By Sunanda Jain, 79, Chandigarh
The word ‘bonsai’ means a plant or plants growing in a shallow pot. The plant and the container blend together. Grown in an artistic manner following strict rules about styles and proportions, a bonsai looks like a grown tree in miniature, happy and expressive. The art of creating bonsai started in China and then Japan in the 10th and 11th centuries and came much later to the West and then to India.
I have always felt that, in one’s twilight zone, one should have hobbies with a therapeutic value. The children have grown and have gone away and do not have enough time for parents. I was married to an Army officer. In those days, the young officers were moving out from one station to another or to field area in the mountains or remote barren or borders.
So the family was never settled in the earlier years, and the wife often had to stay alone in a separate accommodation with the children away from cities. There were no TVs, no telephones, and mobiles in my time. Most of us had no transport either. So from the beginning, I had to have resources of my own to fall back upon.
After my husband retired, we settled down in Chandigarh, which is a haven for older people. I was always fond of gardening, reading, playing bridge, theatre and music. Chandigarh had all. I looked after my garden in the morning. Afternoons, I played bridge and went for National Tournaments to the major cities of our country, and in the evenings to the music programmes or plays at the Tagore Theatre.
Old age has never been boring.
There was a cacti and bonsai society here that used to have annual shows. Our house does not get enough sun for cacti, so I tried bonsai. I bought plants and pots, bought or borrowed books from the library and was fully involved in my new hobby. I used to take my driver early morning, make him climb big trees and cut mature sides!
One such pilkhan side, which I had cut from the mother tree, took one year to throw a single one tiny root in the ground. My gardener could not believe it, and my delight in this miracle was unbound! Today, it is more than 50 years old, if you count the age of the mother tree, with lovely root formation. My bargad tree is equally old and has thrown aerial roots.
Bonsai is a hobby of love and constant vigil. You have to buy baby plants; learn to pot them in soil prepared with bonemeal, NPK, sand and manure; prune the branches, wire them and re-pot them. I cried when I lost a plant because I had not mastered the correct care and had made the wrong mixture, or maybe I had not put it in the shade after I had created it, or not watered it adequately and the roots had wilted.
Bonsai has taught me to value life. It is a gift that nature has given to human beings. All the finer arts have no discord anywhere: they fill you with peace and give you a positive attitude full of hope and wonder at nature’s bounty. You learn to love everything beautiful.