Yesterday my grandchildren emotionally blackmailed me into organizing a bonfire. As we sat around the blaze sipping tea, I realized that the freezing evenings of yesterday had imperceptibly changed to chilly ones. I also saw the apple trees in my garden sprouting buds on their hither-to-fore bare branches. Having regretfully lost myself in the mad house of earning a living, I was mercifully jolted back into a world that had gradually begun to move backstage. I thank my Creator for pulling me up short from what would been a catastrophic development.
Now back on track, I am beset with what is referred to as ‘spring fever’. This is not a malady that requires the services of a physician, but is a euphoric state of mind that infects most of God’s living things (barring those, who have crossed the threshold and embarked on an unending pursuit of wealth). This particular fever is heralded by an imperceptible mellowing of the cold weather and the simultaneous appearance of buds on trees. Birds follow suit vigorously bursting into song with renewed energy as if making up for their relative silence throughout the freeze. Shrubs and spring seedlings, divested of the plastic sheets that kept frost at bay, explode into life and what appears to be yellowed dead turf, begins changing color to a characteristic green. Gardening enthusiasts like myself wait expectantly for the first spring flowers to bloom and are amply rewarded, when beds break out into a riot of color and form. The season also evokes nostalgic memories of years gone by, to the days when life and needs were simple – days, when we were children and spring was celebrated as it should be.
We were privileged to have a spacious garden in our family home and this privilege was multiplied by the fact that the famous Lawrence Gardens (now Bagh e Jinnah) was a mere minutes’ walk from us. Growing up in this environment was a blessing as we could watch the changing seasons in all their natural magnificence. Perhaps it was this connection that effected our way of life in more ways than one.
Spring activity generally centered round my grandparents – my maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother. The distinguished gentleman was the de facto head of the joint family. His retired life was ruled by two passions – his love of books and gardening. It was the latter that set our spring fever in motion.
A part of our compound had been set aside as a plant nursery and compost pit. As the cold dissipated, this old man would spend the entire day supervising his team of ‘malis’, transplanting home grown seedlings in beds and pots. It was under his direction that our lunch and Sunday breakfast venues would change from the dining room to the deep verandah that ran round the house. As if by magic his old age aches and pains vanished as he happily spent hours pottering around the garden. I once heard him mention that spring added years to his life.
My paternal grandmother welcomed this wonderful time of the year in the most traditional manner. She would open her old trunks and extract dresses with vibrant colors. She would take her annual trip to Anarkali and since her advanced age prevented her from walking, her maids (who had accompanied her on the hazard train ride to Lahore in 1947) would be dispatched to purchase her favorite ‘attars’. Miraculously enough, her authoritative behavior would miraculously disappear to disclose a lovable inner self.
We often noticed a change of behavior in our parents too. My otherwise shy and gentle mother would move around the house with a spring in her step filling rooms with cut blooms – always humming or singing old ditties to herself. The season also appeared to affect my father, who would start spending more time at home in company with us and his menagerie of pets.
We children, looked at spring in a different light. To us it meant a fortnight off from school (without homework), weekends in the country and a general relaxation of rules around the house. It also meant the arrival of ‘Taajan’ or Taj Bibi from her village on the banks of the Ravi. This wonderful lady’s family had been attached with us since our great grandmother’s days and in spite of the fact that they had moved up in life, this connection had not been severed out of their sheer graciousness. We looked forward to her seasonal visits because she came loaded with treasures – ‘sarson ka saag’ with corn bread and sweet ‘murunda’ made from rice and ‘jaggery’. As we spied her erect figure striding up our drive, we knew that spring had finally arrived.