Paromita Vohra: The flowers of October
The suffocating intensity of Mumbai's October heat has been like a blanket this year
The suffocating intensity of Mumbai's October heat has been like a blanket this year. Every cab ride begins with, "Garmi ne jaan le li hai" and such mutual commiserations. One time I said, "I don't know if it's really hotter this year or I'm just older and feeling that way." "No, ma'am," said the driver, "It is hotter. Don't be affected by things Modiji says." We both laughed out loud.
Like those shared city laughs, there are other gifts of October all around us. Like water chestnuts glowing purple and green in wet piles, ushering in other autumn-coloured vegetables, purple yams and banana flowers and blushing sweet potatoes. On my windowsill, hibiscuses are making fools of themselves, blooming like foolish love and falling all over each other; and pink roses are plumply budding. Cassia trees seem hectic with their touchable pink and fleshy flowers. Saptaparni trees are sending out that Charmis cream smell, beckoning with their lacy bunches of flower petticoats, telling cooler days to come hither. Behind the gate of the mysterious nun's cloister on Mahakali Caves Road, frangipanis are peeking, rich creams and warm pinks, as if miniature paintings lurk behind those gates. As if to underline the season's fertile efflorescence, marigold chains are embracing every car and shopfront on Dussehra.
On my windowsill, a golden oriole, the colour of fresh mango ice cream, has been visiting each morning and singing its startlingly melodious song. Sometimes, it is joined by a more sober-looking lady oriole. I swear, they pose for me in perfectly positioned angles and parallels to each other, flitting away just as I get close enough for a proper picture.
The description of the city that we are always given is that it is a 'concrete jungle.' True, Mumbai certainly does not have Delhi's leafy avenues and Bengaluru's floral plenitude. But, every time I am on top of a flyover, with an aerial view of the dense suburban clusters, I am always surprised to note that Mumbai is greener than one imagines it to be. Trees have always co-existed with people and buildings, just as flowers have always lurched out of Dalda tins on windowsills in bastis. But, the persistent and clichéd description of Mumbai as a place of slum and skyscraper seems to have resulted in something akin to body-shaming for the city.
Perhaps, because we buy into this builder-politician-generated body image of the city, we don't think of it as a place that has trees to save and greenery to protect, which can be loved for this beauty, too, not just the shiny chrome and glass version of good looks. Looking at the causal natural beauty, hotly present around us, while reading about the Mumbai Coastal Road project being approved, and about more trees being cleared in Aarey, I think how amazing it is that activists like those who work on the Save Aarey campaign continue to fight; that photographers like @MumbaiPaused share photographs of Mumbai trees in urban nooks and neighbourhoods to the hashtag of #50Trees; that groups like Marine Life of Mumbai (@MLOMumbai) lovingly and graphically document all the jewel- and jelly-like sea creatures found on our coastline. These attentive projects bestow the look of love on the city, to remind us we live in nature, and this beauty is worth saving and having.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning, Mumbai-based film-maker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com
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