Monday, January 9, 2012

The Fragrance of Night....

New books and their smell,
Old flowers and their scent....

            Among hindu bengalis there is a custom of using special flowers for specific occasions. The marigold is used during Saraswati puja, the hibiscus for Kali puja and the sweet 'shiuli' is used during Durga puja. Apart from pujas, the other significant occasions such as marriages, birthdays and others are also assigned specific fragrant flowers.

           Among these flowers, there is one in particular which creates a real disturbance in the senses of a seasoned bengali. It is the 'rajanigandha'. The name literally translates as 'fragrance of the night'. It is typically and abundantly used in marriages. From flower sticks to garlands, a bengali marriage house would bear it's scent in the air for days together.
           Having said this, it would not seem fitting to describe this beautiful, pristine white flower as 'disturbing'. But its potential to meddle with the senses in a decidedly uncomfortable manner comes with a second dimension, it's other function. The rajanigandha is again typically and amply used in hindu funerals.
           To have a flower play such ghastly and horribly opposite roles is sadly comic. Walking into a post-funeral yagna, one may encounter garlands, rajanigandha sticks, just as before but having totally different connotations.
            And it  is this very criteria that makes this flower and its scent a bitter-sweet assault on the senses of every traditionally bred bengali. It makes the flower dramatically alive. In anniversaries, when rajanigandha sticks are brought home by relatives and friends, it brings with it the warmth of love and a promise of nocturnal magic.
But later, much later, when the revelry is done, and friends have left, the rajanigandha sticks standing in a water filled vase on a lonely table in the dark living room diffuses its sad spell all over the house. And while lying in bed eyes fill with tears and hearts grow afraid in anticipation of the doom that the scent spells.

         It makes one nervous to think how a simple flower and its perfume can hold such promise of exuberance while hiding  a lethal gloom behind it....

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