City Season – Semal Blossoming, Yamuna Bank and Around Town
On the brief spring.
[Text and photo Mayank Austen Soofi]
You spot the tree in the morning commute. It looks like a thing at the cusp of loveliness. You don’t make much of it. Being busy, you carry on with your day. Later in the evening, or the day after, you see another such tree, in another place. This keeps happening.
These are semals, almost blooming. Soon, these trees with their ashy barks and tiered branches will be covered in red voluptuous flowers, as dressy as the cover models of a fashion magazine’s September issue. But we are in mid-February, and semal starts blooming more earnestly only by early March. Then everybody will be instagramming these flowers. For the sophisticated set, however, the thrilling time to view the semal is now, when it is still wanting to be noticed. To appreciate the tree in advance is like being attentive to the plain Jane destined to be tomorrow’s celebrity.
This evening, on Chelmsford road, a DTC bus has broken down and the traffic has clogged up. Enough spare time to be distracted by red smudges on the stumpy branches of a leafless tree—that’s semal! The tree is looking fairly ordinary, but a week later its mighty flowering will dramatically change the landscape. You wouldn’t recognise the place.
Indeed, only around this season can an attentive citizen realise the semal’s extensive spread in the city, especially in the diplomatic enclave—check Neeti Marg. But every single semal, no matter where, commands a stage presence. The most remarkable ones include the one outside the 16th century Khairul Manazil mosque on Mathura Road, the one at the mouth of State Entry Road, the one behind Kaka’s tea place in Patel Nagar, the one facing the glass-concrete office complex in Gurgaon’s Shankar Chowk, the one near the Christian cemetery in that town’s Civil Lines.
A more perplexing sight (see photo) is on the banks of the Yamuna, under Nizamuddin bridge, close to Jain Shikanji Restaurant. A gigantic semal stands amid a cluster of tin dwellings, beside the polluted river. This afternoon the tree is naked, except for a few buds. On the verge of acquiring hundreds of flowers, its impending richness is inadvertently heightening the dreariness of the surrounding houses, their makeshift tin roofs littered with plastic bottles, discarded tarpaulin sheets, bricks (to keep the roof from flying away during windy days), and some fallen semal flowers.