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 Daniel D’Souza talks about popularising the art of bonsai in Goa

Daniel D’Souza talks about popularising the art of bonsai in Goa Daniel D’Souza is one man known for pioneering the art of bonsai in Goa. A plant-lover by heart and a landscape designer by profession, he says, “my bonsais are my babies.” To him, it’s a hobby and a stress-buster. Daniel reveals that it was in fact his dad Dionisio D’Souza who first introduced him to this art form. Having first started his very own garden at the tender age of 4, his son Nash is now following in Daniel’s footsteps, even though he is all of 5. His wife Majorie, children Nicole and Nash, and immediate family members are his biggest strengths, he says.

Daniel completed his BSc. in Botany, Horticulture, and gardening from Mumbai University. He then went on to do his MSc Research at Mumbai University itself. According to him, bonsai is one of the only living art forms and grows with the person, with the golden rule of a bonsai being that it must look like a wild tree growing out of a shallow container!

With over 17 years of experience in the field, Daniel has become a household name in Goa and looks towards making a name for himself internationally. One look at him would leave you wondering whether he has any oriental genes in him or not. When asked this question, he laughed saying, “No, I’m completely Goan! I do not have any Oriental connection. My dad was from Assanora and my mum was from Betalbatim. They had migrated to Africa only to return back to India on a visit and the rest is history”. His father used to work for the Indian Armed Forces and his mother worked for the British government in the Post and Telegraph Ministry.

Daniel’s array of work can be reflected in projects undertaken, such as the gardens of Goa’s capital – Panaji, the Corporation of the City of Panaji, to hotels like Bay15, Lazy Lagoon, Delmont, Whispering Palms, Justa Goa, Park Inn, Nagoa Grand and Palacio among many others. Apart from working with real estate developers and builders, his work also adorns the residences of prominent personalities like late Padma Vibhushan and Padma Shri awardee Charles Correa, Charles Correa foundation, Padma Shri awardee Remo Fernandes, Padma Shri awardee Ritu Kumar, Peter Vaz, Carlos Tavora, Ritu Dalmia, Rajiv Mehta, Admiral Mehta, Justice Rebello, Pia Rampal, Bernice Nayak and Dinar Tarcar to name a few. His unique style of landscaping with a strong aesthetic tropical feel has made him the most sought after landscape designer in Goa.

It is interesting to know that he does not do any hard landscaping, as he finds soft landscaping a less cumbersome option, although it is a herculean task to maintain as well. Another speciality of his is also the exclusive bold anthurium flower arrangements for resorts. Besides bonsais, Daniel says as a career choice he chose to do soft landscaping as compared to hard landscaping, although it is a herculean task.

Bonsais

Excerpts from the interview:

Give us an insight into your profession as a bonsai artist. How did you learn this art form?

It all actually started off when my dad gifted me my first book on bonsais. I set out to do my own bonsais with this reference book. At that time simultaneously, I was doing a bonsai course in Mumbai and happened to visit a bonsai exhibition where I saw only rich and famous people. At the bonsai course in Mumbai, Jyoti and Nikunj Parekh were my basic course instructors and Sujay and Rupa Shah were my advance course instructors. I attended many international seminars.

Later on, when I was in Mumbai, I had gone to a painting exhibition and asked a painter how much a painting cost. He then went on to say, “Everything under the sun is not meant for everybody.” Hearing this I was very hurt, as a young boy in college. That’s when I promised myself that I would teach this art form, very economically. I must have trained around nearly 400 – 500 students, teachers, doctors, engineers, the smallest one of 9 years to the eldest one of around 70 years!

How and when did you realise that this was your calling?

I think it’s from the age of 4, when I had started my own garden. I remember my first encounter while growing a tree. Every day I would pull the plant up to see how much it grew. Eventually after 10-12 days, I would go on to lose my precious little tree! But my parents never stopped me. My mother never told me it was wrong. She used to say, “Let this boy do what he wants.” So, that was my first encounter. My second encounter was with a cactus. I used to take it for a bath every day. Eventually, I ended up killing the cactus! I also remember putting a Christmas tree to sleep. I used to take it to a dark room and put a bedsheet on it and I killed it too! So, these are the three very early memories of my passion towards plants and landscaping.

What are the different plants used to make a bonsai?

Basically there are 4-5 pointers for making a good bonsai. The first is that it should have a long life, because a bonsai takes many years to develop. Secondly, it should have very small leaves and not big leaves, as you won’t be able to make it into a bonsai. Thirdly, it should have good rootage – it should withstand wiring and pruning and have many branches. The different plants used for bonsai are guava, chiku, pomegranate, mango, lime etc. Then in foliage (only leaves) you would use a banyan tree, junipers, ficus species and peepal tree. Among flowering plants the bougainvillea makes very good bonsais. Powder puff and cassia biflora also make very interesting bonsais.

How do you maintain a bonsai?

After the bonsai is complete, the golden rule is watering and fertilising it and removing unwanted branches at regular intervals.

Can anyone become a bonsai artist?

Of course, anybody can become a bonsai artist. But he must have a love for this art form and can spare sufficient amount of time to be with his plants.

Did your family support you when you first started out?

Yes, I think the support I received from my dad was tremendous as he was the one who gave me that instant push. My mum was a silent watcher who would encourage me. Now it is my wife, children and immediate family members.

What are the challenges you have faced in your career?

Manpower, both skilled and unskilled is a major problem, besides dealing with availability of raw material, false commitments by suppliers and outstation plant nurseries.

Do you cherish any memories of your work over the years?

I think when late Architect Charles Correa gave me his testimonial I was on cloud nine. To get recognition from such a big man was a memory I will always cherish. Even the encouragement I receive from managing directors, architects and the people who have seen and encourage my work is truly inspiring.

What is your motto in life?

I would like to be recognised for the work I do in the field of landscaping, design more public spaces where everyone can see my work, feel good and make Goa greener.

Bonsais

How does one make a simple bonsai? What are the different steps involved?

You can start by taking a nursery plant, it could be a branch of bougainvillea or you could also take an established plant or a pre-material bonsai from an existing bonsai nursery. You can also start a bonsai by picking up a branch of a banyan tree along the road side. Start growing it as a normal house plant and then train it.There are different styles in making bonsais. There is the formal upright style, informal upright style and many others.

According to you, how has bonsai art progressed over the years?

Basically, the Chinese had introduced the art form and then the Japanese took it to a whole new level. However, I think deep down, some form of this art form originated in India. In particular, there was a tribe called the Aryans who used to live in the Himalayas. Nomadic by nature, they would travel from one hill to the next. As they would require leaves, stems, fruits, barks or roots, what they would to do was grow plants in shallow containers and carry it with them eventually dwarfing the tree. Somewhere deep down, India did play a role, I feel. But, as you know, when it comes to India everybody suppresses us just like our basmati rice or our kokum. Everyone wants to patent it. Same way, when they look at India they think it is trash. I always felt bonsais were found here, but not known as bonsais, but another art form.

Do you have any message to more aspiring bonsai artists?

You require a lot of dedication and sincerity in this form of art and a monetary tag should never be applied to it.

Tell us a little about your creation ‘Plant World.’ What does it take to become the next Daniel D’Souza?

I started my company, Plant World, in 1997, and have a very well-qualified strong team. Everyone who comes my way, be it a supervisor or assistant wants to become a ‘Daniel D’Souza,’ which is just not possible. There is so much to learn in landscape that it cannot be accomplished in one year. There is balance, skill, rhythm, focal points, dominance, colour combinations, plant combinations – there are so many elements that I myself have taken 17 years to excel in this field!

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