‘Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts.’ The words of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud might ring true for most, except Rakesh, a gardener at the Pitampura district park, for whom flowers are hard work. Rakesh, a recent migrant from Jhansi, is among the growing numbers of those employed as gardeners at Delhi’s parks, their labour mostly rendered invisible, even as the parks provide for a ‘restful’ experience for the others.
At ‘The Garden Underground’, a photography exhibition on gardens in India and the UK, currently on at the Jor Bagh metro station, a picture of Rakesh with his son, and another one of Vishwanath, who works at the Lodhi Gardens, stand out amid the otherwise soothing sights of gardens, and the plants, flowers and insects in them.
The garden is not always a calming space for workers like Rakesh. Juhi Saklani, one of the three photographers whose work has been showcased at the exhibition, has shot gardeners across three different parks in Delhi. She says that gardening brings pride and joy for the few who are employed as permanent labour. For others, working on a contractual basis, the sense of pride is missing. “While it was interesting to observe that the job of a gardener involves a different rhythm, and provides fulfilment in a way that other urban jobs don’t, there’s also the reality of contractual labour — young migrants, who work for no more than Rs 5,000-6,000 a month, do not have job security and other benefits,” says Saklani.
Other photographs at the show — a collaboration between British photographer Tony Clancy, Delhi-based Saklani and Bengaluru-based Arati Kumar Rao, and curated by Alka Pande — focus on the beauty of the gardens, a fast shrinking space in cities. Environmental photographer Kumar Rao’s pictures of the Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park in Jodhpur highlight the plant and insect species that are back in the garden after it was restored.
Clancy, who inherited his love of gardening from his father, and initiated the project with writer Anita Roy, says his work is a mix of the large, colourful, theatrical, and a more quiet and subtle style. On display are his arresting photographs and prints of flowers and insects.
The flowers are native to South America (nearly all plants in Britain were brought from other countries, says Clancy). Some of these flowers are small, a deep violet-blue colour, and last for just a day. Clancy’s handmade prints highlight the transient beauty of the delicate flora, and the imperfections of nature.
Do stop by for this one, it might inspire you to revisit some of Delhi’s many lovely gardens.