Thursday, July 31, 2014

Flower Power

There’s a delight in having flowers on the windowsill. I bought a couple of sunflowers this week, and it’s nice to look up from my laptop, to see those bright, bold, yellow smiles. A friend of mine, who is bonkers over sunflowers, said it brings a sense of harmony in her. For me, it’s the lilies. Pink lilies. Not only because they are stunning, but also because their fragrance reminds me of home. Lilies are the closest I can get to that whiff of jaaji, mallige and sugandharaja that envelopes our markets during festival times.

Coming to think of it, the fragrance of mallige is interwoven with all my childhood memories. Vegetable shopping in Malleswaram market also included flower shopping. We’d normally buy a moLa (a strand measured from the palm to the elbow) or two for the daily puja. We’d buy from one of the women sitting on the footpath, their flowers in a bamboo basket covered by a wet cloth. The key to buying a good moLa was to ensure the jasmines were still buds, and of course the flowers should not be tied too loosely into a strand. After passing these strict examinations, the strand would be carefully packed into a moist viLedele.

The jasmine would remain fresh for about twenty-four hours. The buds would open up shyly, dispersing what I consider the fragrance of heavens. This coupled with the smell of ghee-dipped wicks, camphor, agarbathi and tulasi – if peace had an aroma, this was it. By evening, the jasmines would be in full bloom, drenching our home with that hypnotic scent. After the puja, a small strand would find its way to Amma’s plait – and even today, if I get a whiff of jasmine, it is Amma’s hair that I remember...and that’s what lilies do to me.

But more than mallige, jaji leaves me a nice way. Those jaji creepers are truly stairways to heaven. In the bus that ferried me to work, one of the girls was very popular with the guys. She did not know it...and I don’t think any of the guys overtly made it clear that she was desired. She was very pretty in that traditional way – but I think the secret to her popularity was the strand of jaji or mallige in her single plait. Yes...there is something immensely charming about a face that’s got mallige peeking from behind the shoulder.

When mallige was not in season, my favourite was the fragrance-less kanakambri - that riot of orange heaped into mounds in every push cart. I learnt to ‘tie’ flowers into strands with kanakambri. Kanakambri has a slightly long, delicate stalk, so there’s a certain way to hold the flowers in place and weave the twine without crushing them. There is a meditative peace in tying flowers into with anything you can fashion out using bare hands.

For some reason, I’m not very enamoured by roses. Of course they are stunning, both as buds as well as in full bloom...but they don’t have the same effect on me as lilies do. But there is one thing that fascinates me in all these beautiful flowers – the intricate symmetry of it all. From the way the petals curl and fold over in a bud to the perfectly tapering petals...the beauty, eye watering.

I can’t for the life of me remember where I came across the Sampige tree. Was it at a temple? Or someone’s home? Well...I tell you...Sampige trees are something...especially when the flowers bloom. Sampige is not at all subtle like the mallige. Oh no. They are little fragrance bombs. So strong that a lot of people get a headache.  I only remember seeing this tree in full bloom, a stunning combination of yellow interspersed with green; an incredible fragrance all around. With every whisper of the wind, some of the dried petals would shower down. It was love at first sight for me. Love breeds dreams. So I dream of having a Sampige tree wherever I stay. You a circular katte around the tree so one could just sit under its heaving branches...or lie down for an afternoon nap. Squirrels running up and down the trunk. Flowers fluttering in a yellow downpour. Chances of this dream being realized are slim. So I did the next best thing. Created an entire flower estate in my book. There. I knew being a writer is useful in some ways.

Meanwhile, I make do with the lilies. This small home I stay in packs the scent of the lilies quite tightly. So whenever I return home and open the door, for a second...just for a fleeitng second, I’m back at the sampige tree...I’m back to the time when I sat tying kanakambri strands...I’m back watching Amma insert a hairpin holding mallige into her plait.

I often wonder what kind of flower I’d be? What kind of flower are you, dear reader? Are you like the jasmine – plain, unassuming, but radiate your energy, your essence, your fragrance taking everyone by surprise? Or are you like the sampige – famed far and wide? Perhaps like the sunflower? You are just stunning and big and beautiful – eyes are drawn to you immediately? Or are you like my lilies? A complete seductive package? 

Me? I don’t know. Perhaps I’m an inflorescence...a collection of this and that...something that catches your eye momentarily J

© Sumana Khan


  1. Although I don't know many of the flowers by those names, your description immediately had me thinking about the jasmine, marigold, and hibiscus in distinct memories of my childhood! I absolutely love jasmine and roses, though I don't know whether my personality is reflected in either of those flowers!!

  2. :) I think you are a sunflower!

  3. Loved this post Sumana, I love sampige and rose, especially red rose. Sougandhika pushpa is also one of my favorites.

    1. Thanks Bhavi! Oooh haudu saugandhika! isn't there a bheema story associated with that flower?

    2. There is, we had a prose in Kannada about this called 'Sougandhika pushpa haraNA' antha :-)

    3. Managed to read it on the internet :) the english version.

  4. Delightful read as always Sumana.:) Brought a flood of memories in its wake.
    I concur with you on the "aroma of peace". It's absolutely divine. No perfumery can ever capture this aroma, bottle and sell. Whenever I catch a whiff of Jasmine tea now, I am taken back to a time when I never knew that in some cultures of the world, people infuse haLadi shaavanthige and mallige and relish the infusions as tea :) My neighbour had a yeLu sutthu mallige plant and she used to willingly share the bounty with us knowing my fondness for that one particular flower. Only that one kind of mallige can hold its own going solo or with just two little leaves attached, tucked into one's well oiled braid. Even now whenever I go home, after all these years, the first thing I look for when I peep into my neighbour's backyard is this one little fighter of a plant. :) We had a kenDa sampige mara in our backyard, yes "had". I remember the whole package so vividly - the fragrant bunches of yellow-orange flowers, the fruits littering the backyard, the horde of little black kambaLihuLas that descended on the tree in some season every year. A thanthi was strung between the tree trunk and the wall to dry the clothes, making us wary of of the clothes so dried especially during the caterpillar season. :) Now a sump stands in place of sampige mara. Another neighbour had... no, still has "China" sampige mara. God knows why China got associated with sampige. For me, all flowers are equally beautiful in their own way.-some for their colours, some for their fragrances, some for both- but they all have the power to make me smile. I don't like to remove flowers from their plants as far as I can help it.
    Oops! sorry for the long ramble.. got carried away quite a bit there. This is what your posts do to my memory, Sumana :)

    1. Yes...the first time I had jasmine tea...I was absolutely fascinated the way the bud opened up. I really feel those who can grow flowers are blessed :) How wonderful that you had a sampige mara! And oh nooo you reminded me of kambaLihuLa....yewwwwww I'll be shuddering throughout the day LOL! THis is the first time I've heard of 'China' sampige :D
      Thank you so much for such lovely comments Prathima :)

  5. I love the topics you choose to write upon.
    This one for example is particularly close to my heart. Once my uncle told me " I see you buy flowers to keep yourself happy"
    Another childhood memory is when Naman once asked me what I would do if I had a lot of money?
    My reply was that I would buy a forest for myself:)

    1. Thank you Noopur. Well...if you can't buy, you can plant one :) No wonder you are a doc!