On the Night of the Old Gardener

On the night he died, the heavens opened and torrents of rain were released. The crops which had shriveled from a prolonged drought put out succulent shoots.

Whenever it rains, we remember him, our old gardener and friend.

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Das Thatha and his wife Packiamma moved down with us from the mountains to build a new life on a flat piece of land near Bodi.  After we finished the bore wells and gravity fed tanks, Das dug holes in the unforgiving clay and planted spindly saplings, each stretching up from its crumbling plastic bag. Year after year, Das shuffled along with his sun burnt hose and filled the little depressions around each tree. He would often talk to himself during those long hours.

“Here I am, a poor old man watering you trees, and what do you give me? Not even a little coconut or mango. You are just useless fellows who suck up all my water and refuse to bloom.”

The little saplings filled out as the seasons passed: the feminine curves of the Royal Palms, the green and yellow stripes of the bamboo, the rain trees with their powder puff flowers, the cassias with yellow butterflies in chains, red orange flamboyant blossoms burning across the canopy, copper pods bearing yellow panicles buzzing with bees, wispy peacock flowers, waxy plumerias with their sunny scent, jewel-toned cataracts of bougainvillea spilling over the fence.

And always after a big soaking rain, Das would emerge from his house smiling. He would raise both of his aching arms towards heaven.

“See what God has sent! Lumps and lumps of rain. Everything is so green. Das Thatha won’t have to water for a week. Maybe even two.”

This year the farmers in our taluk planted millet and beans in August, two months after the pokey Southwest Monsoon had set in. The millet spouted, a thousand points of dewy green, rising.

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A month went by. No rain. The soil’s moisture reserves waned. Another month. Half of the plants evaporated while the rest struggled to live for one more day. By October 15 when the Northeast Monsoon was supposed to set in, there was a small rain. Many farmers ploughed their failed crops under and replanted with green millet. Perhaps now the rains would be steady.

They weren’t.

All the other regions of the country were wet. The north faced deadly floods. India’s great rivers were in spate. The rice fields of the Cumbum valley were breaking records.. On November 15, a deep depression moved across our state from the Bay of Bengal bringing us hope. Soaking rain to the north in Pondicherry and south in Thirunelvelli For us in the middle, just a tease enough to wet the cheeks.

By now, two thirds of the crop had withered into a tan crisp. Though the weather channels kept saying 80% chance of rain, the clouds withheld their blessings.

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On the night of the 23rd November, exactly one year after Das’s passing, we were awakened by the pre-dawn hiss of rain on our trees. Water gushed from the spouts and slapped down upon the tiles of the courtyard.By morning, monsoon frogs were engaged in a massive neighborhood orgy. The little pools around each tree were brimming. The millet that had survived drunk in the rain. The crops had been saved.

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Emerging from our house, we could almost see old Das’s smile as he raised his arms to heaven.

“See what God has sent! Lumps and lumps of rain. Everything is so green. Das Thatha won’t have to water for a whole week. Maybe even two.”



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About the Author

Bruce DeJong

I am an Indian of American parentage who practices medicine in rural Tamil Nadu. After years of getting to know the local people, they have begun to open up their lives, allowing me to paint a portrait of their village one story at a time.

  • Jenna

    Another touching story. Reminded me viscerally of my years in India in the 1970s…waiting for the monsoon to start and bring relief to the dry, cracked earth.

  • Penny

    Das Thatha and Packiamma… legends! I’m sure you miss them terribly!

  • Carrie

    A beautiful homage to a dear friend.

  • radha

    My thatha died long ago before I was born but I always yearned for him to hold my hand. Now I hold my grand kids dearly so they don’t have to yearn for me! So Das thatha some are yearning for you still as good deeds that you have done make them still yearning for you!

    • Bruce DeJong

      Thanks for your comments about grandparenting and goodness, Radha.

  • Bob Granner

    Das is still a beautiful man who gave beautiful things to the world. He embodied and still embodies unconditional love. I’m so glad I knew him. . . and still know him.

  • Carol

    Das knew a little English – worked as a young man for a Brit?? On our first night in Kodai, years ago now, a cold and rainy night, Das came to our room and asked,”Shall Das make a little fire for Madam and Master?” We loved that man with his distinctive walk. I always said that if I saw him walking in front of me anywhere in the world, I would recognize him.
    Your tribute to him is so beautiful, Bruce.

  • Wayne

    My, what a wonderful communicator you are, Bruce. Thank you!