Scentimental!

Sometimes you have to wait for a plant to flower for years. So much so that you even tend to forget that it exists in your garden. I had planted the Ananta some five years, maybe six. Now, I don’t even remember rightly, when. Having heard and read about it I had visited scores of nurseries until I found it in my neighbourhood. The nursery owner handing me the plant had said: “The flowers are milky white and very fragrant. It’s as large as a rose.”

ananta

For over 10 days I was unable to visit my orchard, first due to new assignments which came my way and second due to the excessive rains. The downpour was so heavy that roads were flooded: the car unable to move ahead. Crestfallen I had returned home to wait for another three days so that the rain god could be more reasonable.

But seeing the milk-white flowers on a tree this weekend as Mangal picked them up I rushed towards it only to be enveloped by its fragrance. The Ananta flowers, I am told is a favourite of Lord Ganesha, have a distinct heavenly fragrance which can be sensed even from far as the breeze caresses it and spreads its heady scent.

Belonging to the Gardenia family, the Ananta is known as Gardenia jasminoides. The flower is named after Dr. Alexander Garden (1730-1791), a Scottish-born American naturalist.

Also known as Ghanda raj (king of fragrance) it was a common fragrant plant a few years back but now has become a rarity and is difficult find one. Incidentally, it was Sigmund Freud’s favourite flower.

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Kadamba Memories

Now, it seems that it was ages back. Many, many summers ago. When I was a school-going kid, then in the sixth standard and we were asked to learn ‘by-heart’ Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s Yeh Kadamb ka Ped. If we failed to recite the next day, either we had to stand on our desks or told to go ‘class se bahar.’ We generally agreed to do the former because we didn’t want our parents to know.
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Like many others I had never seen a Kadamba tree but the poem about the wishes of a child to climb a tree on the river bank and play on a tiny wooden flute to surprise his mother remained with me all these years and on seeing a Kadamba tree today in full bloom, those memories of my school days came rushing. Of our Hindi teacher—the bespectacled, her long hair tied in a bun—Supriya madam dressed as always in a salwar kameej; Solil with whom I shared the desk and the view from the window—our huge playground which had played host to Palestine chief, Yasser Arafat.
The rains may play truant but Kadamba flowers are unlikely to desert you. In full bloom, the apricot-coloured spiny balls hanging from the branches of the Kadamba (Kaim, Mitragyna Parvifolia), standing on the roadsides, wait for the passersby to adore their beauty. They begin as yellow-green flowers spreading its scents, similar to jasmine, during nights and grow into oblong fruits containing seeds, as many as 8,000! The deep and thick fragrance of Kadamba flower at rainy night fills the surroundings with a mystique atmosphere. Only those who have experienced its aroma can feel it. On maturing, the fruit splits apart, releasing the seeds, which are then dispersed by wind or rain.
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The globular fruits, from which the white clubbed stigmas project is compared to the cheek of a maiden mantling with pleasure at the approach of her lover, and are supposed to have the power to irresistibly attracting lovers to one another. Expressed beautifully in the couplet of the Saptasatika: “Sweetheart, how I’m bewitched by the Kadamba blossoms, all the other flowers together have not such a power. Verily Kama wields now-a-days a bow armed with the honey balls of the Kadamba.”
Mathematician-astronomer Aryabhatt had propounded the view that earth was round just as the bulb of a Kadamb flower is surrounded by blossoms on all sides, so also is the globe of the Earth surrounded by all creatures whether living on land or in water.
In Sanskrit it is called Kadamba or Kalamba, and has also many synonyms, such as Sisupala (protector of children); Hali-priya (dear to agriculturists) etc.
Kadamb flower marks an annual miracle in Bangladesh: borsha, the monsoon season, stretching through the months of Ashar and Shrabon. In Bangladesh it is said “Don’t offer Kadam/Kadambo flower to your lover lest it creates mistrust between you’’. If you visit Dhaka during the rains you’re likely to come young boys selling Kadamba flowers on the streets.
Thane has scores of Kadamba tree and these are the ones I come across during my morning walks in July. You too may have seen them in your neighbourhood. If not, keep looking.
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Here is the poem for those have not heard of it:
Yeh kadamb ka ped agar ma hota yamuna teere
Mai bhi us per baith kanhiya banta dhere dhere

Le deti tum mujhe basuri do paiso wali
Kisi tarah nichi ho jati yah kadamb ki dali

Tumhe nahi kuch kahata mai chupke-chpuke aata
Vahi baith phir bade maje se mai basuri bajata

Amma amma kah bansi ke swar me tumhe bulata
Bahut bolane per bhi ma jab nahi utar kar aata

Ma, tab ma ka hriday(dil) tumhara bahut vikal ho jata
Tum aachal faila kar amma vahi ped ke niche

Ishwar se kuch vinnti karti baithi aakhe meeche
Tumhe dhyan mai lagi dekh mai dheere dheere aata

Aur tumhare faile aachal ke neeche chup jaata
Tum ghabara kar aakh kholti, per ma khush ho jaati

Jab apne munna raja ko godi mai hi pati
Issi tarah kuch khela karte hum tum dheere- dheere
Yah kadamb ka ped agar ma hota yamuna teere.

The image of the boys on a Kadamba tree is courtesy http://weloveourbangladesh.blogspot.in/

Kadamba—the May tree

May is the month when the kadamba tree (Neolamarckia cadamba) yields fruit—those yellow-orange ball-shaped fruit, the size of golf balls. It’s that month when the sun is really, really harsh. It also happens to be the month when most deaths due to the heat wave occur. It’s not the month when you would like to venture out in the open (contrary to the claims by sun-screen TV commercials).

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If you do, do venture out early in the morning or late in the evening and tilt your neck towards the sky while standing below a tall kadamba tree. I’m sure you’ll see a marvel. The crown is a canopy of branches, like an outstretched palm with leaves sprouting all around, as if an umbrella held over you. If you lie and stretch yourself (not possible because kadamba trees are used as avenue trees in cities) you’re likely to be awe-struck by what I call the nature’s wonder. The marble-white of the sky peeping through the speckles of green, reminding you of an embroidered sari you inherited from your grandmother.

A favourite of Lord Krishna, kadamba tree and its flowers is consider a universal favourite among the Gods. In fact, the Mother Goddess Durga is said to reside in a kadamba forest—for she is lovingly called Kadamba Vana Vāsinī.

The fresh leaves are edible and a favourite fodder among cattle. The ornamental tree, used for soil reclamation sheds large amounts of leaf and non-leaf litter which on decomposition improves some physical and chemical properties of soil under its canopy.

The fragrant orange flowers attract pollinators like bees, butterflies and birds. Furthermore, this tree can grow best in alluvial sites like river-banks and in the transitional zone between swampy, permanently flooded and periodically flooded areas.

Come rains, the branches lashed by wind the kadamba fruit–by now ripe and coloured bronzed brown– drop on the earth, one by one. In the mornings you’ll see scores of them lying around. Of them, some will grow to be a tree continue the life cycle.

Adivasis of Chattisgarh believe that planting kadamba trees closer to lakes, rivers and ponds, brings happiness and prosperity.

Rabindranath Tagore mentioned the kadamba in one of his poem: Badal diner prothom kodom phul.

You offered me your first yield,
The fragrant Kadamba of monsoon
For my part, I bring you
My rainy tunes.

I have shielded them
With cool shadows, dim skies,
Treasuring
My first lyrical fruition

I know today offers you abounding harvest
But tomorrow will leave you bare

And so each monsoon,
My songs will come to life,
My boat will be heaped with your honour
My melodies, echo your glory
Riding on tides
Of your lost remembrance.

English Translation courtesy Anjan Ganguli (GEETABITAN)

Listen to the poem. https://youtu.be/JAnevYvrs68/ https://youtu.be/cNNgPwLDyds

Flush with Palash

My best Basant song is Ketaki gulaab joohi champakban phoole sung by Bhimsen Joshi and Manna Dey. Penned by Shankar Kesarilal who later came to be known as Shailendra, its composers were Jaikishan Dayabhai Panchal and Shankar Singh Raghuvanshi, the duo world knows as Shankar-Jaikishen.
We are in midst of Basant. In fact, the Basant is already three weeks old. Basant Panchami marks the beginning of spring and falls on the fifth day of Maagh each year. The month of colours, Phagun, is still a few days hence. In Lahore, Rawalpindi, Sialkot, Faisalabad, Kasur and across all of the Punjab, this festival is energetically celebrated as ‘Jashn-e-Baharaan’ (Celebration of Spring).
cropped-flame-of-forest.jpgThe song, Ketaki Gulaab…, was playing on the mobile as I chanced upon patches of ‘flames’ on the horizon on my way to my farm. As I proceeded I came across the roadside littered with ‘flames’. By flame I mean Flame of the Forest or Palash flowers. Its botanical name is Butea monosperma.
The name ‘palash’ comes from Plassey in West Bengal which the world knows. The Battle of Plassey was a decisive victory of the British East India Company over the Nawab of Bengal and his French allies on 23 June 1757. The battle established the Company rule in Bengal which expanded over much of India for the next hundred years. The battle took place at Plassey (anglicized version of Palashi).
palash on roadsideI have written about Palash earlier but this time around experienced something different: I enjoyed the nectar which sits between the receptacle and peduncle (stalk of the flower). I squeezed it and several drops of liquid, like honey water, entered my mouth. So this is what brings the bees, the ants and the birds in hordes to the orange-red flower of Palash! You need to drink the nectar early in the morning for as the sun rises the nectar dries up, again to be restored in the morning.
I didn’t know that Nature has designed Palash flower to be very energy efficient until I came across a longest piece ever written on the flower. Shubhasish Mitra @muktadhar.org on Flower of Shantiniketan: Palash elaborates: The different orientation of individual buds suggest that each flower of Palash will be aligned differently to the Sun, so that some faces of the whole bunch will always face the Sun. As the petals of an individual Palash flower open at least in 3 directions, combined with each flower making a different angle with the branch, Palash looks bright from all angles of Sun- whether it is dawn or dusk. This is the first rule of geometric symmetry Palash follows- orientation towards the Sun from all conceivable angles. It is in fact a quality most of the flowers adapt, but none so magnificently like Palash.
Calling it an ‘intelligent tree’, he writes further: Imagine solar panels of smaller dimensions (maybe at size of a palm) arranged in a 3D geometrical space like the petals of Palash and then arranged perhaps like the branches- the design may be complex, the idea quite wild perhaps, but it has every theoretical chance to be more energy efficient than flat solar panels!
Though Palash is attributed to have medicinal properties, I came across a first person account in Ashok’s blog, someitemshave.blogpost.in, here he mentions that taking tea made of dried Palash flower has helped him to get relief from his stiff back, acquired due to long hours sitting in front of the computer.
This Sunday I plan to collect as many flowers I can and dry them to be used later.

Colour Purple

Flowers tell us that the world is really beautiful and enchanting. Makes us have faith on nature. Reminds me what Walter Hagen said: You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.
Bauhinia_blakeana_(Key_West)It’s always a delight watching a flower in full bloom. More so if the flower wears your favourite colour. Purple being one of them. It has been more than a week since the Purple Bauhinia trees in Mumbai and Thane are flush with their showy flowers and ornamental foliage. I chanced the season’s first bloom in the park where I jog. Most were on trees and few scattered on the ground. Had they been jasmine or other sweets smelling flowers they would have picked up to be placed in front of the altar but not these.
Each time I passed I sent a kiss towards them which my daughter who accompanied found annoying. My action was to thank them for the beauty.
And I soon found that she had sprinting much ahead and turned to say: “It’s really embarrassing, don’t do it. “
The lone Purple Bauhinia I have planted on the edge of my farm is still too young but I’m hoping it will soon bloom: for it blooms twice a year.
I take solace on what Henri Matisse said: There are always flowers for those who want to see them.
Before the Purple Bauhinias wither and fade away this season do have a dekho at them.

Yellow, pretty fellow

I had given up on it, reduced as it was to a stump. After almost two years it surprised me as I chanced upon five of them brightening up my farm. My candle bush plant was blooming—the flowers erect on the branch. As if yellow candles have been lighted; illuminating the neighbouring plants. Drifting over those bright, neon yellow flowers were black bumble bees. A great contrast—black against yellow. By the time I could capture it on my mobile the bumble bee had flown away.
Beside bumble bees the candle bush attracts pollinators like larvae of suphur butterflies.
candle bushYou’re likely to find candle bush growing wild. I was introduced to them, having seen on the narrow garden patch between railway tracks. Intrigued by the bright yellow flowers I had planted one in my farm. I have yet to come across anyone growing it in a garden or a park.
A native of Mexico, Candle Bush belongs to the Gulmohur family. In Hindi it is called “Dadmurdan”, mainly because its leaf has anti-fungal properties. Also called ringworm bush its leaf is used for treating ringworm and other fungal infections of the skin. The leaves are ground in a mortar to obtain a kind of “green cotton wool”. This is mixed with the same amount of vegetable oil and rubbed on the affected area two or three times a day. A fresh preparation is made every day. It works due to its active ingredients chrysophanic acid.

The Swiss Connection

On Dassera Day I got a mail from Dr. Sharad P. Kale, Head, Nuclear Agriculture and Biotechnology Division, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre with a strange request: “Please plant one Bahunia recimosa or Apta tree if it is possible to reciprocate what Mother Earth has given us in the form of Life–gold.”
bauhinia_variegata_leafHe was referring to ‘sona’ leaves we exchange on Dassera day. Every year, a day prior to Dassera, branches of Apta trees in and around Thane are hacked are brought to Mumbai, its suburbs and Thane by the adivasis and sold to the urban dwellers.
At the end of the day the leaves are deposited in the dust bin to be carried away to dumping ground or landfill. Have we ever given thought of planting a apta? It’s very unlikely you will see a Bahunia Recimosa planted on roadsides or parks by the civic body or in housing garden patch.
Of the many Bahunias (there are 200 of them), easily identifiable by their cow-feet shaped leaves, my favourite is Bahunia Purpure or the Purple Bauhunia.
I have always wondered as to how it derived its botanical name, Bauhunia. The credit goes to Bauhin Brothers, Gaspard (1560-1624)and Johann (1541-1613), of Basel (Switzerland), botanist, anatomist, and plant taxonomist. Each wrote classic works on the cultivation, economic uses and nomenclature of plants. In the 18th century, Europeans first discovered a tropical genus of small- to medium-sized trees with twin-lobed foliage. Here were the ideal plants whose twin-lobed leaves would forever serve as a reminder of a brotherly botanical legacy to honour the illustrious Bauhins. And so the genus name Bauhinia was born.
Yes, I do have a Purple Bauhinia, at the edge of my farm.

Blooming Saptaparni

Inhaling the jasmine-like scent last evening as I reached home it dawned on me how unfair were our ancestors. Because Saptaparni blooms in the night it’s known as Indian Devil Tree and its flowers never decorated in a vase or used in ceremonies. Just like Plumeria. saptaBoth are great favourites of moths and other nocturnal insects.
The tallest Saptaparni I have come across is in Mumbai’s Byculla Zoo and is identified as Alstonia scholaris .
If you want to catch the fragrance of Saptaparni (its seven- leafed), now is the time for it. In generally blooms in the third half of September and continues till mid October. The fragrance of its yellowish white flowers reminds you of Cestrum nocturnum or Raatraani (Marathi).
In Bengal it’s known as Chatim. Interestingly, there are scores of Bengalis out there who have adopted its Sanskrit name as its own. You will come across Saptaparni Dey, Saptaparni Ghosh etc.
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Spring in Switzerland

IMAG0571IMAG0596I know my friends in India may feel jealous as they read this post. I write this from Switzerland. While my fellow farmers and those who follow my blog are wilting due to the summer hear I enjoy the pleasant and salubrious weather of Switzerland.
Okay let me explain. In my original avatar I am a journo. My profession takes me to places and for nearly a decade I’ve been visiting Switzerland to cover the biggest jamboree of high-end luxury watches, called Baselworld.
No, I don’t own any luxury watches. I’ve just two plain and vanilla watches—one a Titan and another Citizen.
Its spring time Switzerland. The trees wearing the blossom and the meadows have become green one again. I’m in Basel, a city which has a history dating back to 1700. Here every street corner, traffic islands, parks, garden and window sill sports nature’s colour. After months of snow, as Robert Walser described “…There is no longer any sky, everywhere there is a gray, white snow. There is no longer any air, even that is full of snow. The earth no longer exists, it is also covered in snow and yet more snow. “ The earth having discarded the shroud of snow has become young, wrapped in a palette of colours—yellow, pink, lavender, magenta, blue, pale yellow and others.
You can see Primroses, Crocus, both yellow and blue, daisies, tulips.

This is the first spring in almost a decade I‘ve been visiting Basel that I’m enjoying spring, thanks to the sunny weather.