Monday, June 9, 2014

The ginger lily

My ‘living’ memory of Uncle Kanjilal are Champa plants (Dolon Champa in Bangla) that produce the most beautiful and intensely perfumed white flowers. This kind of Champa is found in humid tropical zones, such as certain areas of India, and all of southeast Asia. I have even found it in Texas, where it grows in abundance, and characteristically in a kind of wondrous ‘forest,’ all the more beautiful when it is in flower. In English it is also called the ginger lily. I have always loved this flower, which is extremely rare in the dry climate of the Indian region of Uttar Pradesh, but my uncle had it in his garden. When I asked him for a cutting, he laughed at me a bit skeptically, saying that I would never be able to make it flower. I responded that I was sure I could. And so went our good-natured repartee for some time. My uncle has passed on, but his Champa is still here. It has also produced others, and in season, there are abundant flowers. For me, it is as though my uncle were present, and content, still pretending not to give me any credit. He was slender, wiry, and agile, with an alert gaze, a narrow mustache, and glasses. I still feel his great affection. 

People pass away. Whoever can leaves something: a house, land, and who knows what else. But plants that have been left behind have extra significance for me. They bear living witness to who once lived. Indeed, it is as though they live on.

in homage to Devi Priya
with affection and gratitude
an excerpt from her memoir
Più di una vita | More than one life
from the translation in progress by Nicholas Benson

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