The Money Plant

 

I have always liked having indoor plants. They seem to have a calming effect on me. I love nature and city living can be so sterile, so box-ish. But such is life these days. The potted greens provide a much needed refuge. Keeping the plants alive has never been something I excelled at. They always seem to die on me, no matter how hard I try. I have tried for years. So I had to find the unkillable kinds.

 

It has been more than 15 years now that I have been living on my own. One particular plant that has been recommended to me multiple times is the Epipremnum aureum, more commonly known as Pothos or Devil’s Ivy. But I never got one. Until now.

 

Someone was moving homes in my neighborhood and throwing the plant away in a plastic bag. I happened to pass by while walking the dog. They were more than happy to hand it over upon request. I have replanted it in a lovely royal blue ceramic pot and placed it on top of a tall glass cabinet in my living room. Its gorgeous, colorful vines cascading down one side. The healthy, heart-shaped leaves with white, yellow or light green streaks and blotches.

 

The Devil’s Ivy is almost impossible to kill, notoriously easy to care for, it thrives in water bottles and stays green even in darkness. One can just cut a stem off and keep on multiplying it. The perfect plant for me. But I know why I avoided it for so long. I just didn’t want to admit it. It was my aunt’s favorite plant. My father’s sister: my phuppi. My legal guardian since I was 11.

 

She used to love this plant as she loved me. I was the first baby in the family after a long war ravaged gap. I was a sturdy and fast growing little one. We lived in a joint family: my parents shared a home with my father’s siblings. We had a grilled-in veranda. It was a peculiar shape, a quadrilateral unlike the standard ones. The narrow end was just wide enough to allow a door to the kitchen and the wider end had phuppi’s bedroom door on one end and her potted plants on the other. The pots were neatly lined along the outer edge of the veranda. The plants grew towards the light and weaved their way through the broad patterned metal grill. She tended to them morning and evening.

 

I am told I always gravitated towards the veranda, towards the light. Or maybe it was the way to my mother who was always in the kitchen. The colorful plants provided a scenic route, a nice distraction causing a sudden change in direction. The leaves were crispy and cool to the touch. So much fun to crush. The sounds they made, the juices they released, it all had to be smelled and tasted over and over again. The dirt was also fun to dig out and eat. As a bonus, the snaps of the leaves being separated from the plant always earned me attention from the adults.

 

My aunt always came running to take me away from her precious plants. She called my name: Taaabindaaa, Taaabindaaa. What are you up to you naughty girl? I looked up and smiled sheepishly, caught in the act. How could she be angry at that chubby, smiling face, with enormous eyes and thick dark eyelashes? Then she picked me up with all her might and I clung to her like a koala, wrapping my Michelin Man arms and legs around her. I clutched onto the leaves and sucked on my fists. It took two hands to pry things out of my grip.

 

Then she sat on the floor at a safe distance from the plants with me on her lap, diligently explaining why I should not harm the plants.

 

This plant is called The Money Plant. If it thrives, you thrive with it. It brings fortune and ‘money’. That is why it is important to take care of it.

 

As if I was an adult and not an eight month old baby.

 

That is how she spoke to me throughout my life. But the tone changed and became harsher as the years went by. We were never short of resources, but everyone in the household always made sure there was enough for a rainy day or maybe another war. Bundles of cash stored in strategic hiding places. Sometimes in US dollars as they occupied less space and increased in value compared to the Rupee. Banks were not to be trusted.

 

As kids we were taught how to count using these stacks of cash laid out on the bed in various denominations. There was always a bottle with a cutting of the money plant on top of almiras, shelves and tables, in close vicinity to the cash.

 

There was strict budgetary control on all spending in our household. Every piece of fruit, every shami kebab was to be counted. Things were counted every morning and evening. If we were hungry outside of mealtimes, then we had to request for food, which then went through an approval process, where all relevant stakeholders were informed and the correct permissions were taken.

 

Grocery shopping was a time consuming task. She wanted to make sure she did not get cheated or overpay. She counted money in her purse before she left home, after she got back and everytime she got into a car. She wrote down where she spent every penny and did the math again and again till it all added up. She asked me how much she paid for the mangoes, the milk, and the tomatoes.

 

She recorded her purchases on the back of every magazine, on large ads in newspapers with blank spaces, on top of the faces of models, any space she could find on any kind of paper, even on the space next to the headlines or large titles. Every blank space was to be used before the paper was sold by weight to collectors who went door to door buying waste paper to sell to recycling plants. She haggled aggressively on the kilo rate and watched like a hawk if the weighing was being tweaked. I think of that everytime I see my toddlers take a fresh A4 paper from the printer stash to draw or write on. They write a few letters, realize they made a mistake, then take a fresh one.

 

I once got typhoid as a teen. I rolled around on the bathroom floor with high fever, puking my guts out for days. My aunt cleaned up after me, and gave me paracetamol for the fever. I could not keep it down. I could not keep anything down. Not even water. I was puking green bile, yet in her assessment it was not bad enough to take me to a doctor. It will pass,” she said, it happened to us all the time.” Doctors cost money. I felt like I was going to die. I mustered up the strength to make a call to a family friend. They took me to a doctor.

 

No I am not being sarcastic when I say she loved me. I was the one person she loved the most in this world. She was not one with much of a maternal instinct. She neither had nor wanted children, so she did what she knew, what her life had taught her. But she loved me. I know she did.

 

We traveled together. Took the cheapest options, of course, regardless of how long it took. Time is not money, money is money. We visited the family home in Kolkata once. I was a teen and we were traveling with my aunt’s in-laws. I have many cousins there, her older sister’s children. The wife of the eldest one was a banker. My aunt needed to exchange 1600 dollars for Indian Rupees at one point. Everyone suggested we visit the banker during work and get the job done there. The banker was so happy that we were visiting her workplace. I clearly remember her smiling. She took us around and introduced my aunt proudly to all her colleagues.

 

Soon after we left the bank, we walked past a currency dealer offering a slightly better exchange rate. My aunt returned to the bank and requested my cousin’s wife for the reversal of the transaction. Made a difference of a total of 320 Rupees. My cousin’s wife complied. She was not smiling anymore. She was crying in hysterics when she got home that day. Everyone at home and work knew what had happened.

 

Money was money. No amount was too small.

 

It has been thirteen years now since she passed. That dreadful fire in our Clifton apartment. The neighbors, the police, the coroners, all tried to convince me that it was an accident and insisted I arrange a funeral as soon as possible. I had just arrived from Copenhagen. I was handed the coroner’s report that stated cause of death: asphyxiation from smoke”. But I saw the soaked carpets when I finally got the keys from our neighbors after the burial. Soaked with water from the firefighter’s hose, mixed with ash, soot, preserving her blood. The clear red streaks on the white marble floors that can only be blood. The fire seemed to have burned only her and somehow caused her to bleed. Can burning cause bleeding?

Surrounded by the soot-covered remnants, I stood in her bedroom, the cash, the jewelry and all other valuables still where they should be, in the drawers of her dressing table in the corner. On top of which was a bottle with a cutting of the money plant. Still thriving in that dark black room. Bright and green. And now I have one in my home.

 

She loved the money plant as she loved me. They grow well, just like me, even under the harshest circumstances. Just from cuttings, they thrive in bottles, fueled only with water. Without soil, even without much light. When I started crawling as a baby, I would go to the plants in the veranda that had grown over the years, weaving their tendrils through the grill. I would pull the roots, tear the leaves. She would come running, calling my name and picking me up.

1 Tabinda Khurshid-Essay

Tabinda Khurshid is a Copenhagen-based social justice activist, focused primarily on gender parity. Having lived in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Denmark, she compares living experiences for women in both the developing and developed countries. She mostly writes non-fiction about her personal experiences and occasionally some fiction when inspiration strikes. Her writing calls attention to faulty constructs of society, challenging societal conditioning and pressures that impact quality of life and mental health, as well as societal constructs that span across countries, continents, time and history.

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