. Well, no, surely there were more leaves than stems – but it was a close thing, not too many of either. In low light conditions, like dusk, dawn, any time in between, or on a rainy or cloudy day, it wasn’t an easy sapling to spot. And it was outside our front wall. That’s prime parking for patients who want to visit the doctor across the lane. And patients rushing to get in line at a doctor’s clinic aren’t particularly sensitive to the presence of a thin stalk that might or might not have a few leaves attached. It’s only a matter of time before someone drives right over it.

Well, the jacaranda was one of our many babies in the plant world, so of course we wanted it to survive, thrive and live to a ripe old age. We did what any loving parent would do. We put a barricade around it. Three rough wooden poles tied together at the top.

And those poles formed the bottom of the food chain.

They got termites. Well, they were outside our house. And there’s a storm water drain that separates the space where the jacaranda is planted from the wall of the house. Then there’s the wall itself. Then there’s the garden – a vast expanse, about 50 feet in all. The back of the lawn has now been converted to a vegetable patch.

Anyway, termites (or dimak, as I knew it in my childhood days – though that refers more properly to the evidence of termites rather than to termites themselves) are a big problem in houses made of wood. Our house is made of mud brick. Termites don’t eat mud brick. Even our cupboards are not lined with wood. Only the cupboard doors are wood and those are treated or something. Anyway, the cupboard doors and all the rest of the doors and windows of our house were far, far away from the termites in the barricade surrounding the jacaranda tree. There was a drain, a wall, and an expanse of garden separating the one from the other. It wasn’t worth wasting a thought on.

Until I saw termites in our lawn.

I didn’t actually see termites, of course. I don’t want to see termites. I’ve seen pictures of them and that’s bad enough. They are gross looking worm-like creepy-crawlies and I don’t want to have anything to do with them. So I’m quite glad I didn’t see any actual termites. I saw the pock-marked muddish (not exactly muddy; but with the same relation to mud as reddish has to red) expanse that is their home. Or, if it is not their home, it indicates that their home is below. Very far below. Apparently, termites can live as much as 40 feet underground. I’d thought of raking the soil or pouring boiling water on the nest, but clearly that wouldn’t work – not if the little buggers were hiding 40 feet underground. All it would do is to kill my grass.

The good news, I found after checking with Mr Google, is that termites don’t bother living plants. They only eat dead wood. The bad news is that the only thing that eats termites is ants. Well, we have ants in plentiful. No shortage of ants in our garden. I’ve been doing my best to kill them by feeding them vast quantities of cornflour (apparently it explodes in the poor lil creature’s tummy. Ooooh!) but no sooner do I manage to destroy one colony than another springs up a few feet away. I did mention that they have a 50-foot long expanse to play around in, didn’t I? And that’s just the side garden. We have little bits of lawn in the front and back as well, and the ants don’t seem to need GPS to find their way to them.

Ok, so ants don’t eat plants either; and they do eat termites. Why not just let them be? I’ll tell you why not. For one thing, their nests are a muddy eyesore and they quickly – incredibly quickly – grow to obliterate and obscure my beautiful lush green grass. For another, the nasty lil buggers bite like hell.

And then, there are the aphids. Aphids are these tiny little insects that do eat plants. They can destroy vegetables and they aren’t any too kind to our creepers and reed bed either. Ants eat aphids – which should be a good thing. The trouble is, ants are so fond of aphids that they actually farm them. That is, they encourage aphids to come and set up home, and then they eat them, but not so fast as to kill off their food source. Huh – and I bet you thought we humans were the only animals smart enough to grow our food. When it comes to food, ants are just as smart – or smarter. They might have brains one thousandth the size of ours, but when ten thousand of them get together and start to figure things out, they are pretty damn smart.

So now I have my work cut out for me. First, I have to keep the aphids away. I had got rid of one lot by spraying them with a concoction of all kinds of things from the kitchen – ginger, garlic, red chilli, onion. I could have made a curry out of it after I’d finished boiling it and straining it for the juice. It was pretty potent, though. It seems to have had a fairly long lasting effect too, which is good. I only have to make sure no aphids come back for seconds.

Then, I have to keep feeding those greedy ants their cornflour. If you see the price of cornflour going up, you’ll know why.

And then I have to deal with the damn termites.

My gardener, under my instructions, has removed the termite-laden wooden pole from around the jacaranda sapling. He replaced it with a fresh wooden pole. Unless termites are very particular about the exact species of dead wood they will eat, I suspect that this strategy was a little misguided. It’s like when you go for an eat-all-you-can buffet and you eat so much of the prawn that they have to take the serving bowl away and bring another one out.

As they say, there’s never a dull moment.

Plants are Amazing

June 4, 2014

You have to live with them to realize just how amazing they are.

As you might know, we are somewhat extreme in our approach to water. So, in the long dry months from November to May, we gave our garden a scant dose of grey water. Due to our minimalistic approach to water consumption and because grey water does not include black water, we didn’t generate much grey water at all to begin with. The water we did use then went through phytoremediation, nourishing our thriving bed of reeds. The somewhat purified grey water then wound up in the grey water sump, to further purify under the effect of the ultraviolet rays from the sun. In this process, a fair amount was lost to evaporation. What was left was barely enough to keep our tiny row of hedge plants green, let alone the vast expanse of grass. So – everything died. Our gulmohar lost all its twigs along with their leaves. Our jacaranda and java cassia were both reduced to a single bare stalk. Our golden shower not only lost all its leaves, it developed a crack right at the bottom of the trunk that looked entirely lethal. Our bougainvillea flourished, our bamboo looked happy enough and our ice cream creeper stayed green, though it didn’t get new leaves, but everything else withered and looked to be in varying stages of death throes.

And then, at last, in the first week of May, just three weeks ago, we got our first proper shower of the year. Some cyclone, the papers said, somewhere far away, but it was enough. Three days of rain, and our garden sprang back to life. It was incredible. Grass that had gone yellow and dried up months ago suddenly turned green and grew three inches overnight. All our trees sprang new leaves, even new branches. Even – in fact, especially – the golden shower that had appeared to be the most doomed of the lot. It still had a crack that threatened to sever the trunk two inches from the ground, but now it had so many new leaves it was practically unrecognizable. A chickoo tree that had shown no evidence of life has sent forth a ton of new leaves. Our gulmohars grew to over ten feet in height – much of the growth achieved even before the rain at last hit us. Plants I had totally forgotten about have sent out shoots – a whole row of tube roses I’d give up for dead and a lily bulb that I had not even known what to do with, have surfaced unexpectedly. I almost yanked them out, thinking they were weeds.

Oh yes, weeds. The joyful task of spotting them in the grass and pulling them out is now back in my list of everyday to-dos. I can’t say I’m thrilled about that, but weeds are part of the same amazing persistence that I see in the rest of my plants.

What an amazing ability nature has given her children. A long, long dry season and not only do they survive, they bounce back with double the vigour, in double the numbers. I might have known this at an intellectual level at some point in my life, but it’s only now, when I see it unfolding before me, that I can even begin to appreciate it.

Adopted Miracles – My New Book

June 3, 2014

Adopted Miracles CoverSomebody asked me the other day whether it had now sunk in that I am an author twice over.

Let me tell you: It’s not like becoming a mother twice over. Of course you could ask what would I know about that, considering I became a mother to both my kids at the same time, them being twins. But still. It’s only a book, after all.

No, I don’t really mean it that way. A book is important. This particular book is particularly important. It’s an extremely personal narrative. You could say I have bared my heart in it. Perhaps, if you don’t mind an overly dramatic turn of phrase, you could even say I’ve bared my soul. I’ve talked about wanting to be a mother, about trying to be a mother, about failing to become a mother and about, eventually, adopting to become a mother. I’ve talked about wanting something so much it hurt and about not being able to have it and then about finding a way to it. It wasn’t an easy book to write. I hope it isn’t an easy book to read. It isn’t meant to be easy.

It is meant to reach out. It is meant to tell other people in a similar situation, you are not alone. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. And I’ve made it through. And so can you. If you are open to it, if you are honest with yourself and each other, you can make adoption work for you too. I don’t want to preach or persuade. I am not an activist for adoption. I only want to say, if you are considering adoption, here’s my story, to add to your consideration.

This book was written back in 2009, before I went back to work. It took me a couple of months to put it together. It took me a couple of years to find a publisher. In fact, I had all but given up, when things suddenly fell in place, thanks to my agent Kanishka Gupta, who actually got me a contract for this book in an incredibly short time.

After that, it’s taken a full two years for the book to hit the shelves. In the last couple of months, I was hearing “next week” or “end of the month” for quite a while. So by the time it was actually available online (I don’t know about bookstores; I don’t go to bookstores anymore unless it’s for a book launch or signings or something meaningful like that. 😛 ) there was more a sense of “oh, finally!” than “oh, wow!”

The “oh, wow!” factor comes from people who’ve read the book and got back to me. And here’s some of the things people have told me in writing.

Actually I was overwhelmed. On a number of levels:- Firstly, you went through all this!  Then you wrote about it all! It takes guts to share your innermost feelings with the world. Its probably easier to talk to strangers than it is to “let in” the people you know. Specially the negative thoughts and feelings one has. and how one deals or learns to deal with them. Then, the writing bit – was beautiful. It was almost like I was with you on the entire journey. Don’t know how you do it. Even with the travelogue, the words were graphic. Beautiful writing (even if its just me saying so) – if the reader is able to visualize what you write.  The last few sentences of the book – “the you are not my mother anyway” – was scary! Hits you in the gut! So, sharing your worst fears – hats off to you.  The details of the adoption bit, the legal details, the processes – great starting point for anyone interested in adoption. Last but not the least, great going on the adoption. Everyone loves their own. But to take someone else’s and make them your own – only few special kind can do it and do it well.

-Aparna Garg

I read the book today in 4 hrs (just got it today morning)! Hard to put it down, nice book for people who wish to adopt (or in general going through tough decisions). Very well written indeed and I know I am repeating myself, if is amazing how you express your feelings so well!

-Prakash Krishnamachari

Read the kindle version of the book written by your wife. Please share my compliments with your wife. She has written it very nicely. I rarely read books and especially drop many of them after reading few pages if I donot find it interesting, engaging and more importantly meaningful. However with this one it was a different case. I read it in one go 😊. By the way never knew that your champions are adopted. The thought never came in my mind that they look different ( learnt that such things happen after seeing a movie called skin and after meeting many families where kids do look different). I really liked the approach you both have taken with them. Mitali & I never see adoption the way most of Indians see. Probably It’s because we are staying outside India. Proud of you and your wife. Inspiring to see that you both are so open and in fact doing such a big service to the society by sharing your experience.  Touched indeed.

-Viswanath Kamat

I read Anamika’s book in two sittings. It’s well written. I felt as if she was sitting in front and talking to me. Do congratulate her from our side. It’s quite silly some of the questions people ask of parents who adopt. Here, adoption is more prevalent. I know of a handful of couples who adopted here, including our close friends and our lawyer, although in India I only know of you. I think Anamika broke a glass wall by writing this book. I can see many people wanting to talk to her and you about your experience.

-Siddharth Saran

And of course, nishitak has reviewed my book on her blog.

I treasure these lovely words – each one of them and the others that were told to me verbally and now live only in my memory. As a writer, I have confidence in my ability. I don’t need to look for external validation. I don’t need my readers to tell me I write well. I know I write well. But as an author, I do need to know from my readers if my book has touched them in any way. That’s not an ability that I can take for granted.

So, if you’ve read my latest – or even my previous – book and there’s anything you want to share, please write to me or post a comment. So far, I’m happy to say I’ve received mostly glowing reviews. But if you have any adverse comments, feel free to let me know. Those are the points of view that show me how to improve.

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