The responsibility of flowers
My Clerodendron flowers seemed to hold their breath, and refused to fade until the Lollipop flower had bloomed for me, before gently making an exit
Along with its wrath, the Coronavirus's lockdown has given us more gifts than we suspect. In the lockdown months, I have been drawn to the writings of Pico Iyer, brilliant travel writer and author. His 13 books include my favourite, The Lady and The Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto, and in recent years, he has become an eloquent expert on the art of stillness. He has written a book, The Art of Stillness, and many essays on it, and done TED Talks on the subject. In 1990, a wildfire burnt his family home in California, and everything he owned, to ashes. Reflecting on it much later, he wrote, "My house burns down before my eyes, and I feel liberated as much as oppressed."
Some months after the fire, Iyer spent time at a Benedictine hermitage in Big Sur, a three-hour drive from his home. He described acutely sensing that everything was alive around him—the grass, the clouds, the sea, the wind. "All around me were dry, golden hills, climbing up to a depthless blue sky, and far below, stretching in every direction, the still blue plate of the Pacific. The world was closer to me than I was to myself," he wrote in an essay, Out of the Cell, in granta.com. "I was inside a silence that was not an absence of noise so much as the living presence of everything I habitually walked—or sleep-walked—past. When I stepped into the little cell where I was to sleep, I was brought to such a state of attention that the flutter of a blue jay's wings in the garden outside my window stirred me more deeply than a lover's touch." He has returned, he added, "to that silence, and to a solitude so encompassing, it felt like companionship of the rarest kind..."
I felt I was on a similar journey during lockdown. The enforced stillness allowed me to observe the minutest details around me. For instance, the flowering plants on my balcony alerted me to what I perceived as the responsibility of flowers. The exotic clerodendron vine was in full bloom. (I had just said, 'Bhaisaab, w-o-h safed phool aur peela phool dena'—give me those white and yellow flowers, at a suburban Mumbai nursery. Google revealed the beautiful white and red flowers to be clerodendrum thomsoniae from Senegal and West Africa, and the yellow lollipop flowers were pachystachys lutea from Peru, oh my!).
Generally, my clerodendrons get sun only briefly and last a few weeks. But during the Coronavirus epidemic, mine lasted months. The flowers seemed to sense that I was interminably locked up at home alone, and took up the responsibility of cheering me up daily. They seemed to hold their breath and refused to fade until the lollipop flower had bloomed for me, before gently making an exit. Foolishly, I had thought I had been caring for my plants, watering and tending to them, when in fact, they had been taking care of me. I smiled as I noticed the red powder puff flower buds, like an innocent kid asking his mom for card paper to make her a surprise birthday gift: flower buds can't conceal the presents they plan to give you, an advance notice of joys to come. Their innocence, too, was humbling. Merci, Coronavirus, for stilling my life enough to allow me to notice the many small joys around me.
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 email@example.com
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