A Daffodil a day, should nature oblige
If luck swings your way, and the monkeys and the goats don’t get to them first, you might just about see a daffodil.
The fault was entirely mine. Perhaps I should have known better. A dead giveaway was the way he tossed his head in the direction of a ruin on the edge of town and said, “Come, pop by to see my daffs.” There stood a house that was no longer a house; on a flat that was no longer a flat; in a hill station that was no longer a hill station.
Wide-open flats have always been few and far between. “Seven flat places or chaans for cattle used during the summers are grounds belonging to the villages of Kiarkuli (to which the village of Bhatta is but an appendage),” observed FJ Shore, the first Superintendent of Dehradun on August 4, 1828. A stickler for fair play, he forbade the transfer of such land from the villagers to Europeans unless pre-sanctioned by his office.
What did me in was the school tie; the blazer and the badge. In hindsight, I should have paid more heed to the bazaar gossip that warned me: “He’s so full of hot air, he could start his own hot-air balloon company.”
Of course, occasionally I have managed to coax and cajole the odd daffodil from bulbs of questionable pedigree. If they do bloom, the flowers look like a confused traveller arrived at the wrong railway platform. What had me snared, however, were images of golden flowers nodding in spring. Huffing and puffing, I managed to hum, “She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes.”
Arrived, in the manner of a quiz master, I asked, “Where are the flowers?” “You are standing on them,” whispered the chowkidar. At my feet, a few wild iris squeezed their way through a clump of stinging nettles—their prickly leaves had once caught Fanny Parks’ attention in 1838. Gleefully she writes of her encounter with the plant, “I could not help sending a man from the plains, who had never seen a nettle, to gather one; he took hold of it, and relinquished his hold instantly in excessive surprise, and exclaimed: ‘It has stung me; it is a scorpion plant.’”
Come to think of it, around the 1820s, exotics like violets, buttercups, honey suckles and dahlias gave our residences a splash of colour. Help came from Barlowganj’s Himalaya Seed Stores, which were a boon for gardeners. No longer did one have to scrounge around for seeds. More help arrived after the publication of WW Johnston’s Amateur Gardner in the Hills four years later. Closing the gap, it became an instant bestseller in its class.
If only someone (please don’t look at me) were to tell our wannabe Wordsworth that he would have to begin at the beginning. You prepare flower beds, prepare the soil, and get rid of the nettles, dock leaves and weeds. Add manure and finally push in a few bulbs. If luck swings your way, and the monkeys and the goats don’t get to them first, you might just about see a daffodil.
Fortunately, there were no monkeys or goats in Dehradun’s Chandernagar jail when, under Jawaharlal Nehru’s watch, a part of the prison yard turned into a flower garden. From a variety of seeds, he grew sweet peas, hollyhocks, nasturtiums, candytuft, lupins, stocks and dianthus with invaluable help from his fellow prisoners. It amused him, the way English names were lovingly mangled: hollyhock, for example, was Ali Haq.
I wonder what ‘daffodils’ would have been called?
Author, photographer, illustrator