Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. ― Pablo Picasso
Recently came across this beautiful photograph of a rain covered green Sampangi (Magnolia champaca/ Champa in Hindi) flower posted by my aunt, and looking at it brought back many memories of my childhood in Bangalore and spurred me to write these 900 odd words!! Many many years ago, Bangalore was a garden city and I was an avid gardener, but now, both of us have entirely changed. Bangalore is mostly a concrete jungle, and I’ve almost forgotten that I ever was a gardener.
There used to be a Magnolia champaca tree in one of the small gardens of our neighbors. I remember my mother going gaga over it when she saw it one day and she told me that it was a “Sampangi” tree and that the flowers have an incredibly sweet smell. I looked at it and was not at all impressed because there didn’t seem to be any flowers on the tree. However, we walked into the garden and she showed me light green blossoms on the tree.
I picked up one blossom that had just fallen down and smelt it, it was indeed a most heavenly fragrance and I still remember it. From that day onwards, the Sampangi flowers represented all things subtle and exotic to me. I’d look for them when we went to the larger vegetable market in Jayanagar, and always pick up a couple of them and smell them under the pretext of wanting to buy a few, and then throw them back into the heap and walk away 🙂 🙂
The weekly visit to the large vegetable market in Jayanagar was a very much anticipated and enjoyable family outing with neighbors, combined with grocery shopping and eating out. It was always a sensuous experience to see the various vegetables, fruits, and flowers in the market. Our shopping spree always invariably ended with the last purchase of the day – a few elbow lengths of jasmine strings to tuck into our hair. Yes, I had very long hair back then, and often tucked strings of flowers into my hair, except when in school where it was not allowed.
As a child, I was crazy about flowers. It started probably when I was four or five, with trying to find and pluck “gaddi poolu (grass flowers)”, when I was out on my daily walk with my mom. I would stop often to stoop down and marvel at the tiny specks of pink and red that were almost imperceptible to adults and try to pluck them till I would be pulled away to continue with my walk. Another favorite spot to visit was a nearby trellis that supported an incredible number of pinkish white climbing roses.
The existence of this trellis in front of my mother’s office was extremely fortunate because no one seemed to mind how many roses or buds you plucked from it, compared to the rose bushes in gardens that were zealously guarded. A visit to this trellis to admire and pluck roses was always looked forward to, and it’s one of the most pleasurable memories of my childhood.
Roses were very popular flowers in Bangalore because it apparently had the perfect climate for roses. Up to 6th standard, our school was housed in an old picturesque British bungalow in Langford town, which was an area dotted with old bungalows and huge gardens. One of my classmates, a tall and quiet girl called “Sarah” once mentioned to me that she happened to have a huge rose garden in her house. I was thrilled to hear about it and thought I was unbelievably lucky when she told me that she lived very close to school and could take me to her house every lunch-break to look at the roses. So, she became my “lunch-break best friend”. Those were the days when you had a different “best friend” for different times and occasions 🙂 🙂
Every day, I would gobble up lunch quickly and walk down to her place with her. She would leave me in the garden to admire the roses while she had her lunch, giving strict instructions not to pluck or disturb any flowers. I would happily while away time around the rose bushes and when it was time to leave, she’d turn incredibly generous and tell me that I could pluck one rose (always only one, never more than one), whichever one I wanted.
I’d joyously pluck the “rose of the day”, trying my best to select the most glorious one and carry it back with me as though I’d found some invaluable treasure. The entire afternoon periods would be spent admiring the rose that I kept under the desk. Can’t believe I was that crazy back then! However, this happy and flowering friendship with Sarah ended when our school shifted to a new building in Koramangala. Sarah didn’t move with us and shifted to another school. Sadly, I never met her after that.
Those were the days when I didn’t yet have a garden of my own. Very soon, I got lucky enough to move into a house surrounded by a lot of open barren land. After a lot of persuasion, I got my mother to erect barbed wire fences around our house so that I could set up my own garden. There are a lot of sweet and bittersweet memories of my own garden, but it’s a story for another day 🙂