Medini paced pensively in her garden.
She had her cell-phone earplugs jammed in her ears while her thinking music looped over and over. Head bowed she paced, now her steps rapid, now slow. Her feet kept in faultless sync with the movement and intensity of thoughts that tumbled over themselves in her head.
It was very early in the morning. She always liked to wake before dawn. To greet the morning sun was one of her biggest pleasures. No matter how disappointing the past day had been, no matter what the setbacks. The moment she saw the sun break through the horizon, she felt reborn. The dawn was a reminder to her not only of the untainted promise of life’s potential, but also of the worthiness of the struggle to realize that potential. She looked at the glory of each sunrise and reminded herself that it was not her job to wonder whether she was lauded for the efforts she made or not. The sun never waited for his audience to witness his spectacular performance. 80% of them didn’t bother even to turn up. Yet, he did what he had to do, day after day, one breathtakingly glorious dawn after another.
There was a patch of sunlight in one corner of the garden. She went and stood in the patch, bathed in sunshine. Strangely enough, today that simple act didn’t make her happy as it did everyday; she continued to feel somber. The things that made her happy everyday, were the very things that made her feel desperate and anxious today. Truly, it is not the world without that is the precursor of happiness, it is the world within that distils it into a sparkling gem.
She knew she was at a crossroad in her life. One way or another, she had to choose from the two options she had. The worst of it was, neither path made her very happy. It wasn’t as bad as the proverbial ‘devil and the deep blue sea’… but it was certainly ‘lukewarm coffee or lukewarm tea’. For a woman of her temperament, lukewarm was worse than a bad choice- it was no choice at all. She grimaced, her feet picking up the tempo from her thoughts.
“Good Morning Ma”, mumbled a sleepy voice behind her as a pair of soft arms went round her waist from behind.
All concerns forgotten in a moment, she turned around happily to embrace her son. He snuggled to her as her arms hugged him close. She kissed the top of his head and they stood together for a few minutes, his eyes closed, smiling in contentment. He was nine years old and he reached her chin already. Her heart filled up with gratitude as she looked down at his finely chiseled face. She turned her head towards the sun and smiled at him through misty eyes.
“Ma…!”, her son said suddenly in excitement disengaging himself impatiently from her arms.
“Hmmm..?” She blinked away her mistiness and smiled at him indulgently. “What have you remembered now…?”
“You said we’ll do some work in the garden today if I wake up early. Shall we start…?” His eyes were shining, imploring and cajoling. “I’ll brush my teeth and be back in a jiffy.” He was gone before she could say a word, taking her acquiescence for granted- forcing her hand. She grinned at his clever maneuvering realizing how easily he always managed to get what he wanted from her.
Within a few minutes he was back, carrying the hedge clippers and garden scissors. “Ma, I’ll be your assistant. Just tell me what you want me to do.”
He grinned up at her squinting his eyes and screwing up his face. The look in his eyes proclaimed his eagerness to start chopping indiscriminately.
“We’ll do the roses today beta”, she told him gently. “See, roses have very pointed thorns. I don’t want you to touch them at all. Later when we get some gloves, I’ll let you do them. Ok…?”
His face fell. “Oh…! Then what’ll I do…?” He pouted, peeved.
“You’ll be my assistant you said, didn’t you..? You hold the clippers and scissors for me while I untangle the stems. Then hand me whatever I ask for. I can’t hold the stem as well as the shears you know. I really need your help in this.”
“Oh ok then, I’ll help.” His grin was back… bigger than ever. She moved from one rose bush to another, untangling and trimming. He stood by his faced puckered in curious concentration. He winced each time he saw her hands pricked by the thorns, blood welling. When she accidentally let go of a thick stem and the stem sprang back impaling her thumb with its centimeter long thorn, he let out a yell. He got angry with her and told her to stop immediately. With some difficulty, Medini soothed him and went on with her trimming. She could almost hear the clicking of the questions were taking shape in his mind.
“Ma, can I ask you something..?” He said as she moved to the last rose bush.
“Of course beta. Ask away.”
“Why do roses have thorns..?”
“First tell me, do you like roses…?”
“Of course I do. They are so pretty with their different colors. And there are some which smell so sweet. But why are you asking me that..?”
“See beta, roses are so beautiful and fragrant. We love having them in our garden, don’t we?”
“Yes we do.”
“So they are precious to us, aren’t they..?”
“Something is precious when it is very valuable to you. Valuable not in how much it costs, but in how much it means to you. In how much you love it and want it to stay with you. We have other flowers in our garden, but just imagine how it would be if there were no roses..! We won’t like it at all, would we…?”
“Yes, it would be very bad. You know Ma, when I gave that bunch of yellow-orange-pink mixed color roses to my class teacher for her birthday, she was so pleased. She told me she liked my flowers the best- specially since they hadn’t been bought in the shop. If we had no roses, she wouldn’t have told me that na..?”
“Certainly she wouldn’t have. You know now what precious means, don’t you?”
“Yes I do.”
“When things are precious, we like to make sure they are safe, don’t we..? Like you lock your pocket money away in a safe place…?”
“Yes”, he nodded sagely.
“That is why roses have thorns. To protect them from cows and other animals from eating them.”
“Oh I see. But Ma, you just said roses are precious. Why are you cutting up the stems then…? Are they not precious to you..?”
“They are very precious to me beta. That is why I have to cut them.”
“But I don’t understand.”
“Yes I am sure you don’t. I will explain but first go and put the clippers and scissors back with the other tools and come back.” Medini straightened up. She was done with the last rose bush also.
In a trice, her son was back. She put her arm over his shoulder and they strolled round the garden together revisiting the newly trimmed roses.
“Roses need to be trimmed from time to time. If you don’t, their stems grow very long and they will run all over the garden. We don’t want thorny stems all over the garden, do we..?”
“Oh no, we surely don’t.”
“Yes, but that’s just one reason.” They had reached an old rose bush. It had a thick woody stem almost four inches in diameter. “You see this bush…?” She pointed at it.
“Yes Ma. This is the one that gives out deep pink roses in bunches, doesn’t it..? You remember how big the roses were last time…?”
“Yes they were big and fragrant, weren’t they..? See, in an old bush like this, the roots are deep and strong. They take a lot of nutrition from the soil and can feed the plant even when it has very long stems. You have studied it in science so you know how it works, don’t you..?” He nodded vigorously.
“When we trim the stems, the plant has excess food it has produced and no one to eat it. It cannot throw the food away like some people do. What it does then, is to produce bigger and more fragrant flowers. It also makes its stems stronger and the leaves bigger and brighter. In other words, the plant gains a lot of strength. It becomes very sturdy and is much more beautiful than before.”
“But Ma, you told me plants are living things too. Doesn’t it hurt them to be cut up like this..? It hurts us also na when we cut ourselves…?” He was full of concern for the tortured plant. She gave him a hug before continuing.
“You are right beta. When we trim the rose, it surely gets hurt. But after some time, the rose forgets the pain of trimming and becomes strong and healthy. This is called long term benefit. Don’t you think it is a good thing to do- even if it pains a little in the beginning…?”
“This is like the medicine you put on my wound when I fall down na Ma..? It burns to much, but then it helps the wound to heal faster, doesn’t it…?”
“Yes that’s exactly what it is. How clever of you to understand it so easily…!”
“Of course I am clever. After all I am your son…!” He grinned at her, pleased… and pleasing.
Medini smiled down at him and hugged his shoulders as he walked beside her. A companionable silence fell between them. She wasn’t surprised to realize hat she had found a solution for her current dilemma. She had found a third option in the conflict troubling her. She would neither let the rose bush run wild filling her life with thorns nor would she get exasperated and uproot the bush.
She would just trim the roses a little and help them to become sturdy and beautiful. She smiled.
Note: My children my muse for this story. I dedicate it to them.
Medini: Sanskrit for Earth.
Pic credits: My daughters. They go nuts with the camera when the roses bloom in the garden. 😀