Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Burning bright – The Hindu

The tree enchants the eyes with the delicate, orange petals and red-yellow streaks.

The tree enchants the eyes with the delicate, orange petals and red-yellow streaks.
| Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It just could not be! How could the tree that had been full of rich orange blooms right up to its crown, some months ago, was now looking like a balding man with straggling brown strands spread loosely. The brown dried one-foot-long pods had replaced the flowers evenly all the way from the top to the bottom. It seemed like a case of alopecia. Last year, throughout summer, the tree had been full of leaves. This summer, I am missing the green leaves. I live on the fourth floor while the tree reaches the third floor; so I can see its forlorn look.

A universal delight, the gulmohar, or the “flame of the forest”, as it is called for its flamboyant bright orange flowers blooms in summer around mid-March, grows into a flaming canopy by May. The tree, with more flowers than the tiny green leaves, enchants the eyes with the delicate, orange petals and red-yellow streaks and lights up in the sun because of raceme inflorescence. It lasts through the monsoon and autumn. Last year, four flowers lived well into December giving company to the rich green pods, though the leaves had slowly begun to slip down. Now the tree stands totally bare and I am shocked.

My earliest memory of the gulmohar takes me back to the time when I was in Class 3, aged a month short of seven. The teacher told the class, “Go out and bring one flower, any flower, of your choice.” Thirty pairs of black shoes trooped out as on an adventure and returned in five minutes with the posies in their hands. I had picked a gulmohar with tiny buds dangling from the stigma in its centre. It was growing on a bush-size tree; the red-orange colour had fired my imagination. “Now draw the flower and colour it with coloured pencils,” the teacher instructed us. Soon, the little hands were drawing and colouring their favourite flowers. And then my art piece was ready.

I folded the paper into two and made it look like an invitation card. I wrote an invitation on the inner pages and handed it to my teacher inviting her to my birthday party to be held exactly a month from that day in March. The teacher thanked me with a smile and said something which I did not understand.

In April, when she came to the party, she told my mother about what she had said when I had handed her the invitation, and both laughed. After my friends and my teacher had left, my mother asked me if I had invited her a month ago. I nodded happily.

“What did your teacher say,” she asked me.

“She said, ‘Thank you, darling, I will come.’”

“Is that all she said?”

“Yes, and look she has come! She also said my gulmohar was very pretty,” I told my mother triumphantly.

My mother smiled and kept quiet.

Years later, when I was 16 and we had become more like friends, she recounted the exchange to me. Laughing she told me, “Your teacher had said, ‘Thank you, darling, I will come if I’m alive!’” Now, I understood the joke and both of us laughed heartily.

As this happy remembrance from the past came back to me, my eyes turned toward the barren Gulmohar tree. It hardly merited the name of ‘Flame of the Forest’ at this time of the season. But in a few days, I said to myself, it will surely burst into fresh green leaves and those beautiful buds hanging on the tips of the stigma pollinated by the sun-bird and the three-striped squirrel. The tree will look fulsome and ablaze with red-orange flowers once more.

The cycle of life will have begun.

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#Burning #bright #Hindu

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