‘You know, it is impossible to murder a money plant, but my mother-in-law’s tongue is another story. It is just not looking as healthy as it used to be and is a sickly yellow.’ In the middle of a phone conversation with my son about teenage angst, I tell him a little bit about my own, much to his dismay.
‘What is wrong with you, mom? Are you a doctor that you keep asking people to show you their tongue! You did this with Dinku also.’ Dinku is his cousin, and I confess that once concerned about his health, I did ask him to show me his tongue. At which point, he lifted his leg high up and almost kicked me in the face while saying, ‘But aunty, you only said, ‘Show me your taang.’
Illustration credit: Chad Crowe
I clarify that this time I am not prodding open anyone’s mouth but referring to a potted plant called Mother-in-law’s tongue. This spiky plant’s biological name is Sansevieria trifasciata Laurentii, which is what I would also call it if I was either a botanist, or, for that matter, Shashi Tharoor.
My teenager hangs up before I get a chance to tell him the convoluted story behind my current obsession with potted plants.
It all started when Jackie Shroff gave me some weed. Not the sort you roll and go down a rabbit hole, but two pots filled with spider plants that are known for their ability to spread as quickly as WhatsApp forwards. However, they are invaluable, according to the original Hero who told me, ‘Bhidu, use this, protection ke liye.’
At first I wondered if this was his equivalent of tying a black thread to ward off the ubiquitous evil eye, but in his unique Dev Anand mixed with Marathi Manoos drawl, he clarified, ‘Nahin re, from buri hawa, pollution!’
In the week that Delhi’s air quality index hit 999 in some places, and then the machines, like the inhabitants of the capital city, just sat there choking helplessly, I ignored Jackie’s bad-air fix and decided to see what guidance we were getting from our elected officials. I couldn’t resist putting a few of the more interesting tips down.
The Carrot and Stick Policy
This approach is based on the age-old notion that the best way to deal with a donkey is to put a carrot in front of him while jabbing him with a stick from behind. Our health ministry deployed this by asking the breathless population to eat carrots as a defence against air pollution. No points for guessing who they are making asses of here.
The Distract and Deflect Scheme
On the fateful morning that Delhiites were unable to see anything outside their homes due to the thick smog, our environment minister provided a thoughtful alternative. He tweeted that everyone must begin their day with music. He even shared a thematic Veena composition called ‘Swagatam’. A good way I guess to welcome Yamaraja, who thanks to the rising pollution would be coming around to visit us some seven years earlier than planned.
The Ada Pada Kaun Pada Strategy
A BJP leader tried his hand at this method by adding that there was a possibility that the hazardous pollution was due to a poisonous gas released by our neighbouring countries. His solution to the gassy conundrum? Leave it to the Gods. ‘This is a time of Krishna and Arjuna,’ he stated, ‘Modi as Krishna and Amit Shah as Arjuna together will take care of it.’
The Fight Fire with Fire principle
A state minister from Uttar Pradesh suggested we refrain from asking farmers to halt stubble burning and stated, ‘Governments should hold ‘yagya’ to please Lord Indra.’
Since it is clear that the supreme beings we elected seem to be taking a step back from hauling us out of our own stupidity, it was left to the Supreme Court to hear our pleas, and order a comprehensive national anti-pollution scheme as well as an end to stubble burning.
While we are waiting for government policies and legislations to kick in, I badgered Google bhaisaab to give me a few ideas worth trying at our individual levels. Along with initiatives like segregating waste at home, conserving electricity, car-pooling, shifting to hybrid vehicles, and recycling, I also looked into Jackie dada’s advice.
I soon discovered that it wasn’t hot air. A 1989 Clean Air Study by NASA provides a definitive list of the plants that are most effective at purifying indoor air. This included the spider plant that Jackie gave me, and that was the moment I got completely hooked to the idea of using plants as cheap and cheerful green filters. The list included some palms, ferns, Chinese evergreen, devil’s ivy, a sublime peace lily and, yes, that pot of wilting mother-in-law’s tongue that I am now trying to revive on my windowsill.
Some may still dispute the effectiveness of plants in clearing the air, and for them I present another study by the Journal of Physiological Anthropology which states that having indoor plants reduces psychological and physiological stress by suppressing autonomic nervous system activity.
If these little oxygen-giving filters don’t do any airy jhadoo pocha, at least having them around will ensure that our stress levels are controlled, and we don’t die of a heart attack before we finally collapse due to pulmonary failure.
In fact, this evening I am planning on doing another round of the local nursery as I want to get a bunch of these sprightly air purifiers for Mummy ji’s room as well. A win-win situation indeed. I will earn brownie points for being a caring daughter-in-law, while also getting an excuse to walk around her bedroom, with a pair of scissors in hand, muttering, ‘Bhidu, I really have to trim this mother-in-law’s tongue.’
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.