Seen through the lens of quirky imagination, the trees might well have fell prey to a similar madcap adventure that Lewis Carroll’s eponymous heroine experienced and ended up miniature in size. But then, the members of the Chennai Bodhi Bonsai Association might beg to differ. They have, after all, been assiduously nurturing this ancient Japanese art form — bonsai (meaning tree in a tray) — which for some has taken a good many years before their labour has borne fruit.
Given their collective passion for this miniature art form, a handful of people got together and set up the Chennai Bodhi Bonsai Association, a few years ago. Slowly and surely, the Association has grown in size with more and more people keen to explore this dramatic and creative art style.
The enthusiastic response received at a recently held bonsai exhibition at the Indo-Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry has left the club members elated. For the most part though, they meet up once every month, where they exchange information, hold demos and showcase their individual creations with appropriate feedback. Besides, regular workshops undertaken by bonsai masters such as the Nagercoil-based Ravindran, Jyoti Pandya and Peter Chan have also helped the members understand this art form better.
Different reasons might have got the Association members interested in bonsai, but there is no denying their steadfast love and enthusiasm for it. Club secretary Satya, an ex-IT professional, found that it was a perfect way to combat space restraints in flats and yet have plants and trees around. Club president Molly Cherian, who is also into Ikebana, was so fascinated by the bonsai gardens she saw in Japan that she decided to take it up. For Suseela Vergis, who loves horticulture and plants, gravitating towards bonsai was but natural and she has been nurturing her passion for the same for the last 37 years!
Bonsai is not an art that one learns in a hurry. Says Molly whose favourite is the ficus, “It requires considerable patience, sometimes it takes years to acquire the shape of a tree. One can grow it in a wide ceramic, mud or clay pot with appropriate potting mixtures. I know of a bonsai tree that is 500-years-old.” According to Satya, one needs nimble fingers and a little bit of manipulation to make the tree grow into the shape of your choice and adds, “I have lost a lot of plants but one learns through mistakes. Like for instance, we now know that ficus is best suited to Chennai’s climate.” Bonsai also calls for a bit of creativity with one able to visualise how the tree will look, the shape of the branches, etc, adds Suseela, who has a collection of 300 bonsai trees which she grows on a farm on the city’s outskirts. Beginners begin to understand styles like wind-swept, cascading, forests, etc, informs Molly who claims that bonsai is a living art.
In spite of the fact that bonsai art has flourished over the centuries, bonsai lovers have had to contend with the criticism that bonsai is cruel to the tree as it stunts their growth. Bristling at the unjustness of the comment, Satya says: “There is not an iota of truth in that. Pre-bonsais are collected from the wild and they are stunted right from the beginning. Then again there are plants struggling to grow in the crevices of walls, etc which we bring back home and nurture and beautify it. Same is the case with plants lying abandoned and neglected in the nurseries. We do not torture or kill but only lavish love and attention on the plant.”
For some, bonsai growing is of considerable therapeutic value, while for others a great stress buster. Says its oldest champion, Suseela whose favourite is the lively and colourful bougainvillea: “My bonsais are like my companions. In fact, they are said to reflect the personality of the owner.” And signing off on a wry note adds, “Bougainvilleas have thorns too!”