To revert to one’s own childhood is to creep back in history only a little way. Better to leap and bound through the centuries, with the help of a mature education. Though as condescending gliberals like to say, each journey begins with little baby steps. To my mind, which is not gliberal I pray (“Pharisee! Pharisee!”) — childhood was not a little baby step, but a formative experience.
We need to keep alive, even through senility, the childhood of the world; for in the light of Eternity we will still be young in another million years. The awe and wonder, with which we all began, must somehow be renewed or recovered. With this, an unfolding sense of simultaneity in Time, as we proceed like snails, inscribing our route through all dimensions; perhaps drawing our own faces.
Upon the arrival of spring, as too the other seasons, my memory reverts to seasons past. Gardens have been in my mind much lately, and the gardens of my childhood uppermost. The miracle of them comes back to me, with the shade of an old gardener. This was under the mangos and darbelas (which flower in the rains); the bottle-squat baobabs and shimmering tamarinds; the purpled bauhinias and the undulating palms of the gardens and borders around “Nedous Hotel.” … Demolished, destroyed, nearly half a century ago, in obedience to the Rupee God.
And the sausage tree (Kigelia pinnata, from Africa; fruit sausages hanging from it). And the goldars (with the macaques in them), over a wall where I was never supposed to go.
Let us call this invisible man Muncie, for that was his name. I think he was the head gardener, tall in his turban; a friend of all children. He would give you the tour; he would put you to work, even if you were a white pasty-faced boy, with freckles. Like an august member of the British royal family, he would talk to his trees (but in Urdu); and they, keeping still, would listen, resuming their growth as he turned away. One might even overhear what he had told them. (“Shukria, shukria.”)
I say “invisible” because I think only children could see him. To adults he faded into the garden itself, a figure who called no attention to himself. He was always working.
The notion of that City of Gardens I touched on in a Thingpost the other day (here); of gardens, and the converging emblematic garden.
In the country we have farms; in the city we have gardens; or so it used to be. In the country we had gardens, too, but they melted into farms. In the city they melted into brick and joinery, shaded avenues and wandering lanes. For so it once was. From the gate of Eden we were told: each must now cultivate his garden.
Muncie showed me once two leaves. They were from the same deciduous tree, perhaps a badam or almond. He was a collector of colours. Instead of a photograph he had the thing itself. The older leaf was from the previous season: an unforgettable pinkish red. The fresh one was a waxen green. The two colours complemented strikingly: perfectly selected “from Allah’s palette.” Yet no one would ever notice, until across time they were brought together.
To see it whole, through all seasons, might be to see the tree that God sees. We only see a moment, a part of the unfolding. Perhaps that was what Muncie was explaining: for I think he was a holy man.