Thursday, August 03, 2017

Marvel of Peru

I have always had a running battle with my malis about the merits of local flowers.

Our mali in Moraghat, Mithoo, was a terrible snob who always pooh-poohed all the 'local' flowers that I loved to propagate. Cannas and hibiscus were 'common' in the gardens of labour houses and they were not fit to be grown in Burra Bungalow, he would say. We did battle for a good fifteen years, and like all people who disagree, we have a strong bond and a healthy respect for each other. 
        Mithoo in 2008
When we moved from Moraghat he made it a point to visit us every year just before the cold weather planting began. He'd bring seeds and seedlings of hollyhocks and cineraria, dianthus and asters. After his visit, I would hear how he'd been saying that I'd had taught him everything he knew about flowers. That was good of him, and it was not entirely true.

Mithoo regrets that we have moved to Assam and that too to Dibrugarh district, which is 'so far away' from the Dooars. When he last called, he said it would take him a day and a half to reach us and another day and a half to return. How would he ever get enough chhutti to 'pugaao' (reach) all the plants to me? He's promised to try and get away, though.

Thank goodness none of my friends was as stuck up as any of these gardeners who scoffed at any plant that didn't have an English name or lineage.

While we were in Moraghat, we'd see a lot of pretty yellow and magenta flowers which opened only in the evening. My mother knew the Tamil name, it was the 'Naalu Mani Poo' or 'Four o'clock flower'. I remember seeing some outside the homeopath's clinic in Mal Bazar. When I asked Dr. Sarkar, he was most happy to let me take some rooted cuttings.

Last year, when we came to Assam, we met many people, some for the first time, and some after a gap of over two decades. Mrs Bagai - Ashima, she hates formality - was someone I met after over 25 years, and it was as if those years in between had never been. It was wonderful to 'talk plants' together, among other things. It was thanks to Ashima that I got to know that one of the fruit trees in our compound was actually a fig tree!!

One evening last cold weather, I spent a few happy hours with Ashima in her garden. I came home with lots of cuttings and seeds, and among them there were two packets which her malis had packed and marked 'Red' and 'Yelo'. I was touched that they had taken the trouble to write in English. These were 'Naalu Mani Poo' seeds. I wanted to learn what the English name was, and Google came up with 'Four o'clock flower' when I entered 'Naalu Mani Poo'! I was delighted. This was so wonderfully accurate!! And what's more, the Tamil name had been 'recognised' without a hitch.

The seeds sprouted and the seedling plants grew quickly. I'd never seen so many colours among these flowers. I was in for another surprise; a single plant bore blooms of different colours!

Some flowers were speckled and some...well, pied ( I have never forgotten Jacob and Laban and the sheep from The Merchant of Venice). I love the way the flowers mirror the colours of what we call 'kite paper'! Nothing like Indian flowers, my jingositic inner voice kept repeating to itself.

That voice fell silent today. I googled 'Four o'clock Flower' and got 'Mirabilis Jalapa' or 'Marvel of Peru'. Peru! How remote, how exotic, and how - well, marvellous.



How refreshing it is to read about your plants and flowers, their nomenclature(s) and your snobbish Malis. I miss your knowledge when I see the various flowers here, which bloom a brief while and are gone till next year

Viji said...

Wonderful ! No words to express how I feel after reading this ... do not have your felicity of words na :) :) thank you for this pretty window into your beautiful and colourful garden

Priya Subramanyan said...

So vividly and in such a fulsome way you describe your world and draw us in to marvel at its wonders ����

Priya Subramanyan said...

Gowri, just remembered as I was walking in my garden this morning and I passed the 4 o'clock plant that it is called 'anthimanthaarai' in Tamil. The leaves are medicinal and is used in treating boils and even pimples. Amma would apply a paste of turmeric and chandanam to the leaf and place it on the boil overnight 😊 Your maalis, despite their snobbery, might know about the local medicinal uses 😁

Kamini said...

The Four O'Clock flower - how absolutely magical and enchanting! Yet again you have drawn us into your beautiful world with your wonderful writing, Gowri. Keep writing - you have such a gift and you must nurture it.

Annie Mathai said...

How lovely Gowri the pictures. Btw was the fig tree the anjeer we eat or a variant?
Do inform when you're visiting Delhi next. Hugs.
And happy friendship Day!

Shalini Thukral said...

You have such a way with words dear Gow beautiful are the Four o'clock flowers...most magical... enjoyed your account of the much talented Mithoo