Among the Tani tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, the red corral blossoms are a source of inspiration but in the valley of Manipur it blooms peacefully undisturbed. It is a plant that is considered of little value and irony is its bright red flowers stand on the tall trees to cheer up the landscape. Its sibling, the white coral, is valued for its magico-religious properties but the red coral splendid in its magnificient red blossoms is paid little attention. It is not a flower that can be offered for worship, nor one that is used for ornamental purposes to decorate hair or home. But the question is, is it rather not obnoxious to assume that a flower blooms for the sole purpose of human consumption?
Romi Meitei’s directorial debute angangba kurao mapaal (2004-5) draws on the cultural symbolism of the flower to exemplify the social position of the young woman who runs a kiosk selling betel (kwa). Such booths sell betel along with other small items and typically is a hang-out place for many of its male customers. Flirtatious behaviours are not uncommon in such joints. These kiosks are usually maintained by women with low income but does not hold much respect for a young woman. A young woman who runs a betel booth (pan dukan phambi) is seen as tou-ngambi, ikai khangdabi someone who is beyond shame and who would go to any lengths as it suited her. In other words, she is considered bold – a quality not desirable in a woman and which society tolerates so long as norms are left unchallenged. In the film, the young woman is virtuous and righteous (hence, does not challenge the norms) but she compares herself to the red coral flowers. The flowers are pretty but they are of no use value as it cannot be used as an adornment nor can it be offered to the deities. it is only something that is left atop the trees to be admired from a distance.
In contrast to the red coral blossoms, the siroi lily according to a description is compared to a beautiful young woman. The white colour with pink-purple blush towards the stalk and faces the ground as if bowing down, hence read as suggesting innocence and humility – qualities considered desirable in a young woman. But perhaps, it also signifies another quality – that like the rarely sighted flower, young women are expected to not to be sighted easily.
As opposed to the mellow beauty of the siroi lily, the red coral is a flamboyant flower in striking red that blooms on a tall tree. It is difficult to miss even from a distance.
While parts of the white corral tree is used as a talisman to protect a child from negative spirits, it appears that red corral flowers helps keep people away!