1. Success Story

Bonsai Gardening: Expert Talks About the Theory and Practice of Bonsai Cultivation

Bonsai cultivation, according to Thakur, is more than just a routine practice; it's an art, a philosophy, and a sort of exercise.

Shruti Kandwal
Bonsai cultivation is a traditional Japanese art form.
Bonsai cultivation is a traditional Japanese art form.

In West Delhi's Rohini, a cramped neighborhood with tall buildings and tiny balconies, there's a terrace with hundreds of little bonsai plants, providing greenery to the cityscape.

This bonsai garden, made by 79-year-old Mangat Singh Thakur, contains more than 550 bonsais, including varieties such as China orange, mango, and guava, which Thakur has carefully nurtured since 2001. He experiments with the art on his small terrace.

Bonsai cultivation, according to Thakur, is more than just a routine practice; it's an art, a philosophy, and a sort of exercise. Despite his old age, he maintains his passion and desire to work.

Learning the Art

Bonsai cultivation is a traditional Japanese art form that involves cultivating a plant in a miniature form. If properly cared for, a bonsai tree can survive for hundreds of years.

Thakur initially learned about the concept during an Indian Bonsai Association workshop at Delhi's ITC Maurya in 1978. Thakur understood the fundamentals of these plants here. "The more I learned about it, the more fascinated I became," he says. Thakur wanted to carve out more time after his retirement in 2001 to pursue bonsai planting more actively.

In 1972, he planted his first bonsai, a Banyan tree, which is still thriving on his terrace. "This tree has followed me on every one of my transfers around India." He says, "It's taught me a lot about this craft."

Thakur makes it a point to spend two to three hours in his garden every day as his collection grows. He works on his plants for about six hours during the re-potting season (usually in February).

Catalyst for Change

Thakur has been able to reach a broad audience with the theory and practice of bonsai cultivation. He has over 9,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, 'Bonsai Factory,' where he regularly broadcasts instructional bonsai videos and also organizes virtual workshops for enthusiasts. In nine batches, he has taught over 100 students; his tenth batch begins in February.

Thakur's work has also received a lot of praise. "Now that I'm retired, I'm more popular than I was when I worked in the bank."

Thakur is working on a Hindi book about bonsai plantations in the hopes of passing these lessons forward. Understanding bonsai may help farmers make better use of their resources, hence Thakur's book will be targeted toward farmers and gardeners.

"The majority of bonsai books are written in English and are rather expensive. I decided to write in Hindi to reach a wider audience. I also intend to keep the price cheap so that people can afford these books," he adds.

Thakur continues to refer to himself as a student although he is a bonsai master who is well-versed in the ins and outs of the art form. "I am not a creative person. I'm only a student, and I'll be one till the day I die," he says.

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