Saturday, September 15, 2007

Healing with the soil

It all started in June last year, when I was diagnosed with what they call clinical depression. Cheerful I was, with no textbook symptoms of sadness or darkness in life. Just an utter chaos of the mind (to the point of mental dysfunction!) and for once, all my frenzied actions to ‘save the world’ had to stop! Along with medication (after a lot of resistance, of course) and the love and care of family and friends, I began to heal. My therapist asked me “Is there something you always wanted to do, but never had the time for, that you think you might enjoy right now?” and I immediately replied “Yes, gardening!” Rajeev and I moved into his parents’ in Perambur, and I got started on planning my little garden in the backyard, which was then a garbage dump! Since it was already one, residents from all around were conveniently using it to fling in their garbage bags regularly.

Achamma (a family helper for many years), Pachai’s family and I together toiled whole days for about a month, digging four feet into the soil, sweating, getting dirty, clearing out stuff that didn’t belong there: rubble, plastics, leather, bottles and syringes (from my in-laws’ clinic). An amazing exercise in healing!

They initially felt awkward to see me working with them and tried to convince me to just sit and watch while they did the work. But they soon got comfortable with my being part of the work, and were effortlessly giving me instructions on proper lifting, carrying baands on the head, using the crowbar, etc. while sharing stories about their morning breakfast, upcoming family functions, gossip about relatives, their village farm, and so on.. It initially seemed like an impossible task to clear the area out, and recover as many things to be reused or recycled: whole and half bricks, clean plastics, metal, glass. About five lorry loads. And lo, clean soil to work on!

Now, Pachai’s dad advised me: “Pappa, ippo nee rendu lodu semmannum eruvum vaangi pottinna, mannu soopera aayidum. Chedinga ellam nalla soopera valarum.” (If you now throw in a couple of loads of red soil and manure, you will be all set for your gardening) Oh yes sure, I will be. But, that would mean robbing some other fertile land of its top soil and laying it bare, defeating the whole purpose of healing with the soil! I was determined to not bring in *any* soil from outside the place, and may be some cow dung manure from the local bullock-cart owner and milk man. And some fresh cow dung to inoculate bacteria to compost leaf litter from the existing guava tree, and fibre from the coconut trees. Thus, my experiment in soil building began.

Slowly, I brought in plants from nurseries and friends's gardens. Pomogranate, plantain, pepper, adathoda, cannas, rose, balsam, betel creeper, butterfly pea (sangu pushpam) and a few others. And with every passing day, especially after a shower, green spots would appear here and there. The birds were bringing in seeds from all over. As I just watched them grow into small plants, I learnt to identify them. Papaya, thuthi, silk cotton, castor, calotropis, thulasi, solanum torvum (sundaikkai), country fig (atthi) and other medicinal plants .... And within a couple of months, there were more than 80 varieties of plants on that small patch of soil. In a few months, nature's own wild garden was in full bloom!

With every day that the soil was healing, I was healing too. Getting rid of unwanted things - memories, belief systems - that did not belong in my being, growing more rooted, calmer and more patient, letting go and learning to simply flow with life.


reeni said...

*One day at a time*
I wish to be silent
The walls of the room my security
The tick of the clock my companion
The blank wall my imagination
Memories of bygone years
My inspiration.
I tread
With dread of the unknown tomorrow
Will I endure
Over the hazards in store?
Depressed, insecure
Lonely, I scurry to the
Sanctuary of the imaginary armour I have built
Like a rabbit to its burrow
A turtle to the refuge of its shell.
No intruder can enter
Its colourful with my dreams
Scented with pleasant memories.
Tossed and turned
I hold tight to my haven
To prevail
One day at a time


Kate said...

I am really touched by your process with your in-laws back yard, very inspirational!
I got your comment you left on my blog and it seems we have a lot in common, would be great to met up with you sometime.
My e-mail:

Vinod Sreedhar said...

Lovely post, Sangeetha.. it's inspiring me to stop thinking and to start working on my own garden plot right away. :)