They are devoted to their miniature plants and say working with them is like meditation. Bonsai enthusiasts show off their precious collection to Pankaja Srinivasan
“I can move the trees whenever and wherever I want,” says the diminutive Srivalli Krishnaswamy. Someone has asked her why she likes bonsai so much, especially since she has a sprawling garden. She is vice president of the Coimbatore Bonsai Club that was started in 1984 and has around 30 members.
The active members are around 20 and they are organising a bonsai exhibition in the city. Sabitha Chandran, club secretary, says they have planned the exhibition in order to share information about this ‘art form'. She along with the others will display the best of their collection.
It goes without saying that all the members are avid gardeners. Most of them have nice big gardens with a profusion of plants and trees. Sabitha points to her old banyan in a flower pot. “I got interested in bonsai long ago, but it is only after we formed the club that I have been going about it in the proper way.”
What does she have to say about the naysayers who condemn bonsai as an unnatural practice where plants are not allowed to grow to their full potential and are stunted deliberately? To that, Sabitha responds, “But, that is a matter of opinion. Don't people prune branches that overhang, trim the hedges and sometimes cut off entire trees?”
Vidya Jayaraman, club president, is positively maternal about her bonsais. She has nurtured them and fussed over them for more than 15 years now. Flowering trees, fruit trees, an entire miniature ficus forest, and a grand Brazilian Raintree are some of her prized possessions.
In the corner of a narrow lane, off Cross Cut Road, is the Nahar household where Pushpa and her daughter-in-law Swetha work tirelessly amidst their collection. Arranged in tiers, on benches, and bordering their big garden, hundreds of bonsai plants (with perfectly formed fruits hanging off mini branches on some of them) are tended to with single-minded devotion.
“I forget my health problems, stress, everything when I am with my bonsais,” says Pushpa. Swetha is an enthusiast too, and they both joke about how their shared passion leaves them with no time for differences!
Uday Chandran's father used to collect and grow bonsai, he says. Now, for the last seven years, he has taken it up seriously. “Turning older plants into bonsais is something I love. I enjoy the challenge of training them into miniature size,” he says. Uday Chandran has around 130 bonsais, including a couple of 42-year-old banyans that will also be on display at the exhibition.
The Bonsai exhibition will be on at Jayams Hall, Race Course, Wednesday and Thursday, between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Those wanting to know more will get a chance to interact and learn from the members of the Bonsai club. There will also be a sale of bonsai plants and pots.
Nalini Khona is the founder-member of the Coimbatore chapter of the Bonsai club, and is acknowledged to be the driving force behind the club when it started. An active member of the Indo Japanese Bonsai Association in Mumbai, started by Nikunj and Jyothi Parekh, Nalini owned hundreds of bonsai in her large property. At the moment, as she lives in a flat, her brother takes care of her collection.
The club has, over the years, invited experts from Japan, Korea, Indonesia and America to train members in new methods and share more tips with them. Like Nalini, another friend and mentor to the Coimbatore club is M. Ponnuswami. Besides having a huge collection himself, he is always at hand when other bonsai owners need help and advice about their plants.
All about Bonsai
According to Wikipedia, Bonsai derives from the Japanese words Bon (a low-sided pot) and Sai (sapling). Some plants date back a thousand years. Bonsai uses cultivation techniques like pruning, root reduction, potting, defoliation and grafting to produce small trees that mimic the shape and style of mature, full-size trees.
Almost any plant, with a few exceptions, can be made into a bonsai. They are graded into small, medium, large and very large (four to six feet). They should not be overfed or over-watered, and need sunshine. They should be replanted every two years. Enthusiasts use driftwood and rocks to enhance their aesthetic appeal.