THE TULIPS

A picture of two tulips from our garden

Icall it my humble abode — my cottage with its
sprawling garden. Some people say it is rich — with
Nature’s bounty. For me, nature is a part of my being;
I have now grown with it.
I had built this house as a holiday home soon realised
that I belonged here and decided to spend the rest of my
life here with my wife, Shantha, and my mother.
The bus honked in the neighbourhood and I knew it
was 9 am. I hurried out to wave at the children in the
bus. It was routine. All the 6 days of the week, I went
out to just wave and look at those smiling faces.
It was also a routine for my mother to call out,
“Raghu, switch on the heater. I am late for my bath.”
Without looking at the watch, I could tell that the time
was 9.02 am and the bus passed the house at 9.05 am. I
also knew what Shantha and mother were saying — this
conversation has gone on for years!
Shantha: “Amma, he is
waiting for the bus.”
Mother: “He does this
everyday. Doesn’t he
know I am getting late
for my bath?”
It is really surprising
how I have patterned
my life. I know my day
even before I get out of
the bed and can time my
activities precisely.
I have abandoned the
use of a watch. I know the
milkman comes at 6.00 am
and the school-bus at 9 am.
Vasu — my neighbour —
comes everyday at 11 am to
collect the newspaper from
me.
At noon, the postman rings
his bicycle bell even if there is no letter for me. Lunch is
at 1.00 pm and Prema, the flower-girl, comes at 3.00 pm
to sell flowers. The school-bus brings the children back
at 3.30 pm.
Rekha, Vasu’s wife, comes everyday at 4.30 pm, to
return the newspaper, just when Shantha is giving me
coffee. Vasu’s grandson, Chintu, comes at 5.30 pm and
again Vasu comes at 6.30 pm for our customary walk to
the temple.
At 8.00 pm, Shantha switches on the TV for news and
at 8.30 we have dinner, after which Shantha watches
some programmes till 10.00 pm. I read for some time
and then go to sleep at 10.30 pm. I wake up at the 6
o’clock bell by the milkman and the same routine starts
all over again.
Now I was so much habituated
that, even if Prema —
the flower girl — did not
ring the bell at 3.00 pm, I
opened the door! So much
for hating routine in my
youth!
Indeed, I would tell
Shantha, “If I know what I
would do for the entire day, then
life would be so monotonous. Life will
no longer hold any surprises.”
These lines were a refrain. Today, it was
my reality. So I decided to break the monotony.
I not only knew what I would do today,
but also knew what I would do this entire
week and, perhaps, the entire year. I had already
done this for the past 10 years!
Suddenly, I felt tired and before I knew it, I was
thinking of breaking the routine. I went up to
Shantha and said, “Why don’t you switch on the
heater for amma?”
“OK,” she said, and I felt happy

because I thought it was so easy to change everything. I
was walking to the garden but, before I knew it, I was in
the bathroom and had switched on the heater. I couldn’t
believe it!
Here I was — wanting to break my monotony — but
my actions did not let me break it. I was angry with
myself and off I went to the garden and started to shovel,
vowing that everything would be different from then
on.
I skipped my 9.30 am breakfast to start with. I had
another coffee instead. Then, leaving aside all other
activities, I decided to devote my entire morning to the
garden.
I work very hard to keep my garden in shape. Some
people called me “Garden Uncle” because of my love for
gardening. I had the right plants to flower in the right
seasons. People thought I had a gift.
Vasu often said, “Your hands are magic.” Sometimes
he would request me to plant seeds in his garden
because he believed in my magical hands more than
manure!
never believed him. All I knew
was that I worked very hard in my garden.
Plants amazed me and the little mysteries
in them brought me joy. The colours
and the patterns of petals puzzled me. At
any given point, I could tell the number of
buds, flowers, half-blooms in each plant. I
hated it if someone plucked even one
flower.
I suddenly realised Shantha was standing
near me. “Vasu is here.” she said.
“OK. It’s 11.00 am,” I thought.
“He wants the newspaper. Shall I give it?” she asked.
“Why do you ask? It has been our tradition to give
him the newspaper,” I said with a touch of sarcasm.
“I asked you because you still haven’t read it today.”
“Just give it to him so that he leaves and, yes, I don’t
want to see him — at least not now,” I said.
I was surprised with myself when I said that. Vasu
was the only one I could talk to and yet I did not want
to see him. I did not know why.
I sat in my garden-chair, deep in thought. I could not
understand why I was acting different — I wanted to
break routine and I did not want to see my only friend.
This was crazy!
A bird’s dropping fell on my head and, as if like a
thunderbolt, I knew the reason: My pride! And, right
now, it was hanging in a delicate balance in my storeroom,
where I now had a few tulip bulbs.
A few weeks ago, Vasu’s son-in-law Girish had come
to see me. “Uncle, I was in Amsterdam, last week,” he
said, “and I couldn’t help thinking of you. I bought you
I
a couple of bulbs.” He handed me a packet.
I was pleased, no doubt, and I liked tulips. Years ago,
I had wanted to have them in my garden but had to give
up the idea. “But, Giri, they can’t be grown here. The
conditions here are too severe,” I said.
“Vasu appa says that you have magic — so, what are
tulips for you? I am sure, they will flower uncle. Try to
grow them inside the house,” he said.
So, I decided to take up the challenge. I thought long
and hard and finally came up with a brilliant idea.
I had some specially-treated soil in the garden. I collected
the soil in a pot and carried it to my store-room.
This is a separate room which we built after we realised
we had too many things that we did not want. In the
store-room, mostly away from direct sunlight, a window
opening to the west allowed mild sun-rays into the
room. So, this room is quite cool.
Here, I planned to grow my tulips. Shantha helped
me take particular care of the tulips. In the evenings, she
moved the pot slightly, so that it received some direct
sunlight. Over all, we were eagerly waiting for the tulips
to bloom.
True to expectations, after 2 weeks, the
bulbs had sprouted and we could now see
the green leaves. All of us had rejoiced at
this and Vasu had remarked, “Didn’t I tell
you, Raghu? You don’t believe me. I know
you better than you know yourself. Like I
tell Rekha always, God gives special gifts
when He doesn’t give something else.”
Vasu even went to the extent of calling
up Girish to give him the news. But that
was it. 6 weeks had passed without any
flowering and every day Vasu would ask, “Any tulips?”
A week ago, I had noticed some leaves growing pale.
I told Vasu that they may not flower after all; they may
die. At this, Vasu said, “You can’t give up hope.” Now I
was pinning my hopes on the bulbs and I was now
scared to even look at the pot.
f it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen,” I had told
Shantha on and off in my youth. Shantha was then a
struggling writer and she wrote diligently. “So what, if
they don’t publish them? Doesn’t mean you don’t write
well,” I would console her.
Now, 25 years later, I could almost hear Shantha’s
voice telling me, “Just because the tulips didn’t bloom, it
does not in any way mean that you have lost the magic.”
But, I never believed that my hands had magic. I
believed in hard work. But a voice came cracking from
within and I shamefully accepted that I too had believed
in magic — just as I had believed in hope.
Now, Shantha had given up writing. She busied herself
in her chores and I had also given up hope — hope

of bearing children. “So, after all, I don’t
have any magic,” I wanted to shout and
anger was flooding in my veins. I was suddenly
surprised because I had lived with
the reality for so many years.
The postman rang this bicycle bell. I did
not have to follow routine to know the
time. I decided to go and have a bath.
After a hearty lunch, I sat near the window
overlooking the road. I saw everybody
doing his duty: Ramu, the shopkeeper,
sat in his shop while his wife was engrossed in some
local gossip with another woman. Dhinu, the plumber,
sat on the pavement waiting for a customer, smoking his
beedi. The little girl with her aluminium bowl went door
to door, begging. And here I was — wanting to break
monotony!
hantha looked at me enquiringly and placed her
hand on my shoulder. “Check on the tulips, it will do
you good,” she said and was gone.
Why and how did she know that the tulips were
bothering me? Somehow, she had a way of knowing
everything and she could always tell what was on my
mind.
Prema came with the flowers and, then, the schoolbus
honked in a distance but I didn’t answer the calls. I
S
sat with a book while my mind travelled
back and forth in time. At 4.00 pm,
Shantha asked me again if I had checked
on the bulbs. I said, “No.”
“I think you should,” she said with a
smile.
I sat there thinking. “Have they …?” I
wondered as, slowly, I got up. My heart
was thumping. My hands were trembling.
“Please, let there be something… This
means so much to me,” I prayed for a
moment.
I walked up to the store-room and opened it. Staring
at the window was a tiny bud! I hurried closer and
looked and it was indeed a bud… and there was another
one hiding between 2 leaves.
“Shantha,” I called out. She was standing at the door,
smiling. I knew and she knew what it meant — this was
our child. “I have to tell Vasu and so I am going now.” I
said putting on my slippers and giving a pregnant smile.
I pulled away from Shantha to fight back my tears. “I
have broken enough monotony and so I can break one
more!”
Now I suddenly knew that I missed Vasu, the postman,
Prema, the school-bus — everybody. And, I knew
one more thing — though my life had a pattern, I loved
the people in the pattern. ■

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