What: After My Garden Grows (2014)
Direction: Megan Mylan
Plot: A young village girl starts a vegetable patch on the roof of her house, which enables her to exert control over her life and empowers her to make choices
How can a patch of vegetables change a life? In After My Garden Grows, Oscar-winning director Megan Mylan shows us. The short documentary tells us the story of Monika Barman, a thoughtful, spirited, 16-year-old girl who lives in Cooch Behar, West Bengal. Monika’s family is poor. Her sister was married off at a very young age; we are told that she is now sick. Their father is eager to find a suitor for Monika. There are conversations about possible grooms — one eats well, another owns land. After all, the father reasons, a girl isn’t something you keep at home.
Almost half of India’s girls are married before they turn 18. But Monika refuses to follow the script. Instead, she becomes one of 40,000 girls participating in a micro-agriculture programme launched in 2011 by the government of West Bengal and non-profit organisation Landesa. The pilot programme teaches girls how to use small plots of land to improve their family’s nutrition.
Monika tells her family about vegetarians getting nutrition from mushrooms, why she needs to stay in school, and most importantly, why they need to delay marriage. Monika’s little patch of greens, planted on the roof of her house, enables her to exert control over her life, and empowers her to make choices.
Mylan tells Monika’s story with minimal explanation or intrusion. There are no voiceovers or talking heads. Instead, we are instantly immersed in Monika’s lusciously green yet threadbare world.
After My Garden Grows doesn’t pack the emotional wallop of Smile Pinki, but it works like a small shot of optimism. We consume tales of horror about women in India on a daily basis; here’s a sliver of hope. Monika’s determination is inspiring. I’ve never been a gourd fan, but after watching this film I’ve developed a healthy respect for the vegetable.
You can watch After My Garden Grows on The Sundance Film Festival Youtube Channel, at bit.ly/14VKKLq.