Over the centuries, The Banyan tree has taken on significance as a symbol of fertility, life and resurrection. It is a fitting symbol for ‘DesiStoriesAshaUSA’ which presents the stories of South Asians who have wandered far and wide from their ancestral homes, traversing new frontiers and setting down roots and networks in the US. Our goal is to connect and establish closer ties within the diasporas of the South Asian community and facilitate a dialogue with our readers, one story at a time. We will showcase stories of achievement and success and also resiliency and hope during the COVID pandemic.
Our inaugural story features apprentice Master Gardener Vatsala Menon.
Vatsala grew up in a large combined family in Trivandrum in the southern state of Kerala, in the charmingly named house ‘Anandalayam’ meaning joyous abode. Great grandparents, grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, siblings and cousins formed a wonderful web of love, knowledge and support for the first 25 years of her life, providing a strong foundation for her future home in the US.
Vatsala moved into her current home in the Twin Cities area when her boys were in kindergarten and pre school. What sold her on the house was a large backyard and a pine tree with a three pronged trunk. It reminded her of Lord Shiva and the Trishul or trident, one of the principal symbols of Hinduism representing the three trinities of creation, preservation and destruction.
Years later, after many paradigm shifts in her career from corporate America to graduate studies and finally elementary grade teacher in the St. Paul inner city school system, Vatsala made many plans at retirement: Freedom to pursue hobbies, hang out with like minded friends and spend newfound freedom gardening.
Then ‘Covid’ happened! Covid stealthily moved into her life and robbed Vatsala of another kind of freedom. Not being able to see and hold her first granddaughter, her children and the companionship of sharing meals and laughter with close friends.
After weeks of trying to wrap her head around this disruptive phenomenon and shifting priorities, the first tendrils of resilience emerged and she set a new course of action into unknown territories.
Fulfilling her dad’s dream that his children, educated in catholic schools, understand the ‘Puranas’, finally became a reality. As Vatsala listened to the interpretations of these ancient Hindu texts, she was enveloped by her dad’s aura.
When the University of Minnesota offered a Master Gardener course, Vatsala immersed herself completely in photosynthesis, soil structure, plant propagation and all the many facets of successful gardening.
The results of which are on glorious display in her magnificent garden.
Vatsala’s inspiration was her mother. Having grown up in India in the monsoon rains and with a graduate degree in botany, she infused a deep love of nature in her daughter. Though all the flowers of the North American prairie fascinated her, it was the undemanding purple lilacs that won her mother’s heart. When her mother passed away twenty five years ago friends gifted her with a lilac sapling. It still flourishes steadfast, having braved many harsh Minnesota winters.
Creating totem/peace poles for the garden depicting intricate Indian paintings resulted in works of art, that were as surprising to the creator as they were to her family.
Vatsala’s favorite Covid activity after gardening was post dinner walks in the neighborhood with her husband, through the changing seasons of a long Covid year: Connecting with neighbors; observing backyard games and barbecues; enjoying their constant new companion the night sky with its waxing and waning moon, blanket of stars, Mars and Saturn competing for attention, occasionally low dark swirly clouds bringing the promise of a snowstorm.
For Vatsala, it has been a year of reckoning, a time to pause and take stock of what is important. “I hope for a change, a change from excess to moderation, a change from ‘me’ to ‘us’.
And she hopes to get together with her sisters scattered all over the globe.
DISCUSSION: Our goal is to start a dialogue through the stories we present here. Please send us your thoughts and comments either by leaving a reply or posting a comment at the bottom of this blog, and/or sending an email to ’email@example.com’. We will collate all the feedback we receive and share back with you. (And let us know if you wish to remain anonymous)
A. What life lessons and/or insights did you take away from Vatsala’s story.
B. Has Vatsala’s story inspired you to try new activities, hobbies and past-times.
C. Please share new activities that you became involved in during enforced Covid isolation that would be an inspiration to others.
D. What do you hope and long for when the world and your life return to fully ‘normal’.
If you wish to submit a story with photos for publication consideration, please send your submission with full name and contact information to ’firstname.lastname@example.org’.
AshaUSA’s mission is to provide culturally specific programs to the South Asian community to foster health and harmony in their lives. Please visit our website ‘ashausa.org’ for more information on our programs, volunteer opportunities and resources.
Thank you, Vatsala, for sharing your beautiful story and pictures of your amazing garden, which must be absolutely life-giving! It gave me joy and inspiration on a cold, snowy Minnesota day. I especially loved reading your ‘hopes for change’ that I share – from excess to moderation and from me to us.
Thanks for your comment. If you would like to share any insights from your ‘covid’ time we would love to hear them.
Thank you Vatsala for sharing your story. Your garden looks amazing and the picture of you with your sisters is very endearing. I really enjoyed reading this story.
Thanks for your comment. If you have insights and how you spent your Covid times we would love to hear them.
I love this as a first story because it is a beautiful metaphor for the immigrant experience. We expect beauty in nature to be organic, but having such a lovely garden takes hard work, planning, intuition, and risk! And Vatsala Aunty’s garden captures all this plus her beautiful spirit.
Secondly, We use roots as a metaphor for being deep and long lasting, but roots start as seeds and seeds can be planted.
And personally, im grateful for the seeds Vatsala Aunty planted in Minnesota as its offcuts have helped me grow rootlets in my new home in London…buoyed by her wonderful family and sisters here.
Thanks so much for your intuitive comment. Yes her garden is a metaphor for not only her life here but for Vatsala as a person. A really good human being
Vatsala’s story hit home. I also love nature and enjoy gardening. Vatsala’s gardens are beautiful and so soothing. Wrath of Covid was seen everywhere but then to come across such an oasis is awesome. Vatsala , your garden is reflection of your beautiful soul. People can feel your warmth and your simplicity in everything. Your thoughts about self realization is sort of universal. We all felt same that we can do with minimum things. We don’t need to collect all the material things. People,loved ones are so much more important. We all are grateful for your charming garden.
Thanks for your lovely comment. It was very insightful.