Garden of Allan

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The name I Allan Sealy, for those who dip into his soulful yet difficult prose, conjures up the image of a versatile writer. But the act of writing about what Allan is really known for pales somewhat when his other vocation, gardening, takes over. He beds out very uncommon and near-extinct shrubs and plants at his racecourse retreat in Dehradun. And at a time when the whole world was in a shuttered state last year, Allan was out in the open, right under the sun, tending to his favourite plants. I know this because we exchanged mails, frequently so, stuck at home as we were. In fact, we did some cyber ­chatting the excerpts of which follow:

You must be spending quality time now indulging your true vocation: gardening. Is that so?

Nowadays I’m planting vegetables like loki (bottle gourd), tori (sponge gourd), tomato, brinjal, capsicum and beetroot in the backyard. My other vegetable plants are coming along well. The flowers are out front Have just this morning rediscovered an old Compost coma and am digging out the rich soil.

I find some of the plants in your garden like mulberry and cinnamon have some rare medicinal properties. Is mulberry edible?

Mulberries are most definitely edible and delicious. Years ago, I made a summer pudding with them. Only Nayantara (Sah­gal) of all my guests recognized the dessert and named it! I’m sharing this year’s crop with the Nepali Chowkidar and his little fam­ily next door.

At this time of the year (April), your gar­den always wears a magnificent look. I vivid­ly recall your backyard where there’s a unique blend of sun and shade, your study room and the pagoda upstairs …

Every tree in new leaf, and just outside this study, the francisia is in full bloom, the fragrance flooding through the window and of course gracing the narrow entrance to the pagoda. Then Mango blossom of course, but also roses of two kinds: one, my mother’s Millicent rose and the other just flowering this week, a yellow climber at the gate. It greets me as I return from my morning bike ride.

Are thunderstorms at times playing spoilsport?

Well, the California (golden) poppies took a bit of beating yesterday. It hailed down on the still more delicate heads of the first two red poppies. As for the peach blos­som, what was on the tree is now on the grass.

Are you now working on something new?

The final tinkering with my latest novel is done. Now time to get back to the Doon Gazetteer. It’s not your standard civil servant production as we know it. In fact not very civil at all! But it’s early days now.

Hope, bustle around your retreat is less now.

Certainly the bustle has gone out of the road beyond the gate and I shall miss this tranquility when the crowd returns. Our curve is not flattening so the months to come should be interesting. We must find our pleasures where and while we can.

Allan’s latest offering, a historical-fic­tion, Asoca: A Sutra (Penguin Random House) was long-listed for the JCB prize 2021.

First published in The Statesman

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