Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Nature's graffiti

Recently my garden was thick with weeds and grass. So I invited some cows in to eat them.

The two cows were grazing just outside the gate. When I asked the boy who was overseeing them if they would eat my weeds instead – please, I added - he laughed and led them into the garden.

Predictably, perhaps, the two cows lunged for the nice flowering plants. I cried out, the boy shouted. The cows wouldn’t budge. Stolidly they chomped away at the round leaves of a small tree that in season has beautiful purple flowers. Finally one cow was led out of the garden in disgrace. The other, a rope round its neck, I coaxed into tasting some of the weeds. She nibbled at them delicately. To my relief, she seemed to like them.

I was thrilled. I began to make plans to go house to house, inviting the villagers to send their cows into my garden for a feast. I imagined disciplined cows nibbling away at the weeds, giving me the most beautiful weed-free garden ever. Never again would I have to depend on Babuli (aka the village idiot) to do the job badly. And then, just as I was wondering why nobody had ever thought to employ the cow in such a useful activity, the cow in my garden stopped eating.

Maybe she’ll like that, I told the boy, pointing at another clump of fresh weeds that had tiny purple flowers.

The cow turned to my hibiscus and began to eat it. I wanted, like AA Milne, to tell her: Weeds are flowers too, you know, once you get to know them.

But no. The cow was simply not interested in getting better acquainted with my weeds.

Later, while I was counting the number of good plants that Babuli had uprooted along with the weeds, I wondered what purpose a weed could possibly serve in nature’s grand pattern.

Weeds, I found, are not so much villains as simply plants whom no one loves. You call a plant a weed when it is growing where it is not wanted. Basically, a plant that’s in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I’m told that tobacco was once called the noxious weed. Some garden flowers, likewise, were born as common weeds till someone noticed how pretty they were and cultivated them for the garden (something like My Fair Lady, I imagine, only without all the song and dance). And cannabis, of course, is still called “the weed” though any die-hard smoker will tell you it ought to be "the crop". There are other good weeds, weeds that have healing properties. There are even some that are edible. In the monsoons I’ve noticed people here searching for these. One such weed has large heart-shaped leaves and is supposed to be very tasty.

The problem with most weeds is that you dare not be kind to them. Give them an inch and they'll soon want the whole garden.

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