Just as the scent of bitter almonds always reminded Florentino Ariza of the fate of unrequited love, in the book, Love in the Time of Cholera, written by Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the vines of purple and pink bougainvillaea always remind me of springtime in my hometown of Chandigarh.
As the gloom of winter fades and spring lurks around the corner in California, my garden comes to life with the blooming of tulips, daffodils and snapdragons. It’s a long wait from the time the bulbs are planted in September to when they bloom in spring. But it’s worth the wait. Chandigarh, perhaps, looks its most beautiful in spring. I can close my eyes and envision so clearly the purple bougainvillaea growing on all the major divider roads of the city. There’s nothing quite as these vines swaying in the gentle breeze with the magnificent Shivaliks as the backdrop.
In my growing years in the 1970s and 1980s, each house boasted of a well-kept garden, whether big or small; and that is hardly surprising, as in its infancy, the city was the home of bureaucrats’ wives and retired servicemen, both known to take great pride in their gardening skills. Furthermore, as a fledgling city, it had ample space for every house to have its own garden. The city parks were well planned with the intention of inviting the residents to outdoor activities, whether it is an early morning stroll at the Leisure Valley in Sector 10 or an evening jog at the Terraced Garden in Sector 33.
And how can we talk of gardens and not mention the Rose Garden, a garden unlike any other, which boasts of almost a thousand varieties of roses and the Rose Festival held there every year at the end of February, when all these hundreds of varieties are judged with much fanfare. Back in the days, the contest for the cutest baby was popular. The titles to be won were Rose Prince and Rose Princess. With the passing of time, the festival kept becoming more elaborate. From a one-day event, it spread to over several days, with many cultural events thrown in. From visiting the festival as a young child with my mother to skipping college and hanging out at the festival with my friends, the Rose Festival was an integral part of my Chandigarhian lifestyle.
Then the Chrysanthemum Show made its appearance with some fanfare. It was held every November in the Sector 33 Terraced Garden. Living in the very neighborhood, I would often stroll down to see the flowers that their proud owners had put on display to vie for the top prize.
Now as I revisit home, it saddens my heart to see that most houses have turned their gardens into concrete parking spaces for their many cars. With the added need for more housing, I wonder if Chandigarh will turn into a concrete jungle and lose its every essence — its culture of growing beautiful gardens? I hope not.