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Growing up in a South Kolkata apartment overlooking a busy street, Amartya would often see his mother, steal herself away from the daily household chores and spend a few moments in their tiny balcony, overgrown with an odd number of plants that she grew. From Tulsi (where she would unwaveringly light a lamp, come wind or hail), a crimson hibiscus, some speckled crotons, and the usual seasonal marigolds or rustic nameless carnations, Amartya’s mom had a special place in her heart, and her house for innumerable fauna — caressing their leaves, talking to them as they were her own children, coaxing them to bloom, against all odds.
Even as a child, Amartya knew that those few moments his mom spent with her plants, as the evening sun settled in behind the neighbor’s house, was something special. Moments that gave her mom respite from daily conundrums and energized her to face all odds while raising a family of three children. Looking back, Amartya would be insanely jealous at his mom spending her time with her plants, but somewhere understood that it was something his mother needed. And as years went by, her love for plants grew on him like the tendrils of the creepers that his mom kept, tangled their way up the veranda grills.
Thus, when Amartya decided to shift to the US, triggered by memories of his mother, he quietly packed in saplings of his childhood plants into the oversized suitcase that carried his meager belongings as he ventured out to start afresh. And thankfully, for him, hibiscus, tulsi, and speckled crotons helped create an oasis of sorts, in his rented apartment in East Village.
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Amartya, a confirmed bachelor, was confined within the walls of his apartment along with the foliage, comprising of a few other South Asian varieties of plants he had amassed over the last 5 years. And truth be told, he admits that they provided him with a respite from all the turbulent news he heard outside. Much like his mom, years ago, Amartya says he quickly steals away some time from his daily work and house schedule to tend to his plants, talk to them, and disappear from the harsh reality of present times.
In fact, with physical distancing measures to contain COVID-19 having included closing beaches, playgrounds, and parks, adding to the challenges to our mental health, experts, too, opine that having a slice of nature at home does support human well-being.
For those who are lucky enough to have a backyard, a 2017 study, presented in Preventive Medicine Reports suggests that gardening can offer benefits such as reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression apart from improving physical fitness.
However, if one stays in an apartment, indoor gardening too has its own benefits. A volunteer, who participated in a study, published in Urban Ecosystems that highlighted the importance of nature in urban living said that having a small vegetable garden and flowers in pots makes him happy — a sentiment Amartya echoes, saying that seeing things grow in the city, even as everything around him is in disharmony is a beautiful and calming experience.
Scientists find that tending to one’s garden helps suppress the sympathetic nervous system activity and diastolic blood pressure and promotes comfortable, soothed, and natural emotions.
Experts have often hinted at the importance of nature in one’s mental and physical well-being, but it is only now that it holds even more truth as active interaction with indoor plants can reduce physiological and psychological stress compared with mental work.
While most people think houseplants are just a way to beautify an indoor space, having a few plants scattered around the home can also provide one with emotional wellbeing during the pandemic. Amartya, on his part, believes that apart from the scientific jargon associated with indoor plants, looking at those plants, not only evoke a sense of nostalgia, but watering, pruning, and caring for the vegetation helped him maintain his sanity even as everything familiar around him, suddenly dissipated into the unknown.
Umang Sharma is a media professional, avid reader, and film buff. His interests lie in making the world a better place through the power of the written word.