Meeta Mehra (45), a Bandra housewife, has mothered a brood of 80. She has borne them and nurtured them with tender care, shaped their personalities and watched them grow before her eyes. Two of them are her daughters, aged 21 and 26. The rest are her bonsais — miniature potted trees — that she fondly refers to her as her “own children”.
Mehra is a member of the Bonsai Study Group of the Indo-Japanese Association, founded by Babulnath residents Nikunj and Jyoti Parekh close to 30 years ago. The group is five years younger than the couple’s oldest bonsai — a beautiful four-foot banyan tree with its miniature roots snaking through a large ceramic pot. This 35-year-old specimen is one of the hundreds of bonsais on display at the ‘Nature in miniature’ exhibition of bonsai and Japanese artefacts organised by the group at the Ravindra Natya Mandir from December 11 to 13.
The group convenes thrice a month at the Parekhs’ sprawling garden terrace to exchange bonsai ideas, techniques and solutions. It also holds seminars and exhibitions and publishes a quarterly magazine titled Nichin Bonsai and has a reference library stocked with bonsai and gardening books. But the bonus for these aficionados is the excitement of the field trips they undertake, both within the country and abroad. Members have visited Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Bali, Taiwan and Korea, studied the latest techniques from the best teachers and gained access to rare, private collections of bonsai royalty.
To those who accuse bonsai enthusiasts of inflicting cruelty on plants by stunting their natural growth, Nikunj says, “Why do humans cut their nails or trim their hair? Or mow their lawns and prune their rose bushes?” He argues, “If we were cruel to the plants, they would never flower, fruit and flourish as they do under our care.” He also believes that bonsais are the alternative to large trees in a concrete jungle like Mumbai that has space constraints and a depleting green cover.
Having studied botany in college, the Parekhs’ love of bonsai — the art of aesthetic miniaturisation of trees — stemmed from their appreciation of Japanese culture and Zen philosophy. Having travelled to Japan several times to study the intricate techniques of bonsai from Japanese masters, the soft-spoken Parekhs command great respect in the field of horticulture the world over. Their group, which began with 35 members, now has 200 members in Mumbai and a total of 2,000 members in 15 of its affiliations around the country.
As she meticulously prunes a spectacular geometry tree amidst a lush, thriving collection of bonsais in diverse shapes, size and species, Jyoti enumerates the benefits of bonsai gardening: “It’s a de-stressing art that teaches you the virtues of patience, discipline, minute observation and respect for the small things in life.” Nikunj adds, “It’s not like instant coffee; it’s more like the traditional south Indian coffee that is slowly brewed to bring out its subtle flavours.” Admittedly, the art of bonsai is not everyone’s cup of coffee. “It’s a lifelong hobby,” says Nikunj. But the results are immensely rewarding. “Tending to them is like medicine for the soul,” says Mehra, who has 20 at home and 60 more at her farm in Badlapur.
Social worker, Archana Gupta (47) and her husband Krishna (54), a businessman, have been part of the group since 1991. Says Archana, “They are like an extended family; we travel, learn and grow together.” How many bonsais do they own? “I’ve lost count,” she laughs. “They didn’t do any family planning,” jokes Nikunj.
This weekly column examines the diversity of urban communities