Humour: Paradise locked
For all my many flaws, I’ve never once thought of myself as a person given to envy. Whether it’s the perfect potato peeler or prettiest penthouse, I’m able to admire without avarice and compliment without contempt (while alliterating with alacrity.) But the lockdown – a crucible for all kinds of dramatic change – has revealed otherwise. Just one picture of a rose blooming in a balcony or daisies growing wild in a garden is enough to turn my thoughts prickly with jealousy. Balconies and gardens! Are there any greater luxuries in these times of confinement?
A streetside bride
Of course, one is immediately reminded of the privilege that accompanies such flowery dreams. Even as lives are thrown off balance by the cruelty of our times (and our ways), flowers bloom all around the summery city. The copperpod tree, sometimes called the yellow Gulmohar, drops its flowers all around the margins of Mumbai’s unswept streets. The crinkly petals do not usually merit another look when they’re perched high on branches. And so they resort to this attention-seeking tactic, filling up the pavements in golden clusters. So needy.
Not far away, bunches of laburnum droop like jhumkas on a streetside bride. Bougainvillea beckons from the roofs of bus stops: five-syllabled flowers that herald pre-monsoon showers. (Rhyme is less annoying than alliteration, you’ll agree.) And frangipani turns to champa in the hair of *someone* who’s plucked off a bunch from an unguarded garden. It’s a scandal, really, how beautiful the city currently looks in the middle of all the desolation.
Even as my one surviving plant withers in its pot on the window sill, the view outside is more reassuring. The clump of Eucalyptus trees grows ghostly in the moonlight, jagged barks and sweeping branches giving the arterial road the air of a high-altitude retreat. Not far, a cannonball tree enchants with its surprising flowers and fruit – like something Frida Kahlo would paint with haunting aliveness. Meanwhile, a bunch of mint leaves in my fridge turns into an indescribable mess. Pro tip: all those great intentions of making a splendid green chutney usually end like this. Be realistic. Make a pudina raita instead, while you still have the chance.
The kindly neighbours downstairs have been caring for their plants with missionary zeal right through this confinement. I have to stop myself from plotting midnight burglaries in the compound involving aloe vera stems and tulsi leaves. And then there are thoughts of taking walks around the plentiful gardens in the neighbourhood, hiding a pair of scissors in an inconspicuous bag. The mask serves a dual purpose here. A vegetative state clearly breeds plant-based obsessions.
Mad with joy
It is the way of nature to nurture us bumbling humans, adrift in an indifferent universe. And it does that with aplomb. Iris Murdoch’s quote comes to mind: “People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” ‘Mad with joy’ is a state that is, quite frankly, impossible to achieve at the moment. But I assure all you fellow lockdowners staring out of the dreary Excel sheets of your netted windows, lamenting the absence of gardens and balconies, flowers are everywhere in bloom. And that, on an especially colourless day, is enough to keep one going. Somewhere beyond the red, orange and green of lockdown zones lie the extravagant crimsons and lilacs and vermilions of parks, waiting to greet us when we return.
When the world opens up again, I’m heading straight to the flower market, and carrying a newspaper-wrapped bunch back home in a speeding auto. Until then, I will test the limits of my character, staring at the social media feeds of people isolating in Gardens of Eden. I will passive aggressively “like” floral FB posts, and say “Wowwwww!!!” to splendid sunsets while muttering sour nothings under my minty breath.
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From HT Brunch, May 31, 2020
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