Dirt Under My Nails

by Fahad Shah

An extraordinary landscape in Kashmir, of vivid tree-covered hills, misty mountains and thick-clouded skies
Image courtesy of the author

For many centuries lush pastures and colorful gardens have been synonymous with the Kashmir Valley, in the northern end of India, where I live. Historians, journalists, writers, poets, artists, and singers have all paid their different tributes to its abundant and profuse fruitfulness.

Sometimes my cat walks out in the small garden to sunbathe. Every day I walk out in the morning, after I wake up, to check on the plants and flowers. If there is a new bud it brings me immense joy and a feeling of satisfaction and hope. 

When you don’t have something you feel the worth of it. As a saying in Kashmiri goes, yemis ni kann temiss syon, yemi syon temiss ni kann (One who has ears, doesn’t own gold; one who has gold, doesn’t have ears). I have felt this about many things but lately about flowers. 

I was at a secluded place for over two years, where the sight of even a tiny flower tucked between weeds made me happy. It filled me with joy. Before the time of my seclusion, each day had bled into the next, in a monotonous cycle of emails, deadlines, and the ever-present pressure to achieve. Work had become my entire universe, leaving me feeling increasingly disconnected from the world outside the office walls. But then, like Virginia Woolf—who once found solace in the “chocolate earth” beneath her fingernails—I began to learn the pleasures of the garden. Even the thought that happiness could be found in the simple act of nurturing something green and alive was a revelation. This might sound banal, or a bit cloying, to those who have been too much in the world, as I was. That can’t be helped but is also worth thinking about.

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