It gives me much pleasure and pride to see the saplings that I planted all those years ago bloom into full-fledged trees and plants. I feel I am doing my bit to nurture one of the only remaining green spaces in the city. See those two ammachi plavus [jackfruit trees] near the monkey exhibit? I planted them some 28 years ago when I first started work here at the Museum grounds as a gardener.
I’ve always had a green thumb and after quitting my studies when I was in class nine, I started working here. Working on the Museum grounds in those days was tough and physically taxing. For example, there was no hose to water the plants then. We had to trek all over the place carrying water-cans. We also had to sweep the leaves off the walkways and dispose off the garbage before tending to the plants. This was the time before lawnmowers helped ease the job. In those days we had to squat and physically cut the grass with a sickle. Nowadays, we gardeners – there are some 58 of us –are only responsible for tending to the plants and we have much more facilities that help with the gardening such as hose pipes and a sprinkler system for the lawn.
I learnt to tend to different kinds of plants and trees, indigenous and exotic, on the job. Our supervisors used to show us how to pot the plants with the right mixture of river sand and compost. We had to water the saplings twice a day for a week after planting and then once a day until they thrived.
One of the highlights of the job is pruning Philanthus bushes into different shapes. Only the most creative and most skilled of gardeners can do it. Currently, we have trimmed the bushes to resemble the emblem of the state. It always draws many visitors. As the head gardener, nowadays, I don’t have to do as much physical labour as earlier. These days I have more of a supervisory role even though I enjoy the feel of soil in my hands.
At home in Vattiyoorkavu too, where I live with my wife and two sons, both of who are drivers, I have a small garden where I grow flowers. I am 54 now. I hope that I can continue doing this for years to come.
(A weekly column on the men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)