The Male Bonsai Grower is surprisingly a rarity in India. D Ravindran, belongs to this uncommon group. Based out of Nagercoil (at the southernmost tip of the Indian mainland), Ravindran is a lawyer turned businessman by profession, but a horticulturalist at heart.
While roses were his first love, he was particularly drawn to the banyan (Ficus benghalensis) and peepal trees (Ficus religiosa) which grow in plenty where he lives. It was a chance visit to Prof. K P Madhavan Nair regarding hybrid roses, and their grafting in the 70’s, that paved the way to Bonsai, becoming the greatest passion of his life.The idea of growing trees in shallow pots greatly impressed him and he tried creating his own Bonsais with banyan and peepal trees. A book entitled ‘Japanese Miniature Trees’ in the British Council Library, Thiruvananthapuram encouraged him to collect wild plants and trees from nearby forest and hills. Four years later, he bought his first bonsai book ‘Bonsai Miniature Potted Trees’ by Kuzo Murata, which gave him a clearer idea of Bonsai culture and he went on to grow about a hundred trees with the idea of converting them into Bonsais.
It was in 1989 that he came across Peter Chan’s ‘Bonsai Master Class’ that was to become his greatest inspiration in the art of Bonsai.Peter Chan emphasised on humility and perseverance, and made clear the secret to to perfection and excellence in Bonsai come from constant practice and persistence alone. In the late eighties he exhibited his Bonsai collection for the first time in the flower show organized by the Kanyakumari District Horticultural Society. In 1993, he won much public acclaim when he exhibited about 75 Bonsai plants at the flower show held at Thiruvananthapuram, and went on to win the first prize in its category. He exhibited his collection in three succeeding shows in Thiruvananthapuram and bagged the first prize every time. Then he was invited to exhibit his Bonsais in Kottayam and Kollam.
In September 1994 he met the Parekhs –Nikhunj and Jyoti– India’s well known Bonsai enthusiast couple. From them he heard of a Bonsai demonstration and workshop by Susumu Nakamura and Karuva Nakamura to be conducted on 28th November 1994 in Mumbai. This was a golden opportunity for Ravindran who had been self-taught till then and had absolutely no idea of bonsai classes and workshops by masters. He seized the opportunity and attended the classes with great eagerness, but as an observer. During this 5 day classes, he saw the beautiful collections of several bonsai artists from Mumbai. He also met and exchanged ideas with Bonsai growers from Bhopal Indore, Nagpur, Pune, Hyderabad and Bangalore.
Early in 1995, Dr. Prasad, a plastic surgeon and retired professor from Hyderabad Medical College and one of the senior most Bonsai growers in India visited Nagercoil and saw Ravindran’s collections. He greatly appreciated Ravindran’s work and encouraged him to teach his art to others as well. He invited Ravindran to participate in Peter Chan’s Bonsai class and workshop at Hyderabad. It was another memorable day for Ravindran when he interacted with Peter Chan, one of the foremost Bonsai experts in the world. This was also the first time he participated in a Bonsai workshop.
In 1998, he attended Mr. Peter Chan’s bonsai classes and workshops again -this time in Bangalore and Mysore. In 2005 he had the privilege of assisting the distinguished master in a Bonsai workshop organized by the Indian Bonsai Association, Delhi. He also attended demos and workshops conducted by Robert Kempinski, Min Hsusan Lo, Robert Stevens, Budi Sulistyo, Sato (Japan), Guy Guidry and the Parekhs. In 2004, he visited Japan on a month long environmental and reforestation training programme sponsored by OISCA international, Tokyo. During this trip, he spent three days at a village named Omiya, where he got to visit the famous bonsai garden of Sabure Kato.
In 2006, he was elected the president of the Kerala Bonsai Association. In 2007 he exhibited a few of his Bonsai plants in Mysore, at the All India Bonsai Convention and Exhibition and won the prestigious Iwasaki Award for his Bodhi Tree as an outstanding bonsai. The award was presented by the Japanese master and Vice Chairman of world Bonsai Friends Federation, Daizo Iwaraki. He also received the first prize for the photo exhibit of his flowering Bougainville from Nikunj Parekh.
From 1996 onwards Ravindran started teaching the techniques of Bonsai, in Nagercoil and Thiruvananthapuram. In the same year he joined the Kerala Bonsai Association and rose to be its Vice President. For the past ten years he has been conducting regular Bonsai workshops once in two months for the Thiruvananthapuram based Kerala Bonsai Association. To date, Ravindran has conducted demonstration and refinement workshops at Kochi, Kottayam, Kollam, Calicut and Thalassery in Kerala and in Bangalore, Mysore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bhopal, Delhi and Hassan.
Ravindran now works with more than 35 species of Ficus, in a total collection of 2000 Bonsais of nearly 80 species of tropical and subtropical trees at Nikki Bonsai. He is also engaged in work on Casuarina equisetifolia, Portulacaria afra, Ficus, and Bougainville to study various aspects and styles. He is also exploring the possibilities of identifying new species suitable for Bonsai culture from the plants available in surrounding forests and hills. One of the plants he has succeeded with belongs to the Diospyros species, found in the Western Ghats. The highlight in Ravindran’s Bonsai career was the visit of Mr. Peter Chan to Nagercoil.
He currently divides his time between the Nikki Bonsai Nursery and managing his family-owned business, along with his younger brother, at Nagercoil, S India.