By Kavya Iyer
On a cold evening, the man unlocked the door to his house from inside and led his pregnant wife towards their garden. It was early evening and the last rays of the sun could be seen on the horizon. It was colder than usual and they had remembered to wear warm clothes before stepping out of the house. They had made it a practice to spend time in the garden whenever they could, especially now since it was good for the baby. The man held his wife’s hand and guided her carefully through the lawn. He looked at her as they walked and it suddenly hit him that she would soon bring forth a new life into their world; a life that they would nurture and cherish. She looked at him and smiled; her thoughts in line with his as she caressed her belly with her free hand.
They passed through the different plants that she had maintained in the garden. There were flowers of all kind – jasmine, marigold, rose, lily, hibiscus, daisy, plumeira, bougainvillea, petunias! It was breathtaking to experience all of them at the same time. Every morning, she would pluck these flowers to adorn the idols of her Gods. As she was looking around, the parijata tree at the far end of the garden caught her attention. The specialty of this tree was that its flowers bloomed only in the night and dropped to the ground the next morning before sunrise. At the moment, the tree was filled with buds that were slowly starting to bloom. She turned to look at her husband and said excitedly, “Let’s go sit near the parijata tree.”
He smiled and led her to the far end of the garden where a bench had been placed opposite to the tree. As they neared it, they were hit by the strong and intoxicating perfume of the blooming flowers. Both of them took a deep breath and let out a deep sigh of satisfaction.
“Dear God! What a heavenly fragrance this is. My head is spinning!” exclaimed the man as he settled down on the bench with his wife.
The flowers of the parijata tree heard this comment and blushed with joy. They let out a cry of satisfaction in unison as they slowly became fully alive. Each branch had a cluster of about two to seven buds and almost all of them had now bloomed completely into flowers. On the highest branch of the tree, four out of the five buds in that cluster bloomed quickly, eager to join the others. The last bud yawned and fidgeted several times before she slowly opened her petals.
“Hurry up, Mayuri. Everyone else has already bloomed,” cried Sugandha, urging her lazy neighbour to bloom faster.
“Coming, coming!” said Mayuri and, at last, spread her petals as far as they would go. She pulled in the air from her center and tested how deep it would go. All the other flowers in her cluster had already finished this routine and were ready. She joined them just in time as they all released a fresh jet of perfume into the air.
By now, the couple was completely surrounded by the aroma. The man, enchanted by it, began humming an unfamiliar tune, and moved his head from side to side. Just then, the clouds parted to reveal the full moon and the couple felt overwhelmed by the combined effect of flowers and the moon. The man looked at his wife and asked, “Do you remember when we had been to Orissa last year? We were sitting under a parijata tree just like this one inside the temple. The moon was just as glorious that day as it is today.”
Something about that memory bothered the woman and she gritted her teeth. The man saw her reaction and realized the mistake that he had committed. “Sorry, my dear. I forgot,” he said apologetically. He recollected the incident when she had fallen into a puddle of dirty water in front of everyone and they all had laughed at her. He laughed again at the memory and used his other hand to muffle the laugh. The woman felt offended and yanked her hand out of his. The flowers laughed as well, thoroughly enjoying the drama unfolding in front of them.
“Sorry, sorry” pleaded the man. “Hey, look at me. It was over a year ago and it wasn’t as embarrassing as you think.”
“You don’t know what it felt like. Your parents, uncles, aunts, everyone laughed at me. One of the boys there said that I looked like a ghost,” she said and hid her face in her hands.
He touched her hands and moved them aside. He held her chin and turned her face towards his as he crooned, “How dare someone call you names? You are my beloved. Look at that full moon.
For all its beauty, it has nothing compared to how beautiful you are, round and bright, carrying our future in your stomach. Do you know how beautiful you look right now?” A slight smile appeared on the corner of her lips. The flowers laughed uncontrollably at the plight of the poor man. They decided to help him a little bit and sprayed some more of their fragrance into the air.
The man reacted to this increase in intensity and exclaimed, “Ahh! Do you know, not even the fragrance of these exquisite flowers can beat the smell of your skin? I am so lucky to have you as my wife.” At this, the woman smiled broadly and placed her head on his shoulder, feeling content.
By now, the flowers were practically howling with laughter at how the man had managed to appease the woman. They recalled the stories they had heard from the Elder Root before being sent out into the world as flowers. It was always the same story – the woman would be angry at something and the man would usually spend hours and hours trying to calm her down by comparing her with all sorts of beautiful things, usually the moon, or the flowers, or the stars, or the rivers. It usually worked and was absolutely hilarious.
Everyone was enjoying themselves, except Mayuri. She felt offended. How dare this silly man compare her fragrance to that of another human? How dare he disrespect her and her sisters like that? The parijata flowers were praised as the favourite of Lord Krishna’s wives and were universally loved for their perfume. Even the famous ‘Raat-Ki-Rani’ was no match for their perfume, she thought. She looked at the human woman and let out a contemptuous laugh. She decided that neither of them deserved her sweet perfume and closed all of her petals immediately.
As she held in her perfume and waited for the couple to leave, Mayuri thought about how much she disliked all the lessons that the Elder Root had taught the flowers. It was mostly the same thing over and over again: Your purpose in life is to spread your perfume into the world. She could not understand why the flowers had to die in one night when the Elder Root and the other branches of the tree got to live for many years. It seemed so unfair to her. In the beginning, she had dreamed of being a root, but soon realised that such a life meant that she would be stuck in the same place all her life. No, she wanted to be like a honey bee or a wasp and fly high in the sky. She wanted to be like an ant so that she could walk freely on the ground. She wished for a different life. When she had opened her petals for the first time, she realised that she disliked her small petals. They were pale and delicate.
She envied the hibiscus flower for its long and beautiful petals. The flowers of marigold had many small petals aligned very close to one another. It must be nice and warm in there, she thought, as the cold wind made her shiver. She felt very exposed in her thin petals. She remembered the stories that the leaves had told them about the sun; how its warm rays touched their surface in the morning. She sighed as her body yearned for warmth. She realised that she would never be able to experience the warmth of the sun on her petals, because she was cursed to live this wretched short life. She hated the Elder Root, the branches, the leaves, her sisters, and the entire tree! She wanted to escape this life. She mulled over what she could do to lead a better life as she continued to hold her perfume in.
After sometime, the woman lifted her head and said, “Come, let’s have dinner.” “Let’s stay for a little longer,” said the man.
“I am feeling hungry. Let’s have dinner and then come back.”
“Okay. Let’s go,” he said. The both of them got up and walked back to the house.
All the flowers stretched their petals, tired but pleased with their work. Sugandha turned to look at Mayuri. She was alarmed to see all of Mayuri’s petals closed. The Elder Root had instructed them that closing their petals was prohibited and that no flower must ever do it.
“Mayuri, Mayuri! What are you doing?” exclaimed Sugandha.
Mayuri opened her petals and let out the perfume that she had been holding in. It smelled a little odd. She looked around and noticed that all the other flowers were looking at her. She gave out another contemptuous laugh and addressed them, “Did you hear what that man told about us, sisters? How disrespectful! And that woman! How dare she accept his compliment! She really believes that she smells better than us! That is why I decided that they don’t deserve my perfume and closed my petals.”
The other flowers laughed at this and then went about their work, chatting merrily with one another about the splendor of nature and retold the stories that they had heard from the Elder Root. Mayuri felt offended by this.
Sugandha was the only one who lingered. She touched Mayuri’s petals with her own and said, “Mayuri, we are all flowers. We live only for this one night. Tomorrow, before the sun touches the world, we would have fallen to the ground. Why waste time being angry and jealous about such silly things? Come on, let’s join our sisters and experience life happily.”
Mayuri didn’t respond. She remained quiet for a few more seconds and whispered conspiratorially, “Sugandha, what the Elder Root told us is a lie. We need not die tomorrow. If we are smart, we can live forever. Look through the window of that couple’s house. Do you see a rectangular object hanging from the wall? Look at the garland of yellow marigold flowers on it. They are all morning flowers. The woman must have plucked them early in the morning, but they still look fresh and healthy. The Elder root told us that all the flowers of the marigold plant dry up by evening, but why haven’t these flowers dried yet? I bet that the woman uses some special juice to keep them fresh forever. Our receptacles force us to release so much of our perfume unnecessarily throughout the night. As a result, we are left with only one-third of our perfume in the morning. I think that, if we close all our petals to retain our perfume and detach ourselves from the receptacle before dawn, we would still be fresh and healthy just like those flowers. Then the woman can pick us in the morning and make a garland out of us. Imagine how it would feel if we also get displayed like those yellow flowers! All the other flowers in the garden would be so jealous of us!”
Sugandha was appalled. Such things were never heard of. She didn’t know whether she should feel angry or worried. She tried to reason it out with Mayuri one last time, “I don’t know how such thoughts entered your mind, Mayuri. Haven’t you learnt anything from what the Elder Root has taught you? We have been blessed with such a wonderful purpose – to spread our perfume into the world. I don’t see why you are trying to go against that. Besides, you cannot fall off until dawn. Don’t you remember the Elder root telling you that?”
Mayuri laughed scornfully and whispered, “Ha! The Elder root is old and stupid. ‘Your purpose in life is to spread your perfume into the world!’ That’s rubbish! Let me tell you a secret. When I had closed my petals just a few moments ago, I was able to push my fragrance inwards instead of letting it out. As a result, the pressure enabled me to move my stem a little from the receptacle. If I continue this for some more time, I should be able to wriggle free.”
Sugandha was at a loss of words. She tried to digest what Mayuri was saying, but she could not. She couldn’t understand how a flower could go against its nature. The Elder root had told them nothing about this. She was about to speak to the other flowers about this when they all heard a buzzing in the distance. All the storytelling, singing, and laughing ended in an instant. A swarm of bees were flying towards them to drink their nectar. All the flowers let out a cry of excitement and released some more of their perfume into the air to let the bees enjoy it. This time, their perfume was sweeter than ever and the bees buzzed with joy. Mayuri thought that the bees would spoil her plans by polluting her perfume. So, she quickly closed all of her petals and pushed her perfume as deep as it would go within the receptacle. Sugandha saw this, but didn’t care anymore. A bee had come close to her and she opened her petals as wide as they would go. The bees sat inside the flowers and drank their sweet nectar. Pollen grains got stuck to their feet and, once they had finished drinking the nectar, they flew away in search of more. The flowers were overjoyed knowing that they had fulfilled the second purpose of their existence – continuation of their species.
Mayuri opened one of her petals slowly to make sure that the bees had gone. One she was sure, she opened all her petals. She looked a little more shriveled and the smell coming out of her was starting to turn unpleasant, but none of the other flowers, including Sugandha, bothered to tell her. Mayuri continued to hold her perfume in for as long as she could, over and over again. She was slowly beginning to rise out of her receptacle. After a while, all her petals had lost their lustrous white color and started to show signs of decay.
The man and his wife strolled back into the garden after dinner. Mayuri saw them at a distance and closed her petals at once. The other flowers let out a strong jet of perfume into the air, just like the previous time, to welcome the couple. The couple inhaled the heady scent and sigh in contentment as they settled down on the bench. Once comfortable, they began discussing matters of their lives like an upcoming visit to the doctor, work, washing dishes, and going to the supermarket to get supplies for the coming week. The woman suddenly exclaimed, “Oh, I had totally forgotten! When you go to the supermarket tomorrow, could you please buy another plastic garland? I want to hang it on the photo frame in the hall. Your mother is coming to visit us in two days. She was one who gifted us that photo frame and I don’t want to give her a reason to complain. Oh, and this time, buy the artificial flowers in white instead of yellow.”
“Sure dear,” replied the man.
Mayuri couldn’t believe what she had just heard. Plastic garland? Artificial flowers? Her world collapsed around her. All the things that she had thought to be the route to immortality were shattered. She realized that there was no such thing called immortality! She had spent the little time that she had been blessed with in her own stupid fantasies. She had even prevented the bees from drinking her nectar. She had betrayed the trust that the Elder roots had placed in her. She had let down her sisters and the entire tree. She had betrayed her own nature!
Just then, the perfume that she had been holding in started to leak out through her shriveled petals. The perfume combined with her decayed petals let out a bad odor into the air. It was unbearable for the other flowers, almost revolting. They all pushed themselves with all their might to diffuse the bad odor with their own fragrance. They did not want the humans to smell this bad odor.
Mayuri could not hold her perfume in any longer. Her petals were too weak for that. As the pressure mounted, her receptacle jerked and her stem began to give way. No, I must not die like this. I am a flower. My purpose is to spread my fragrance into the world. I have to fulfill my purpose, she thought hurriedly. She tried opening her petals but they were stuck together due to decay and she was too weak to pry them open. She mustered up all her strength and tried one last time. Her shriveled stem slipped out of the receptacle and she started falling as her petals opened up at last. She tried to let out as much of her perfume as she could, but alas! She was disconnected from her source and had no perfume left to give to the world. Her sisters watched as her shriveled body fell to the ground, lifeless. They all shed silent tears for her and continued with their work. The exertion had weakened all of them and the entire tree bore the brunt of it.
Somewhere from the depths of the ground, the Elder Root let out a cry of sorrow; his heart wounded by the loss of yet another one of his daughters.