Nature as Teacher
Vijaya’s curiosity and intelligence were shaped in her growing up close to nature in the deep Western Ghats. She learned about wild fruits and birds. St. Xavier’s College opened up another world. Libraries jostled besides movie halls. Her academic, cultural and nature education had begun. Movies and books became her teachers along side learning via nature trails with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and Friends of Trees (FOT).
Xavier’s has been one of the best experiences in my life. cultural hub, and it was so close to movie theatres and libraries. When I went again to these organisations (FOT), it reinforced my knowledge. There was this bird called “Kudkud Kumbha” in Marathi, and it would indicate the arrival of the rain. But I never knew its English name, or scientific name. So it was only later that I experienced the excitement when I discovered that this was the Greater Coucal or the Bharadwaj. And Society of Friends of Trees was excellent, because you know, we went for walks.
From Educator to Garden Educator
Vijaya took a four year break when her husband fell ill. This was when she discovered gardening. She started growing lots of plants in her little garden in Mysore colony. She held an exhibition in affiliation with her neighbours on Warden road.
She joined the Indo-Japanese Society where she learnt about Bonsai. Vijaya went to Japan to attend the First World Bonsai Convention. Here she got exposed to a variety of gardens, like temple gardens and zen gardens. Taking inspiration from these meditation gardens, she started applying the Japanese principles of Bonsai and Seikei plantation.
“We learned many of the gardening principles like placement of plants, how to place rocks, and how to keep void you know, to create depth and perspective and this I started implementing in my gardens but then I realised there is some vacuum.”Vijaya Chakravarty
Back to Roots
Vijaya’s work as horticulturist is an eclectic blend of influences. In time she wondered why her gardens felt sterile. Delving into her early influences and discovered Ayurveda. Vijaya talks about Ancient Indian gardens and how ahead of their time they were in their ability to integrate all facets of life. All along she was educating the community, starting off many a families into home gardening.
“Manasollasa” written by a medieval king, Someshwara III which talks about the importance of trees in creating mounds, which is usually understood by many as a Japanese invention. Mounds are places of Krida (recreational spaces), created in the middle of lakes, or an artificial hillock, planted through trees, which are medicinal and have fragrance and fruits on them. These were nitrogen fixing plants, so they also thought of the soil. Yeah, this is what we learn.”
The Japanese author, Fukuoka and the ‘one straw revolution’ is a powerful influence. Vijaya started incorporating his principles to develop biodiversity gardens, butterfly gardens, children’s natural play spaces without using any concrete. The Juhu beach garden developed does not use of concrete as ordered by the High Court Judge.
“So we use old tires for seating, We fill the seating area with grass so people can sit comfortably. We had all lawns, we had stones, and we created a meditation corner, and also a labyrinth. It is very fun, as well as very meditative. You can contemplate while walking. This is very popular in Buddhist gardens, and early Christian gardens. So this was where people came and enjoyed themselves. In a huge garden, called Shantivana, where everything was created with mud, stone, children could climb. There were mounds, they could roll down so they could experience the sense of touch, the sense of place, and also the sense of wonder and awe which is disappearing.”.
Sensory Gardens for the Differently-abled
When she moved to Navi Mumbai, Vijaya started teaching the children at Aarambh, an organisation led by Shobha Murthy. She taught them the different ways to use Math in gardens.
“And now we also talk about the Fibonacci sequence and how you know, different flowers, they have a pattern and you could learn mathematics from plants.”
Vijaya was approached by NGOs to work with the disabled and challenged. She has worked with the Spastic Society in Chembur, Paraplegic in Airoli, Skills and Development in Nerul and Helen Keller Centre in Mahape.
Nature in the Home
Vijaya raised her children by giving them access to Lonavala and Khandala. The children grew up with access to nature. Today a grandmother to three grand children, she has brought nature to the children. She has now successfully taught her toddler grandson to identify different birds too!
“We don’t need large spaces, it’s a misconception. Many mothers say that you know, we do not have any gardens or nature easily accessible. For a little child, even a window sill is enough. If you have a few plants on the windowsill, it is enough to give the child a sense of wonder.”Vijaya Chakravarty
Nature and Youth
Vijaya conducted a program for students of Jai Hind College. It was an experiment to grow mushrooms on cardboard to highlight the different restorative ways of agriculture. Vijaya strives to influence young people via education to implement methods to preserve the health of soil. It is important to understand that soil is a non-renewable resource.
Vijaya is associated with the Indian Women Scientists Association (IWSA). They are collaborating with the Government of India, Vigyan Prasar to conduct workshops on garden based learning. The program aims to educate people on everything related to gardening. It includes correct and sustainable methods to grow and use products, specific areas of knowledge such as fungi cultures, herbarium and seed preservation. It also aims to support women in seed preservation activities. This has traditionally been a women-centric practice in villages. They have also developed a learning garden and a living museum as a part of the initiative which are currently open to students of architecture.