Cherry appeared with Japan in Volume 8 of The Young Children’s Encyclopaedia. Mt Fuji, a billowing grey monotone peeped from behind a pink shock of cherry bough. If I hadn’t seen that painting, I’d have only known ‘cherry blossom’ was a black shoe polish.
I rubbed onto my school ballerinas on midweek drowsy mornings.
Whose invention was a black shoe wax tin named after succulent, ruddy berries?
Because I saw that picture, and later haikus rhapsodising Spring that unfailingly mentioned sakura, I forever assumed, Japan was the only soil growing these wonders.
Like ninety-nine per cent assumptions in life, this one proves incorrect. (To assume all assumptions are always wrong would be another assumption, no? and by probability another inaccuracy?) Prunus japonica pays homage to the etymological father land, true, but its clusters are untinged white. Not the diaphanous torch of pale pinks associated with Fujiyama paeans. I saw one last April outside Namche gompa, with a sparkling Kangtega to complete the peak-and-pink panorama. My knowledge of worldwide botanical distribution is limited. Not till I peeped at the extremely well informed labels in my local nursery two weekends ago, did I know that the seeds of many Prunus subspecies have flown all the way across half the globe to land on European mud.
So much has to be said about the power of ‘with my own eyes’.
There is a cherry tree about every ten yards down my lane. As I keep typing, my fingers slip into forming ‘cheery’ which would not be a misspelling at all, if one has ever seen these Spring blooms. For the beauty of a cherry tree is that, straight out of the twiggy hibernation of Winter, which was pretty mild in my adopted country this year but the trees stuck loyally to Nature’s clockwork, they do not wait to bud leaves. Branch after branch suddenly bursts into flowers, scraggly brown shoots blending in their palette.
It is a view that makes me forget to inhale. For want of better trained vocal chords, my breath becomes song. Steps slow. Demons fade. Death pussyfoots nimbly around the edges, embarrassed to burden such a moment with philosophy.
Nature is the first technology the earth invented. The only it needs.
Sorry, Mr Keats, I worship the gilded season as much as you, because of you, but I no longer believe Spring has music none. Had I not known the cherry blossom, I would have died wrongly convinced.
So much…the power…of sight.
Unlike the lusty palash and shimul which burns the Spring air of my birth city, mercilessly killed to fit in every new municipal electorate’s whimsical idea of urban design, trees are loved in these parts, cherished, replanted, repotted. Ordinary, middle class, men and women get on the internet to search loving homes for plants they can no longer harbour. The city council uses tax payer money to prune under growths in Autumn, rake blushing earth, in Spring to mow acres of fallow grass, sow random beds of daffodils. And I have not heard one murmur of complaint from one citizen about this ‘wastage’. The British don’t discuss their politics on the street, but hollers are loud on headlines and in private living rooms. Not one whisper against the damn greenification.
Seeding boxes are appearing outside convenience stores, sorry twigs between produce aisles. Lush bouquets have suddenly gone cheaper. Families are departing garden centres hugging saplings to their heart. The city council and in some places, local businesses have put up hanging baskets and pots that are bursting with colour. Seeds and bulbs put to the earth has made every grassy patch a gossamer of daisises and daffodils, both yellow and white.
One of the most gut wrenching sights I witnessed travelling Calcutta streets were these luggy boxes towed behind small engines, overflowing with new saplings, gardeners going about busy road junctions digging up traffic islands to plant them. Such tender loving care at sprouting life around the dead concrete and venomous car fumes.
This, after a few months of mindless hacking to broaden this or that crossing, add a new flyover here and there, include a lane extension some highly paid municipal designer had overlooked in his signed-off blueprint.
It seemed such a sacrilege. The beauty of tiny lamb nibbling around the feet of a mother ewe, resting in the sunlight, exhausted of its small life burst. You know they will go to be slaughtered soon, every last one of those kids, calves and piglets. Someone somewhere is salivating over the feast of suckling pigs and veal. You know what you know, and can’t help look away, can’t help finding this endless rejuvenation of Spring no longer innocent.
Why, pray, waste these precious lifelings, give them oxygen, hope, a rooting soil, only to hack them to pieces in a while? The Calcutta municipality has no time, money - so they would have citizens believe - or patience to transplant grown trees, I don’t know about other Indian cities, they are butchered whenever someone needs a way made.
The beauty of a solitary chhatim (Devil’s tree) with its nostril cloying almond fragrance, bakul (Indian medlar) carpeting the shady ground with starry white blossoms, palash (Flame of the Forest) breathing fire into the dusty dankness of a sizzling city, krishnachura (Flamboyant) swaying merrily its lush green tipped red fingers, radhachura (Copper pod) like a haloed saint on earth, kadam (Common bur flower) filled with raucous crow nests among glowing golf ball pendants, chapa (Frangipani) and its distinct scent, rows of debdaru (False ashoke) rustling a breeze, nagkeshar (Canonball) with a secret nestled in its pink whorls, neem (Indian Lilac) that all-purpose elixir of simple healthy living, often entwining a bot (Banyan) or asthwatha (Peepul) in its hug is a fairy tale from a bygone childhood when avenues existed in more than name.
Why has Spring been allowed to leave my beloved city?