My latest book is The One Who Swam With The Fishes.

"A mesmerizing account of the well-known story of Matsyagandha ... and her transformation from fisherman’s daughter to Satyavati, Santanu’s royal consort and the Mother/Progenitor of the Kuru clan." - Hindustan Times

"Themes of fate, morality and power overlay a subtle and essential feminism to make this lyrical book a must-read. If this is Madhavan’s first book in the Girls from the Mahabharata series, there is much to look forward to in the months to come." - Open Magazine

"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

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21 July 2011

My fingernails are caked with dirt

I've never been a person with much of a green thumb. Once, a former flatmate gave me a cactus. She had quite the collection herself, loads of plants all set out on her windowbox, growing green and beautiful and wild, and TC was unceremoniously kicked out of her room each time he went in, because, man, I love my cat, but he is a PAIN when it comes to plants. Or cut flowers. Or anything that is green that is not meant for him. Once, I gave him some greens, placed them by his bowl so he could have at it whenever he wanted, but he wasn't interested. Instead, he made a beeline for some roses someone had given me and spent the whole evening his face stuffed in the flowers, gnawing at the leaves. Even now, my houseplants bear the distinct Mark Of TC, the leaves are browning in bits where he's taken an experimental chew. It's good for him though, to have some roughage, since he's a housecat, so I don't stop him, but then, if they're other people's plants, it gets a bit much. ANYway, she gave me a cactus, which I liked very much and placed on my own windowsill, and you know cacti are hard to kill, right? But I killed it. It sprouted a couple of green things hopefully for the first month or two, but then decided to die, no doubt out of depression, and each time I went near it, it spat out thorns in my direction. That was a neurotic cactus. No kidding, once at a good five inches, nowhere NEAR the damn thing, I wound up with little thorns all over my fingers.

Anyway, that was the last time I aspired to keep plants for a long time. Then, one monsoon, my mother visited Bombay and bought me one of those sticks of bamboo you see everywhere, tall and twisty, and I put this in an empty vodka bottle with some water and waited. And waited. Nothing. The bamboo got a bit chewed by my cat, but once it stopped doing anything and just sat there pathetically, he lost interest. I was ready to give up on Mr Bamboo. I wasn't winning any Miss Green Thumb awards any time soon, but then I remembered an old trick of my mother's, to revive flagging flowers and popped it into the bathroom for a bit. I don't know whether it was the humidity or the fun of getting to see us naked, but the bamboo revived with great speed and even started to get new leaves and twists in its stem. (Trunk?) It grew so well, I even popped it into a plastic bag and carried it with me and cat to Delhi and now it sits, in an empty wine bottle on my windowsill, growing madly. MADLY.

Ennobled by my success, I bought a few more bamboo plants, but none of them did as well as the first, apart from drinking water rapidly, so much so that I have to top them up every couple of days. So they have roots and everything, but as for new leaves, they seem to be shy about it, putting out one a month and then waiting with this tiny, tender new leaf and nothing happening. Stupid plants.

Once I moved to the new place though, I decided I was going to be the girl with lots of plants. A CONSERVATORY even. I imagined loads of little plants everywhere, the air thick and green with them, sprouting little flowers, I even imagined fondly, snipping some flowers off and putting them in a vase for my table and everyone being all, "Oh, wow, where'd you get those flowers?" and I'd say, modestly, "I grew them." It was all very English countryside in my brain for a moment. My mother, like my previous flatmate, is a great plant lover, so most of the plants lined up on my study windowsill are courtesy her, and well, it's hit or miss. Some are dying really really rapidly, like the two succulents my parents brought me back from Ranikhet, which are in hanging pots and which, no matter how much I water and sunshine, don't seem to be going anywhere. Some are doing okay, like one green leafy shrub (TC's favourite for its chewy leaves) which, despite abuse, is putting out new leaves and being all twisty and obliging. Some just sit there, like a cactus like plant, which promised me a new shoot about three weeks ago and is still holding on to it. One, the gorgeous bonsai-esque tree thing that someone gave me for a housewarming present, is doing SO well, that I hold my breath each time I pass it, new flowers and everything.

So, I became that girl with the plants. Finally. When I was in Kerala last weekend, we happened to stop by a nursery and seeing the pretty new green things, I decided to pick up two for my flat. (Note: if you're flying a plant, they make you check it in, which means mine emerged a bit battered looking, despite the 'Fragile' tag I made them slap on). I got a jasmine plant, because come on, who doesn't love a jasmine, and I envision it flowering and filling the flat with its sweet, sweet scent and making garlands out of the buds (it only has one so far, and I'm watching hard to make sure it blooms.) And I bought one corresponding to my Malayali birth star, because they had a list of which tree was for which sign (it's a thing in Kerala, apparently) and I thought I'd get a kick out of it. My birth tree is a bit boring, the kumbil or beechwood, but it's nice to have something "lucky" in your house, right? I wish though, that it was the lemon tree, because nothing is cuter than little nimboos growing. In fact, I think I might get a little lemon plant, just for the fun of harvesting my own lime.

It's a nice hobby, gardening, even when a couple of your plants aren't doing spectacularly. I like watering them and pottering about seeing how they're doing, and something about nurturing things that aren't warm and fuzzy (which are the only things I've nurtured so far) is pretty rewarding in its own right. Hey, my cat's thriving, right? How hard can a plant be? (Don't answer that.)

UPDATE: Just got home after a Friday night out and found my jasmine plant abloom. Apologies for poor picture quality, it's off my cellphone.


  1. i had a lemon plant once, died within a i have a guava tree in my backyard,its been 10 years full of fruit.

  2. Nice! I have a little stretch of a garden. Yesterday I noticed Green fat and healthy Caterpillars chomping away at the Jasmine plant. The fellow was about 6 inches long and had metallic blue eyes!

    Uhh.. well, he's still there. Chomping away.


  3. I wanna see a pic of your greens, eM!

  4. I don't do gardening myself. But my mom loves it, and she left me some aloe vera which was pretty robust so it survived for the longest time till March, when we had a very bad sandstorm and the poor plant was thrown right off the sill and onto the concrete floor below. :(

  5. :D Your travails with plants?!
    My grandma has a greener thumb than most and our house is a semi-forest, you get it.
    Nice post.

  6. I bought this african violet when I moved in to my current apartment (no less than 3 years ago!) and it's still alive and I remember being so proud when I bought it and it started blooming... I reported about it to my mother like it was my first-born child's starting to walk or something. :o)) You know how it is ... I have enough trouble looking after myself!

    I've had quite a few hit-and-miss experiences with plants since (translation: many plants died) but, unsurprisingly, I've found that the plants which happily co-habit with me are the ones that normally grow in a desert, and therefore won't mind being neglected for the odd three weeks or so once in a while.

    African violets and little palm trees work best. I've killed lavender, orchids, bamboo and a bunch of other stuff I don't know the names of.

    It's nice having green stuff around you, doing their photosynthesis and generating fresh oxygen for your brain ...

    Wow, that was long.

  7. Wow, lovely post. The image of your cat chomping off leaves from your plants is priceless

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