For many years, my tiny curry patta tree grew in a pot, hidden from public view in a lonely corner of my garden in my home in Noida. It was about 3 feet in height and would grow just about enough leaves for us to temper our curd, chutney and sambar on the occasional day in the week or fortnight when we decided to have some dosa or uttapam.
I wondered why the tree never grew big or lush. The pot was big enough, I reasoned, but it never really grew beyond its standard 3 feet height. Then, one day, I asked the mali to transplant it into another corner of the garden where there was abundant sunlight. But this spot was in full view of all who passed by on the busy main road in front of the house: a road that saw commuters of every hue walk, drive or cycle past the house―rich and poor, maids and memsahibs, bhaiyyas and businessmen in equal number.
It grew fast, and shot up steadily. By now, it was visible to everyone going past the house. And so we had people ringing the bell at our gate at all hours of the day, including through the afternoon for curry patta. We gladly obliged. Some would sneak in and dart out with a handful of curry patta twigs and leaves, so quick to depart that they wouldn’t shut the gate in their haste to depart unnoticed. We never stop them, only request them to ring the bell and shut the gate, the next time they decided to drop by. They don’t know that we are usually sitting just inside the house, also feasting our eyes on its green, green branches.
On another day, I was out in the garden when a snazzy car stopped just beyond the gate and a lady emerged, dressed up in a beautiful south silk saree, obviously on her way to an Indian wedding. I was a bit puzzled. Had she stopped by to ask me the way to their destination. She came closer and asked me for some curry patta. I gladly obliged with a smile on my face.
We also come to know just when people in the neighbourhood are planning to eat sambar and dosa for lunch. That’s the day they usually come calling for some curry patta. Strangers stop by and pluck the leaves in hordes, saving it for some meals to come. I tell them, ‘Take it fresh when you next drive past the house. Why use it when it’s stale or dry when it is available in plenty?’
I will confess that in the early days of its replanting, I hadn’t always been so generous. Some selfish streak would overpower me at times, and I would tell someone who did not seem to stop plucking, ‘Arre Bhaiyya, kuch hamare liye bhi rak do’. But now, I have overcome that. Let people take as much as they want. My curry patta tree will grow back its leaves, more lush and abundant.
Every year, its seeds fall in abundance and some sprout into mini plants. The mali lets them grow a bit bigger and then we replant them into small pots which I gift away. That’s an annual ritual. It feels good to later learn that many people are tempering their breakfast, lunch and dinner with their own fully grown curry patta plants.
I have learnt some great life lessons in the process of nurturing my special tree—that the more I share the rich green leaves of my curry patta tree, the more generously it sprouts its leaves. My tree now rises up majestically beyond even the railings of our terrace, to its full height of at least 16 feet, its green branches inviting everyone to stop by and partake of her bounty.
The tree dances merrily in the wind, swaying to the melodious sounds of my windchime, its leaves keeping us shaded from passersby on the road, till dusk deepens its shadows. That’s when it is time to switch on the lights inside the house and draw our curtains.
Free from plucking hands, the curry patta tree looks exquisite in the starry night, as the wind chime serenades her when a gust of wind sweeps across the garden.
Reena Singh has more than 37 years’ experience in senior editorial positions in The Times of India (TOI) and Genpact. She was Deputy Editor with TOI’s spiritual newspaper, The Speaking Tree, where she spent nine years.