Our mali, the gardener, persuaded me to hold my ear close to the tree trunk.
'Trees can talk,' he said, 'can you hear that groan?'
My tiny shell-like ear pressed hard on the mango tree bark. I smiled at him.
'Yes, yes I can hear the creepy noise,' I said enraptured that the tall tree that bore the delicious fruit could talk.
He led me on our usual walk around the huge garden, as we picked the jasmine flowers, the kanakabaram flowers (I looked it up, Crossandra infundibuliformis) to make a garland for the 'puja' that evening. I loved its other name, the 'firecracker flower', as the mali explained; its seeds explode onto the ground and create new seedlings. The basket was full of pretty flowers, the aroma that remains unforgettable.
On other days, the mali pointed out some interesting scenes in our garden. I'd never forgotten the chameleon on the tall Areca tree, that he was watering, turning a bright green as it scuttled past the brown bark and landed on a green leaf. The change was so rapid that I thought it was another creature.
A garden of our own! Now that was a challenge. Our stay at the flat was over. In 1970, we moved to a council house in Tannochside, Uddingston. It was a tiny two-bedroomed house that was close to the big Caterpillar factory and some little shops nearby. It even had a small library just a few yards away.
Neither of us knew much about gardens or how to tend one. A lawnmower was one of the first purchases to keep the lawn cut. The flower beds were next. In Madras, the mali was in charge, he knew everything about the garden; I just enjoyed it without a clue about how to raise plants or keep weeds down or even tend ones that were already in the garden. This was a new experience.
There were some wonderful nurseries and garden centres in Lanarkshire. I had never been to one in Madras. I did find out later there was one in the area we had lived in. Sandyholm, Rosebank, Silverbirch were all in the Clyde Valley, the drive to them along the Clyde River was beautiful. I learnt that we could have annual plants for the summer and perennials that would come back every year.
Garden centres had a superb selection of bedding plants. Having bought the plants, I had to learn to put them in the soil in the right way. Sounds odd for a 21-year-old to say that? I was not too happy getting my hands dirty, also the little insects I had not encountered at all inside the house were around. Nice advice from a neighbour, Pearl (who let Bill, her husband, do all the gardening but happy to comment on my ineptitude):
'Get a strong pair of gloves, dig right down and get the plant watered well,' she volunteered more homilies as time went on.
'Snails? Get some beer in a dish and they'll drown in them, they're partial to a good lager.'
Some of her advice did work and the talk over the garden fence helped cement our relationship.
Our bigger garden was in the house we bought. I was lucky to have a neighbour, Mrs Ahmed, a Pakistani lady who had a farming background. She had the proverbial green fingers. Vegetables were her forte. Everything she touched germinated and came up lush. The garden produce was too much, so I took a couple of kilos of green beans and spinach to the school staff room.
'Vegetables? No thanks,' was the usual quip back to my kind offer of the green produce.
'Green beans? Who can be bothered to top and tail them, and I'd rather open a tin.'
'Spinach, I'm not Popeye or Olive Oyl you know.'
The jokes were plenty and not many takers for my 'harvest'.
Clyde Valley was not the only beauty spot. There was so much to see in Scotland. The first few years we spent going around like tourists. Edinburgh city built on volcanic rock was impressive as was the history around the cobbled streets.
My first holiday in a caravan (I refused to try camping; I didn't fancy lying on damp ground even with waterproof sheets and a sleeping bag. I was used to an electric blanket by this time!) was in Findhorn, near The Eco community and nearby RAF Kinloss. They had pilots flying fighter jets over the coast. Findhorn beach was sandy like Madras beach, cooler but pretty with beach huts. Moray Firth, the largest sea inlet, was incredibly beautiful. We spotted a grey seal basking on the sand and even some dolphins in the sea. The blue of the North Sea, the noctilucent clouds high on the horizon at night were worth sitting outside for, wrapped warm with a cardigan and a woollen scarf even on a summers evening.
There were many more trips around Scotland and we even made sure to reach Land's End in England. The whole of the British Isles covered in those first years as an immigrant to this country.
Trips around Scotland slowed down as we put down roots and felt we were home and could see the sights whenever we wanted.
Leela Soma was born in Madras, India, and now lives in Glasgow. Her poems and short stories have been published in several anthologies and publications. This piece is an extract from her memoir 'Thistle & Jasmine