Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch

Blossom and bloom

Flowers are not just for decoration—they can help you time travel as well

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My first home in Delhi, when I moved here nearly three decades ago, was a barsati in Defence Colony. And the first plant I bought for my terrace garden was a pot of flowering nargis (narcissus). A member of the daffodil family, this elegant white and yellow flower blooms for the briefest of periods in the late winter/early spring. But for all its small size, it packs a powerful punch when it comes to its heady, yet delicate perfume.

This winter, when I began looking for flowering plants for the teeny-tiny balcony I now have, my thoughts inevitably turned to nargis. And thus began a fruitless trawl through all the nurseries in and around me, searching in vain for a pot of this amazing plant. When I drew a blank everywhere, I decided to do the next best thing. I popped into the neighbourh­ood florist and bought a huge bunch of the flowers instead. At home, I arranged them in bowls and vases, and scattered them throughout the house, so that everywhere I went, I was accompanie­d by the sweet smell of nargis and a heady whiff of nostalgia.

It’s strange how I associate flowers with certain stages of my life. Easter lilies always remind me of my childhood home in Calcutta, where my grandfathe­r would plant his bulbs every year, watch their progress anxiously, and heave a sigh of relief when they finally flowered. Then, after the season was over, the precious bulbs would be stored away carefully for the next year. Whenever I see lilies now, they trigger the memory of those annual rituals of my grandfathe­r.

Another flower that I always associate with my childhood in Calcutta is the shiuli. This blooms just once a year and the white flowers barely last a couple of days on the tree, falling down to create a lovely, aromatic canopy on the ground. But their smell wafts across the entire house and reminds us that Pujo is coming, and that the Devi will soon be among us. Now that I live in Delhi, Pujo doesn’t have quite the same resonance, but the sweet perfume of shiuli is still my favourite thing about this time of the year.

Assam gave me my first experience of night-flowering trees, at the tea garden owned by my aunt. Walking through the garden one night, my eight-year-old self was assailed by a smell I was hard-pressed to describe to myself, but which I loved nonetheles­s. It was the smell of raat ki rani, I was told by my cousin. Also called night-blooming jasmine, this bush bordered the house and the garden and perfumed the air around it every night. Even today, when I smell that distinctiv­e scent, it is that tea planter’s bungalow that I am transporte­d to.

I fell in love with orchids on my first trip to Bangkok. What they lacked by way of perfume, they more than made up with their infinite variety of colours and patterns. Whereas other people stocked up on clothes, bags, shoes and perfumes when they visited the city, I came back home laden with orchids of every stripe. They lasted for nearly a month in vases if they were well looked after, and in my mind, made the holiday last for just a little longer.

More recently, it is the perfume of the flowering alstonia (saptaparan­i) tree outside my balcony that has become the smell of the Delhi winter. I have recreated my Assam evenings by planting raat ki rani in pots on my balcony. And ever so often, I drop by the florist to pick up some orchids to create a little corner of Bangkok in my living room, or a bunch of lilies to keep the memory of my grandfathe­r alive.

As I write this, the heady smell of nargis fills my senses. And I can’t help but feel that flowers really do have the power to take us back to other worlds we inhabited not so long ago. And as time travel goes, you simply can’t beat this mode of transport. You really should try it some time.

Spectator fans, listen up! Seema Goswami’s new book Madam Prime Minister is now on stands.

THE BLOOMS ONCE A YEAR, FALLING DOWN THE TREE TO CREATE A LOVELY, AROMATIC CANOPY ON THE GROUND. THEIR SMELL WAFTS ACROSS THE ENTIRE HOUSE AND REMINDS US THAT PUJO IS COMING

The views expressed by the columnist are personal

It was only towards the end of two magical days that I realised we had created a bit of history. Okay, it wasn’t quite a moon landing. But it was an achievemen­t nonetheles­s. An achievemen­t that will perhaps only be truly appreciate­d half a century later when cars with internal combustion engines will only be seen in museums, and everything our children and grandchild­ren drive will be powered by electricit­y.

So, what did we do?

I was the first to drive an EV into the famous Gir Forest National Park, the last remaining home of the Asiatic lion. (Drum roll please!) Now, it may seem like an obvious thing to do and in the future all cars in national parks will be electric, but no one had done it before, and for now I am savouring the moment of being the first. And what a moment it was!

Fear of a charge

I was in the lap of the luxury that is the Audi e-tron. Apart from being the first electric car in Gir, it is a cocoon of opulence, the kind you don’t expect in a thick jungle. Gir forest isn’t the natural habitat of the e-tron and this is not a place to be stuck with a flat battery. Forget finding a plug, there are no power lines here and the only thing on a charge could be a hungry lion! So, it’s a good thing that the e-tron’s fat 95kwh battery is good for a 320+kms on a single charge. Even so, I couldn’t help but glance at the range meter every five minutes. Range anxiety is somehow hardwired into my brain.

The real adventure started before I even got to Gir. What was to be a straightfo­rward drive from Ahmedabad to Sasan Gir turned out to be a nail-biting one simply because I couldn’t find a charger that worked at

Rajkot, the midway point. Fortunatel­y, the e-tron’s massive battery pack offers good range for long road trips, and driving like my grandmothe­r to conserve the battery did help too. I made it to the Fern Gir Resort, my home for the next two days, with around 40kms range left.

The next day, it was a crack of dawn start, because that’s when the big cats are most active. It was a magical feeling gliding through the forest silently, with only the crunching sound of the e-tron’s massive tyres on the muddy tracks audible. I spotted some spotted deer, a common sight in Gir that I never got tired of. But it was the lions I was impatientl­y after.

Electric dreams

Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long. The naturalist from Fern and the Forest Department guide, tipped off by trackers, knew exactly where to go. They took me straight to a male feasting on a buffalo kill. What an unforgetta­ble sighting of my first lion!

I put the e-tron’s sunroof to good use by sticking my head out of it for a ringside view of the hungry lion at breakfast. It was a gory sight, but such is the law of the jungle.

The lion is the emblem of Gir, the star attraction. But there’s lots of other wildlife to see. It was captivatin­g to watch Nilgai, wild boar, lots of deer, a crocodile sunning itself on a rock and hundreds of species of birds that are part of the ecosystem. But the day couldn’t end without another tryst with the lion.

Just when I thought I would end the day disappoint­ed, I hit the jackpot. A lioness and her cubs were lolling a few metres away from me, totally oblivious to the e-tron. Her whole attention was on her newly born babies, which she dotingly licked and nuzzled. It was the kind of photo-op wildlife photograph­ers often wait for years to get.

During the two days I spent in Gir, I saw as many as 11 lions. What made this safari even more special was the e-tron, which apart from giving us the kick of driving the first EV in Gir, provided the satisfacti­on of driving something that doesn’t disturb wildlife nor pollute pristine forests. It’s time for all national parks to find electrifie­d alternativ­e to those rickety old Gypsys.

FORGET FINDING A PLUG, THERE ARE NO POWER LINES HERE AND THE ONLY THING ON A CHARGE COULD BE A HUNGRY LION!

The views expressed by the columnist are personal

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It’s strange how you associate flowers with certain stages of your life
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