City Nature - Songs of Semal, Around Town

City Nature – Songs of Semal, Around Town

Red season.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Late-February afternoon. Auto rickshaw carting the commuter along one of the loopy highways of the circuitous AIIMS flyover. Sky is pitch blue. Other sights totally unremarkable. Suddenly, a tree dotted with red.

The blossoming of semal marks the debut of Delhi’s most tolerable season — neither cold nor hot. Unidentifiable the rest of the year, these trees abruptly become as apparent as the red-capped ear cleaners of Turkman Gate Bazar.

Semal is among the 252 species of trees found in the Delhi region (Poor New York has only 130!). The tiered branches shoot out from the trunk like the ribs of a parasol. Look out for semal in Delhi’s diplomatic avenues, such as Neeti Marg. But these are the early days of semal, not many trees have bloomed. Start the sightseeing after a few days, and include these places in your tour.

At Bhikaji Cama Place: the cab drivers speeding down the Ring Road risk being distracted by a pair of semals so scarlet-red that they resemble fully loaded apple trees.

On a service lane in Panchsheel Park: just beyond a private hospital, a bunch of super-tall semals get richly endowed with flowers, as if someone had thrown holi’s red gulal up in the air.

At ITO crossing: the semal on one side of the busy traffic intersection is already afire with hundreds of red blossoms.

Outside the 16th century Khairul Manazil mosque on Mathura Road: a luscious semal stands by the traffic light, the monument being its majestic backdrop. Plus, do not forget the Sabj Burj monument at the nearby Mathura Road roundabout where two or three semals bloom so brilliantly that they outshine the monument’s blue dome.

At Gurugram’s Dividing Road, outside KCM Automobile workshop in Sector 17: stranded amid a dusty yard, the tree is unusually short, its trunk is spindly, and in its best days it manages to wing out only a few dozen flowers, often smeared with only a pale tinge of red. This semal is certain to go unnoticed if it were surrounded by its richer cousins. But in the austerity of this arid setting, its presence lingers like a phantom of necessary consolation.

On the banks of the Yamuna, under Nizamuddin bridge, close to Jain Shikanji Restaurant: a gigantic semal stands amid a cluster of dwellings. In the floods last year, a large part of the tree had come under the muddy water, and the surrounding houses—edifices of makeshift tin roofs, tarpaulin sheets and unpainted raw bricks—were drowned in the overflowing Yamuna. That same semal is on the verge of acquiring its first post-flood flowers.