City Season – First Semal Flowering, ITO
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
They fall down with a thudding sound one after another, the red semal flowers. Their blooming marks the arrival of Delhi’s most pleasant, though most brief season—when it’s neither cold nor hot, and that dengue fever is still some months away.
The semal trees, unidentifiable the rest of the year, are suddenly as noticeable these days as those famous Buckingham Palace foot guards in red tunics. As if in flames, they tend to capture our attention in the most unexpected places—through a metro train window, or behind a shanty, or in one case, towering above a flyover.
Semal is one of the 252 species of trees found in Delhi. Its branches grow in tiers. They radiate from the trunk like the ribs of an umbrella—as described in the website of Delhi government’s forest department. The best place to see them in great numbers is in the diplomatic avenue of central Delhi’s Neeti Marg, which is almost totally wooded with semal. Two huge trees on the front lawns of Teen Murti Bhawan are also worth a view. Another grand semal stands tall in Jor Bagh market. In a lane in Panchsheel Park, one such tree stands far above the surrounding trees and bungalows, and these days is looking as if someone had thrown holi’s red gulal powder up in the air.
A particularly poignant semal you might wish to pay a visit to lurks over the ITO flyover in central Delhi. There, the first thing that amazes the viewer is the setting. The semal flowers are placed high on the tree’s branches. The tree itself is unusually tall, its trunk looming far above the elevated flyover. From a certain perspective, the flowers look as if they had freed themselves from the pulls of gravity and were bent upon escalating to the skies. In the evening, the absence of sun gives them a darker version of red, like clotted blood.
But one branch dips and its semal flowers seem to long for the earth—indeed they are drooping down towards the busy rush hour, along with its dust and smog and noise.
Suddenly, a bird lands on the topmost tip of the semal. It puckers around its neck, looking at the flowers. Some moments later, it flies away.
And now a semal flower from the higher branches falls down on the road, surrendering to gravity.
And the semal blooms again