Satire | Leave the potted plant alone

I have nothing but affection for plants but I like it when gifts are non-living

December 01, 2023 10:20 am | Updated 10:20 am IST

I got a green plant with tiny leaves, chubby like a baby’s fingers, as a return gift.

I got a green plant with tiny leaves, chubby like a baby’s fingers, as a return gift. | Photo Credit: Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar

Just because you like someone doesn’t mean you want them to move in with you and share your living space. Or that you want to take care of all their physical needs for the rest of their life. I mean, even the biggest fans of Akshay Kumar wouldn’t want him hanging out in (or out of) their living room for all time to come. So, if no one in their right minds would give Akshay Kumar as a return gift, then why give your guests potted plants?

I was at a birthday party some days back. The food was delicious, the conversation was scintillating, and I had a great time until I was about to leave, and got handed a return gift — a black pot of brown mud. I was puzzled, and looked closer, and there it was: a green plant with five tiny leaves — chubby like a baby’s fingers. It seemed like it was still missing its Mamma. I wanted to return it immediately, but Wife whispered to me it was bad manners to return a return gift. So we took it home.

I personally have nothing but affection for plants. But I know very little about them — no more than what I studied in Class III. I know, for instance, that their cooking technique is called photosynthesis and that they use sunflower oil. People praise them for giving us oxygen — but so did our government during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, people tend to forget that in exchange for oxygen, they take our carbon dioxide. So they are not doing us any favours — it’s just their trade policy. Like India and China. We have massive trade going on where both get what they want, but here’s my point: let’s respect the LAC, ok? No encroachments. I don’t like plants as return gifts because I don’t want botanical strangers invading my living space.

This column is a satirical take on life and society.

Can I eat it?

I like it when gifts are non-living things, preferably edible ones. They have two advantages: one, you can eat them if you are hungry or have a deadline, which is pretty much all the time in my case; two, you only have to take care of them until you eat them, because after you eat them, your digestive system takes care of them.

There are, if you think about it, plenty of edible plants — magic mushrooms, for instance. Or grass, which can be consumed even through inhalation. But for some reason, no one gives these as return gifts. The popular choice in Delhi is an indoor plant called Snake’s Tongue, which I’m told will protect you from both air pollution and your mother-in-law.

But obviously, it’s all propaganda. The powerful potted plant lobby has brainwashed people into thinking of carbon-based life forms as gift items. Sure, there may be scientific evidence that indoor plants purify the air, but that’s for normal levels of pollution. They are useless in a place like Delhi, where people fire celebratory gun shots when air quality ‘improves’ from ‘how are you still alive?’ to ‘very poor’.

Anyway, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with the baby plant sitting in our living room. Would it die if I moved it outdoors? How much should I water it? What if it attracts spiders and scorpions?

I’m against tobacco

Wife suggested we’d be more likely to find some answers once we identify the plant. But I had no clue, and neither did she. So we did an image search, and according to Google, we were looking at Nicotiana alata, an ornamental plant also known as ‘sweet tobacco’. It was known to produce a ‘lovely fragrance evening to night’. Wife was excited to learn that in Iran, it was used to produce a special kind of tobacco used in hookahs. Kattabomman was even more excited to learn that its light requirements were “sun to partial shade”.

“Papa, if I take it to sun in the morning, will you bring it back inside by noon?”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I have better things to do than chauffeur around a potted plant.”

“It’s just from this room to that balcony!”

I shook my head. “It’s a matter of principle.”

“What principle?” Wife wanted to know.

“I’m against tobacco.”

So Katta has assumed full parental responsibilities — watering it, tinkering with its soil, checking the sapling’s diet and height every 20 minutes. A pity, therefore, that Ms. Nicotiana is going to break little Katta’s heart. I can see it happening — a bit taller, a couple more leaves, and it will be the perfect return gift.

The author of this satire, is Social Affairs Editor, ‘The Hindu’.

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