This past weekend, we visited with dear friends. Although invited for lunch, we spent close to seven hours together. Their home has a walkout basement that opens up to a lovely, well groomed backyard “English” garden overlooking a conservation area with a large pond. Each plant has been handpicked, positioned creatively and nurtured by S with loving care. An open-plan kitchen on the ground floor extends through French doors on to a terrace that overlooks the garden and a picture postcard-like panorama of natural beauty.
After lunch, the four of us decided to sit out on the terrace and enjoy the mild, glorious summer afternoon. On stepping out, I caught an unidentifiable but very familiar fragrance wafting through the gentle breeze. I turned to S and inquired, “What is that pleasant smell? Where is it coming from?” She smiled and pointed to the honeysuckle vine in the garden below that had draped itself around an accommodating tree and climbed up to the terrace where it reigned supreme. While its luxuriant growth was limited to a corner, its fragrance had spread all over, completely enveloping us. I stood in a trance for a short spell, instantly transported back in time to when I must have been no more than 7 or 8 years old. The mild, all-pervasive scent of the honeysuckle here in Canada served to instantly bring forth memories from a bygone age, some fifty plus years ago.
In the early 1960s we lived in the small town of Nangal at the foothills of the Shivalik range. It was a factory town and the employees lived in a sprawling “colony” which was divided into several residential “sectors.” All of us kids residing in a particular area would play together in the evenings.
One balmy summer evening, a few of us kids were drawing our games to a close with a round of hide-and-seek. Dusk had already set in and as the street lamps lit up, moms had sent servants out to recall their wards for the evening meal. I had chosen a “peepal” (sacred fig) tree as my hiding place and was probably the last of the kids who had still not been sought out. I had heard stories that such trees were a favourite haunt of witches with inverted feet and that they usually emerged after the sun set. We also “knew” that snakes residing under the tree and in the knot-holes of its trunk loved to slither out in the cool of the summer evening. Fear abounded but I desperately held my ground. At the same time, I almost longed to be discovered and emerge from my hiding place, thus ending the misery of having to contend with inner demons that were furthering these perceived dangers. I was sweaty, itching and to top all else, the collective emotions had produced a very strong urge to pee! And then suddenly, almost magically I became aware of the aroma of honeysuckle, which made me forget all else. There I sat, legs dangling on either side of a thick nubbly branch covered with honeysuckle creepers, absentmindedly crushing its leaves and flowers one at a time between my thumb and forefinger, lifting them close to my nostrils to luxuriate in the intoxicating aroma.
A friend tugging at my shoe brought me out of my reverie shouting, “You’d better come down as everyone has gone home and your mum is calling out your name. She sounds angry.”
Just then, S and E called out to announce that tea had been served. The mint tea, honeysuckle aroma and great company – what more could one desire! Little things that provide the greatest pleasure and don’t cost a thing.
Lyricist Anand Bakshi was able to capture childhood memories so well in this song, poignantly sung my Mukesh in the evergreen Rag Bhairavi:
“Aaya hai mujhe phir yaad woh zaalim, guzraa zamaanaa bachpan kaa
Hai re akele chhod ke jaanaa aur naa aanaa bachpan kaa”
[Again, I recall the tyrannical (longing for that), elapsed era of childhood
O, leaving me alone and (then) never returning of that (age of) childhood]
4 Replies to “Honey"suckled" memories”
Lovely! I could almost see the little boy in the tree, waiting to be discovered – fragrance is such a powerful memory trigger. And one can find wisdom in unexpected places: A dollar store find, for instance. On a tin of twine these words: “A garden is a friend one can visit any time.” My garden is populated with plants from old friends. Every time my iris and peonies bloom, I see Dorothy in my garden. Every time the pink mums bring brightness to my fall days, I see Linda telling me my garden is a mad hodgepodge of colour. The clematis draped over a trellis reminds me of June – she dropped it off in exchange for rose of sharon seedlings. Rita, Amy, Anna… I have plants from all of them. Some of them have passed on, some live a fair distance away, but every day, I meet my friends in my garden.
What a beautiful way to connect with friends, their countenance beaming at you from each bloom. You are truly blessed to feel the presence and inhale their very essence through the fragrance each one sends out to make your days brighter and redolent.
There’s that beautiful place from so long ago that each one of us achingly longs to revisit, but can do so only in one’s heart. There’s a Nangal that each one of us would give anything to be transported to – right now, this very minute! – if only one could. But the universe is generous to a fault – what one hand takes away, the other attempts to restore: a honesuckle’s heady fragrance comes wafting up to you when you least expect it…and takes you to that riverbank house that is still home.
A Jagjit Singh ghazal comes to mind:
Yeh doulat bhi le lo, yeh shoharat bhi le lo
Bhale chheen lo mujhse meri jawani
magar mujhko lauta do bachpan ka sawan
woh kagaz ki kashti, woh barish ka paani
Your comments feel like poetry; thanks a lot! Good reminder of a most appropriate ghazal sung by Jagjit.