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The floral carpet

I first met him under the freshwater mangrove tree on one of my early-morning walks in the neighbourhood. A tall, frail figure stooping to collect the red carpet of flowers on his puja pathram.

We exchanged the usual pleasantries, and he recollected how he had planted and raised the tree. And how he had never met anything so bounteous in beautiful charity for his puja. Not much of a conversationalist, he resumed collecting flowers almost immediately. A few encounters later, Nagarajan, whom I started calling uncle, invited me into his garden to show saplings of the tree. He shared some of the seeds he collected and a few saplings too.

Years passed. My work routines got busier and the morning walks dwindled. But one wondrous morning, on resuming my walk, I found the roadside beside the tree carpeted a brilliant scarlet, with hundreds of flowers. Nagarajan’s house was shut and barred. I learnt from a neighbour that his wife was sick and he was away with his son, in another city. With no one to collect them, the flowers were being swept each day into the rubbish heap.

A few days later, the flowers were on their way out, and the delicately interconnected seeds began to appear. I began to visit every day. The seeds matured and began to shed early in the morning. It must have been around Nagarajan’s waking time, I guess. In all the years before, no walker had ever stepped on either the flowers or seeds. For want of his gentle presence and care, most were being run over by the milkman or the newspaper boy, while walkers stomped over the rest. By mid-morning, the roadside cleaner unceremoniously disposed all of them into the dump truck. I felt compelled to help in some way.

The next morning, I left home at 5 a.m., with a cloth bag. As usual, the seeds decorated the entire span under the tree’s canopy. And I hastened to pick up each of them. Of course, a few had already been crushed under wheels of vehicles. But the rest of them lay waiting, to be collected. Every day for the next month and more, I would go with a big bag and collect the seeds till the season passed.

All the collected seeds have been sown in nurturing garden beds to raise many wonderful babies of the mother tree. So she can spread her bounteous spirit in more spaces in our city and beyond. I am sure Nagarajan will be happy to hear this, wherever he is!

Freshwater mangroves (Barringtonia acutangula) grow to about eight metres tall, with a fissured rough grey bark. In the flowering season, beautiful red flowers hang pendulously in long strands. Four-sided fruits are produced periodically. It grows on banks of freshwater swamps and seasonally flooded lowland plains. Found in tropical Asia, Madagascar and other places, the tree can grow in a wide range of soils, and is particularly tolerant of heavy clay soils with poor drainage. Parts of the tree have been used in medicine, and is recently in research for pain-killing compounds.

shobha61@gmail.com


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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 3:31:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-floral-carpet/article35513637.ece

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