City Hangout – Frangipani Island, Niti Marg
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Traffic islands seldom distinguish themselves as works of beauty.
But then there’s that traffic island in Central Delhi that contains a grove of fulgent frangipani trees, laden with white flowers resembling stars. It’s as though some generous angel had decided to endow the treetops with Christmas decorations.
The very air at this traffic island at Niti Marg is scented with the sweet perfume of the frangipanis. So powerful, that one feels slightly overwhelmed, like drinking a vintage wine.
The dependable Wikipedia informs that the name frangipani comes from a 16th century marquis of Italian nobility who boasted to have invented a perfume derived from these flowers. The claim was false. The genus itself memorializes the 17th century French botanist Charles Plumier who documented many plant and animal species the world over. In India, many of us call it champa. Rabindranath Tagore wrote a poem called The Champa Flower.
This frangipani circle near the Egyptian Embassy is nearly deserted this afternoon, with every branch of these trees laden with flowers, some young and fresh. Others droopy, ready to fall on the wild grass which already looks like a dense graveyard laden with flowers. Some of these dead frangipanis are still white, while others have gone coal-black.
A pool filled with beer bottles and plastic containers lies in the very center of the grove. This degradation is partly offset by the reflections of sky and clouds in the surprisingly clear water. Occasionally a frangipani is sighted, drifting slowly in the pool. The sight is like a sad poem.