Bonsai (lit. tray cultivation) is the Japanese art of growing trees in a small container. I had heard about this before, but had not really seen a plant in the flesh until I came to Shillong. Here there is a lot of interest in Bonsai and there is even a Bonsai society, which holds a show every year. Dr. Sandi Syiem, who as I have mentioned is a person of many talents and great inspiration, is one of the movers and shakers in the bonsai scene in Shillong and has a huge collection of plants. He says he began about 30 years ago and now he has more than 300 specimens. In fact, when we have visitors to Shillong, one of the tourist destinations is the San-Ker centre, the psychiatric hospital Dr. Sandi runs and where he keeps most of the plants.
I had the idea some time ago, that I should spend some time with Dr. Sandi as a means of personal encouragement and inspiration and knew that the only time that would be possible in his hyper-hectic schedule would be the time he spent in the garden. And so I began to go to San-Ker every Sunday morning, and spend 2-3 hours with him in the garden. And when I say garden, I do not mean a dull, pot infested empty space in front of the house. The garden of San-Ker is on the side of a hill, with a pond in the centre and huge Khasi pines all around. Often these were some of the most exciting times of my week as the warm embrace of nature would complement our conversations on life as we re-potted, trimmed, planted and shaped the specimens.
After a few weeks, Dr. Sandi suggested that I begin my own bonsai collection and so, I started with a sapling of a weeping fig (Ficus benjaminis). I always wondered what the allure of gardening was, but am now beginning to understand. I guess with anything in life, you need to actually start doing it to grasp what others talk about. And I always thought that Bonsai was a hobby that involved a lot of experience and talent - another misconception, I now realise. The front of our house now displays 5 specimens, and surprisingly, they are all doing quite well. Unlike my previous attempts at gardening!! I realise that the hotter climes of the rest of India may not allow this to be a long-term thing, but for the time being, I am thoroughly enjoying it!