Sunday, 30 May 2021

Ankita Gupta, Prose 500 2021 Longlist

My Garden of Memories 


My earliest memory of you is in the neighbourhood park.

We are strolling merrily along the cobbled pathway, flinging our hands synchronously in the air, wearing matching fern leaf tattoos on our wrists.

I can picture your handkerchief. An elaborate affair in scalloped white linen, embroidered with your name-stitched in flowers of multiple hues- pink, orange, yellow and red-tied neatly in a blue ribbon. Next, I can picture seven year old you- blowing your nose trumpet-like into said handkerchief, and then breaking into a gap-toothed grin.

Together we take a roundabout route, where the memory traffic diverges into several avenues.

Marigolds 


We select an outdoor venue, in the woods by the lake, for the ceremony. It is strongly recommended by our overcharging (or rather thieving) planner, to escape the stiff stuffy interiors (or rather as a cost cutting measure).

Instead of paper bunters, garlands in bright yellow and orange dangle from the canopy. I notice your aunt’s cocker spaniel circling the marigold- sniffing it suspiciously- then wheezing in allergic bout. The rest of the guests however, compliment us on the alfresco setting with the wild flora and fauna, before heading towards the barbeque counter.

It turns out the planner was not entirely wrong in his choice of venue.

Ros


Spring arrives with the incomprehensible chitter chatter of birds and squirrels.

Roses bloom alongside a ditch, looking red and dewy on their rustling beds of green leaves. You bend down to caress a velvet petal, and drop your ring in the process. I drop on all fours to rescue it. I rake and scourge, like an earthworm, for the better part of the sweltering afternoon- till I finally find it

Sometimes, if you look closely enough, you find things in the grass.

 

Night Jasmine (Shiuli) 


The first chills of autumn can be felt in the dull hospital room, smelling of medicines and disinfectant. The foliage outside is a ‘feuillemort’ brown- the colour of a dying leaf.

Relatives drag me to the temple, with baskets laden with coconuts, incense sticks and sweets, as offerings to beseech the gods. Upon reaching, I find shiuli blossoms already strewn in prayer, along the mossy steps in front of the cold stone idol.

The tiny white flowers with orange stems stand out amidst the dry leaves. Their faint fragrance sweetens the air, long after they have fallen.

Chrysanth 

Haze surrounds me during the service.

People bearing solemn expressions pour in. They scan the room, locate me and thrust large bouquets into my arms, muttering their condolence. I make no reply. It is difficult to find appropriate words in such a situation.

When they leave, our house is filled with fruit baskets and flowers- mostly wreaths made of chrysanths. The flowers look like pom-pom balls, made up of hundreds of florets in soothing lavender. They last for about two weeks before withering away.

I recall reading, ‘Plant your own garden instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.’ 

Bougainville

It is a long winter marked by a frigid absence of colours. You have always taken something from the air, whenever you’ve walked away (not unlike a kleptomaniac).

Now, there stands only a tall concrete boundary and cast iron gates. For a long time, nothing grows within.

But without any notice- come summer- the whole grey perimeter is covered in thickset boughs and purple leaves of the bougainvillea. The paper-thin petals seem to blush deeper each day, under the warm gaze of the sun.

 

Lilies 


A bulbul chirps sweetly. A crow caws back in chorus.

I sit down on a wicker chair, which sags under my weight. It is still damp from the rain last night. The leaves appear to be greener. Some of the butterflies that used to haunt my stomach, now flutter over the flowers and eat the weeds.

I picture seven-year-old gap-toothed you, sneezing from all the pollen.

A sheaf of pink lilies with tall green stems glisten in the daylight. Lilies- your favourite. Lilies for remembrance.

 

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