Why do Delhiwallas despise summer? Why do the rich escape to London and the middle-class to Nainital?
This mystery keeps us occupied during the high-temperature month of May when the sun truly comes into its own. After all, this is that time of the year when Delhi becomes most beautiful. The blooming Amaltas trees are soon clothed with golden yellow flowers.
We have just returned from a sweaty noon-time walk at Hailey Road, a sleepy stretch of tarmac in Central Delhi lined on both sides with Amaltas. It is still early in the season but quite a few trees are already dressed in yellow. The flowers have crawled up to the highest branches as if they want to escape to the sun. The whole day long they keep falling down on the pavement like a continuous snowfall, making the dusty ground look like as if it has been covered by a golden mat.
In his 2006 book Trees Of Delhi: A Field Guide, environmentalist Pradip Krishen recommends to see these “drooping sprays of bright-yellow flowers” in the central Delhi avenues of Amrita Shergil Marg, Shanti Path and Akbar Road, and also at Shakti Sthal, the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s memorial. Not many people might know that the giant Amaltas at Teen Murti Bhavan, where Mrs Gandhi lived with her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, was planted by her younger son Sanjay. It was under this tree that her ashes, and later those of her elder son, Rajiv, were placed to let mourners offer their respects.
“The most remarkable feature about Amaltas is that it is still a wild tree with wild genes and wild characters,” Krishen told us. “Gardeners and horticulturists are an interfering bunch of people and tend to select and breed for large, showy flowers or prettier foliage or better fragrance or some such character and so it’s rare to see a cultivated tree in a city like Delhi that remains true to its wild form.”
Delhi’s Amaltas has inspired many writers, poets and even film makers. In a famous scene in the classic 1960 film Mugahl e Azam, Prince Salim makes love to the doomed courtesan Anarkali amid the fallen flowers of Amaltas — the memorable musical backdrop was of the legendary Bade Ghulam Ali Khan rendering the song ‘Prem jogan ban ke’ in Raga Sohini.
Poet Anannya Dasgupta, who teaches English in a private university, once wrote a poem on the Amaltas:
The amaltas is back
along tarred streets.
from slim branches
in the fullness of
summer’s flair, saying
shine on (you crazy
diamond) see if we care.
Amaltas has also uses beyond poetry. Its roots, bark, seeds and leaves are used as a purgative to make one vomit and, well, also as a laxative. On Hailey Road, however, we recommend you to concentrate on its skin-deep beauty alone.
“But don’t let its flowers blind you to its fragrance,” advises Krishen. “You’ll probably have to find a way of taking a deep sniff when the diesel fumes are at their minimum but the Amaltas emits a truly lovely scent, especially in the morning.”
We’ll try going early.