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We had a narrow lane between our house and the opposite neighbor’s. This lane separated a series of eight houses which were built in two lines. Our home was in the corner of two crossing lanes. The houses were so close we could hear and see each other’s activities. After a few months of staying in the locality it felt like living in a big family who lived in adjacent homes. Often the neighbors would join us during the dinner as they loved my mother’s cooking. Sometimes they would bring their served meal plate just to accompany us. I wouldn’t understand much of the conversations they would make while we ate. But the food they brought was always delicious. In later years, I understood the literal meaning of one of the popular Telugu proverbs – neighbor’s side dish is always tastier.
We were not introduced to television yet though we heard the Zamindar of the village had a device which had side sliding doors but no one would dare to go to their home. The main entertainment for all of us was a radio. People would listen to it with interest not only during the time of songs played but also to shruthi natika – an audio drama which would air around 8:30 every night. I would wonder how the artists would perform to those compositions if it was a visual presentation. They would play interesting background scores according to the theme of the drama. The most memorable story was Pururava – a tragic tale of a beautiful apsara called Urvashi and a handsome king who was a skilled warrior, Pururava. A story that leads to Mahabharata in Hindu mythology which made me curious to read the rest and which in turn created a great interest in book reading. As the drama became a hit, the same natika was aired a few more times. I would go to sleep listening to one of these dramas and would never stay awake to the end.
We had a new teacher appointed in our school who was transferred to our village along with his family. He was a good teacher, and would teach us in practical for environmental science and maths. There were only two teachers who would cover all subjects for our class. We would listen to him curiously as he showed little experiments such as making a string phone or sometimes he would ask us to give our observations about plants we saw around, or a balance to measure weight at local vendors and other stuff. Little did we know that it would get more complicated as we were promoted to higher grades. He would get us engaged in various activities often and would make us identify the results. There would be a conclusion at the end of every project about how these projects were related to our real life. Although we have built our careers now in different professions, he created a special interest for many of us in science. We were often given a task to plant trees or water them. This was a rotational activity among various classes to make children aware of their environmental importance. Occasionally we would plant seeds within the school compound. I would grab a few seeds to plant at my home to see them grow with amazement.
I could remember my first pole bean seed plantation project where I put them in a broken clay pot filled with a rich organic soil material. I would wake up in the morning with a lot of excitement to see if there was a seedling. The day it germinated and came out of the soil green, faced down and bent humble made me feel successful. I would water the plant after school to let it grow and climb our palm leaf house roof. I would watch it grow, everyday measure it with my eyes and dream one day it would multiply the seeds so I could plant more. I would tell stories to my friends about the growth, the blooming flowers and how long it would take to harvest. I would ask them to visit our home particularly to see the climbing plants and to take a look of my efforts. My mother would smile at me seeing me excited to collect as soon as the bean pods were full and swollen. I remember the memorable treat to my taste senses when my mother had them cooked, and we all enjoyed the meal.
I would often fall in love with the plants I planted and would take special care of them. The hobby of growing plants at home continued wherever we went in the subsequent years. My sister and I together put in efforts regularly to grow a small backyard garden in our native place that is still green and well maintained by my mother. We learnt how much difference it make to be involved in gardening. Well, an hour a day in the garden would make me feel energized.
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