We have a young girl from the hills to help out with the house keeping-perhaps in contravention to some labour laws-but a good home, a basic education and by her standards a handsome salary, keeps her seemingly happy in this alien environment. She goes about her jobs cheerfully, humming snatches of tunes initially unfamiliar folk songs-but increasingly these days bits from film hits.
She runs about her jobs, rarely walking, plays boisterously with my daughter, and watches DD all agog. Her daily fix is one mindless bollywood extravaganza-and days when DD dishes out ‘arty’ fame (we are out of the coils of the starry nets till date) her day is spoilt.
She is a vociferous critic of everything on the screen, and her appreciation as well as criticism and her running commentary on whatever is going on, is audible in every corner of my small flat. This combined with the turned on volume of the TV leads to considerable noise pollution. Admonitions have short term effect on the noise but long term effect on her exuberance, so we have learnt to live with it, for a short while every day. On all other pollutants however, she is a harsh critic and compares the air, water, vegetables and everything else in Delhi unfavourably with her ‘back home’
She is also sceptical of medicines and scoffs at our fears of the weather and physical exertions. This is not cold-that is not heavy-that is not hard work-that is just a short distance easily walk-able back home…is her regular theme.
There is one task that she does with great enthusiasm although it falls outside her jurisdiction that is tending to the miniature hanging garden in our courtyard. She has great contempt for the professional whose job it is to look after them and claims that she knows better. My wife, with her catalouge of Sutton seeds and do-it-yourself gardening manuals has a hard time implementing her wishes.
The biggest impediment is regarding weeding. She would not let any stray plants that have crept into our pots be uprooted. She usually claims that this one is medicinal-that one bears lovely flowers and that other is ‘Oh so green’. So we have a large border of wild flowers that my daughter loves and the mali sneers at. She also objects to pruning the shaggy shrubs and encroaching bougenvillae. And about uprooting flowering plants under the flimsy excuse that the season is over-she wouldn’t hear a word. But they are so green she exclaims. And they will bear flowers next year. The excuse that new plants would take their place broke no ice and her threat of taking the shears to the mali’s hair kept him off. Finally on her day off, the mali uprooted the entire lot and turned the soil in preparation of new seedlings.
The daughter of the hills returned the next day and her cheerful song was out short immediately on entering the yard. She came in with tears in her eyes and went about her duties in complete silence.
The tension was too much and my wife coaxed her out of the blues with promises that the new lot would never be uprooted, flower or now flower, weed or grass, and she would be in full charge.
She is now busy devising ways to keep off the birds & the harsh sun from the young seedlings & moves the pots thrice daily. Nursing them like a young mother, she recreates her little green haven in our concrete jungle.
Seeing her I understand what prompted her sisters to hug trees & face guns rather than lose their forest cover. This is how a Chipko is born.