City Nature – Saptaparni Tree in Bloom, India International Center & Other Places
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Silence, all. Suddenly—plop! Something falls. A bunch of pale green flowers is lying on the ground, here outside an old bungalow in Gurugram’s New Railway Road, close to pavement tailor Muhammed Irshad’s establishment. Lying as unwanted as a bird dropping. On looking up: a large tree is clothed with these flowers.
Just as the arrival of golden yellow amaltas flowers launches the summers, the apparition of the much milder green globules of saptaparni marks the debut of winter. Curiously, in common speak it is known as shaitan ki jhad, or devil’s bush, which makes you wonder if shaitan could actually be that much of a shaitan. The namesake is so ethereal.
Unlike the flowers of amaltas, the saptaparnis are less showy. They are said to have first been introduced in Delhi in the 1940s, and first planted in the then new Golf Links. Since that posh address is so dense with trees, it is difficult to search for the saptaparnis among them. The bungalow guards too grow suspicious when you excuse your intrusion into the exclusive locality by telling that you were merely in search of a tree in season.
Worry not. A most grand saptaparni is to be seen not far from Golf Links. This gigantic tree stands at the India International Center (see photo), currently cloaked in thousands of scented flowers. The accompanying plaque informs that this saptaparni was planted in 1970 on the recommendation of IIC’s great American architect Joseph Stein who “linked the tree to India’s ancient intellectual heritage.”
Sadly, the problem with the IIC is that it is beautiful even without the saptaparni. The tree’s bloom is felt more deeply in ordinary places. A pink apartment block near Laxmi Bai Nagar Market is as dreary as any apartment. Right now a blossoming saptaparni has transformed the vicinity into a setting of profoundly fleeting exquisiteness.
The same afternoon, a woman is seen walking towards Triveni Art Gallery in Mandi House. She stops under the low hanging saptaparni blossoms, beside Turant Food snack cart. Her arms go up to pluck a flower. She smells the broken fragment, then throws it on the ground.