The sight of a thousand marigolds made me unsettled recently. What sent a peculiarly disquieting jitter through me was not a disheartening sight by any cultural or social parameters though. Quite the contrary.
What I saw was the lavish décor of a typical Indian wedding – hundreds of hanging garlands, covering the pillars & walls of the place from ceilings to floors – made with thousands of marigold flowers, pierced through with threads.
Someone deep down inside me started to feel claustrophobic to see that.
I closed my eyes and saw those marigolds ALIVE, in a vast open field, swaying in the wind, under an enormous blue sky.
Decades ago, I would not let marigolds leave the place where they lived.
The front yard of my childhood home had plants of marigolds, periwinkles and jasmines among many other. Sometimes my grandmother would ask me to bring fresh flowers from the yard for her daily worship rituals. “Pick only the live ones, those on the plant; deities would be angry if we offer them dead flowers,” she advised.
After following her instruction for about a week, I stopped plucking the flowers. At about nine, I had just started to know those flowers, and wanted to know them more…I wanted to keep gazing at them, smell their miraculous scents and discover the wonderment in their changing shapes and colors, for as long as I could, while they danced in the air…with life.
A small girl’s wonder-stricken heart was not ready to hurt the plants that had shown to her, some of the first flowers to enter her consciousness. Her small hands felt the act of twisting a dainty stem and detaching a delicate, helpless flower from her home forever – unnatural. “Killing the flowers to please the God who has created them in the first place? I don’t understand, it must be a mistake.” – I clearly remember reasoning to myself, and feeling absolutely convinced by it.
Unknowingly, this must have been one of the earliest, raw, yet unshakable connections I made with nature as the most obvious manifestation of the ultimate way of the universe, or, what/whom we call, the God.
Young American poet Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830–May 15, 1886) – remembered for her meditative poems inspired by her gardening – contemplated that blooming of a flower is a profound event, that must happen or the “Great Nature” would be let down. Calling a flower’s existence as delicate as of a butterfly, and as powerful as an offering to the meridian. In her masterpiece of a poem, she wrote:
Bloom – is Result – to meet a Flower
And casually glance
Would cause one scarcely to suspect
The minor Circumstance
Assisting in the Bright Affair
So intricately done
Then offered as a Butterfly
To the Meridian –
To me, the freshly bloomed flowers in the yard, were something that one treasures, and protects. As children, we are instinctively wide-eyed and astonished at the natural world. We consider each sight and sound coming from it as a wonder. Why would that not be? We ourselves are also, expressions of the same source of wonder.
Yet, as we grow up, we tend to forget that. Or, are told by societies and cultures, that growing up inevitably entails – abandoning that sacred, primal bond with nature we experience as a child, and not – actually trying to explore its depth. If only we are told the latter, everything would make a clearer sense, and we would not be scrambling for our meanings and truths…all our lives.
Determined to keep my flowers where I thought they belonged, I started to improvise. I would select the best and most fresh looking flowers from those fallen on the ground. I was a disciplined and polite kid. But this little cheating never felt wrong. I didn’t know how, but I just knew that God was not angry with me. Perhaps that knowing came from the laughing flowers whom I left intact on their plants. Or, from the smiling deities inside grandma’s temple, at whose feet I offered the fallen flowers… :)
Article ©2021 Gyaneshwari Dave
Excerpt of “Bloom” by Emily Dickinson, © Harvard University Press