Or a group of friends may trek to the Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand or the Kaas Plateau in Satara, to see karvi flowers. But India as a nation doesn't take a weekend off to cherish any of its myriad flowers
Such is the enduring power of Bollywood, that it is practically impossible to gaze at a field of tulips, and not recall Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha canoodling in them in Silsila.
So there I was, gazing at tulip fields at the Floriade, an enormous flower show in Canberra, billed as "Australia's biggest celebration of spring". A free, month-long festival that runs from 14 September to 13 October, every year, the Floriade claims to showcase one million flowers in bloom, and draw 4,00,000 visitors every year. Actually, I was in Sydney recently, visiting my friend Gouri Umashankar, and she booked us a superb day-trip by bus with Ozia Tours to the Floriade in Canberra. There were tulips in a squillion shades, irises, poppies, daffodils, violas, pansies and more. And, as busloads of people and families arrived all day, the Floriade had a festive air, with a giant wheel, food stalls, even musicians giving free concerts, as families sprawled on the lawns in the mild spring sunshine, enjoying it all.
I was delighted with the idea of the public at large taking the day off to enjoy flowers. In Japan, of course, hanami ("flower watching") is a national pastime, when the sakura (cherry blossom) bloom in early spring. I don't know of any Indian language that has a proper phrase for flower watching. Phool dekhna simply doesn't have the same ring as hanami. Hanami is the art of cherishing the beauty of flowers, here sakura, and also acknowledging the fleeting transience of life, as the flowers bloom for barely two weeks. The art dates back to the eighth century, and sakura is celebrated in haiku, music and ukiyo-e (woodblock prints). And hanami parties are a thing, not just with family and friends, but companies send junior salarymen in the morning to "catch place" by spreading plastic "leisure sheets" under the trees, for staff parties that start in the evening, with bento boxes, sake and music.
The Japanese have a radically different relationship with flowers than that of Indians. We may, at the most, have flower lovers who grow blossoms on their balcony, or participate in or visit flower shows or ikebana classes. Or a group of friends may trek to the Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand or the Kaas Plateau in Satara, to see karvi flowers. But India as a nation doesn't take a weekend off to cherish any of its myriad flowers.
And the Floriade also tells you how funny Australians are. When you get off the plane, they will set sniffer dogs on you, and make you fill Mahabharata-sized forms asking if you are carrying any nuts, seeds, plants or bulbs; if you have any mud on your shoes; if you have stepped into a river lately, and more such. They are paranoid about 'biosecurity' and protecting their indigenous plants species from being invaded by foreign plants. Itna sab karke, they have the Floriade, bang in the Australian capital of Canberra, and supported by the government's National Capital Authority, full of exotic flower species like tulips. Correct me if I am wrong, but aren't all those tulip species primarily imported? Very likely from the Netherlands, to where they came from Central Asia (China/Kazakhstan/Kyrgyzstan), via Turkey? And to think they would want to arrest someone with mud on their shoes!
Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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