Achamma (a family helper for many years), Pachai’s family and I together toiled whole days for about a month, digging four feet into the soil, sweating, getting dirty, clearing out stuff that didn’t belong there: rubble, plastics, leather, bottles and syringes (from my in-laws’ clinic). An amazing exercise in healing!They initially felt awkward to see me working with them and tried to convince me to just sit and watch while they did the work. But they soon got comfortable with my being part of the work, and were effortlessly giving me instructions on proper lifting, carrying baands on the head, using the crowbar, etc. while sharing stories about their morning breakfast, upcoming family functions, gossip about relatives, their village farm, and so on.. It initially seemed like an impossible task to clear the area out, and recover as many things to be reused or recycled: whole and half bricks, clean plastics, metal, glass. About five lorry loads. And lo, clean soil to work on!
Now, Pachai’s dad advised me: “Pappa, ippo nee rendu lodu semmannum eruvum vaangi pottinna, mannu soopera aayidum. Chedinga ellam nalla soopera valarum.” (If you now throw in a couple of loads of red soil and manure, you will be all set for your gardening) Oh yes sure, I will be. But, that would mean robbing some other fertile land of its top soil and laying it bare, defeating the whole purpose of healing with the soil! I was determined to not bring in *any* soil from outside the place, and may be some cow dung manure from the local bullock-cart owner and milk man. And some fresh cow dung to inoculate bacteria to compost leaf litter from the existing guava tree, and fibre from the coconut trees. Thus, my experiment in soil building began.Slowly, I brought in plants from nurseries and friends's gardens. Pomogranate, plantain, pepper, adathoda, cannas, rose, balsam, betel creeper, butterfly pea (sangu pushpam) and a few others. And with every passing day, especially after a shower, green spots would appear here and there. The birds were bringing in seeds from all over. As I just watched them grow into small plants, I learnt to identify them. Papaya, thuthi, silk cotton, castor, calotropis, thulasi, solanum torvum (sundaikkai), country fig (atthi) and other medicinal plants .... And within a couple of months, there were more than 80 varieties of plants on that small patch of soil. In a few months, nature's own wild garden was in full bloom!
With every day that the soil was healing, I was healing too. Getting rid of unwanted things - memories, belief systems - that did not belong in my being, growing more rooted, calmer and more patient, letting go and learning to simply flow with life.