The first blossoms of the apricots must have begun. it is the middle of winter. Winter at my hometown at Imphal (Manipur in India’s Northeast) is cold and dry but sunny. The grass turns yellow. The paddy fields are barren. The trees shed leaves. The mornings are foggy. As the sun begins to shines, the ponds weep out as mist. The powdery snow spreads out like a thin veil that slowly disappears as the sun grows in strength. The dew drops glisten over the blades of grass. From late morning till about early afternoon, the sun shines bright. The cold winds begin their sway from early afternoon onwards long before the sun rays have a chance to cast long shadows.
My last visit home was a couple of years back in the middle of winters. The apricots had just begun to peep out. there is only one apricot tree in our garden. It stands near the gate. It is the first thing you would see if you ever happen to visit my house. As you open the gate and look towards the house, your vision will be partly obstructed by some branches – that would be the apricot. The tree spreads out its branch towards the pathway creating a sort of an arch on the west side while on the east side its branches are absorbed along with the other plants (cedrella/chinese mahogony, persian lilac, wood apple along with pink hibiscus and lantana creating a bush closer to the ground). Together they compose a green veil that blocks the view of the front garden to its north.
The apricot has been a sight to take in. it stands like a gentle testimony to the passage of time – of seasons but also of memories. It stands bare as winter approaches. Then like the irresistible toothless smile of a newborn baby, it twinkles with its initial sprinkling of blossoms in the middle of winter and soon turns white with its blossoms. The tender greens peep in like adding a punctuation mark but as the white flowers drop off, the green foliage graces the tree. Hidden among the tender green foliage are the young green fruits popping out. They would mature in spring in time for the Cheiraoba festival to welcome the beginning of another seasonal cycle. Yes, the coming of malhei mapaan as it is called in Manipuri, is an early signal for yenningtha the season of hope/spring.
The apricot blossoms precede the plum blossoms lined up along the pond. I spent many a dreamy lazy day looking out at the blossoms carried to the pond where it created a carpet of white petals that danced as the breeze teased the water in the pond creating ripples. The musical rhythm would be the whispers of the breeze to the leaves and the chirpings of birds and bees. Unfortunately, the plum trees are no longer there but the apricot still stands. The two remain associated with some of my fondest memories – moments to which I return to for inspiration and calm when I feel restless.
If yenningtha/spring represents hope, that hope has to be nurtured through the seasons. Some say, when winter is here, can spring be far? But is not spring enjoyable because of the winter that preceded it and the summer that follows it? Afterall, it is change that is the one thing that remains constant. The apricot tree seems to tell me so.
As spring approaches, the fruits begin to mature. They turn a lighter shade and then yellowish-orange as it ripens. By spring, the fruits on the southern side that is unobstructed from the sun starts to show blushes. The lovely yellowish-orange is speckled with red. By late spring to early summer, the tree looks hearty – yellow fruits dusted with speckles of red blush on a background of lush rich green leaves.
The fruits are gone by summer while the leaves remain turning a darker shade. This is when the orchid hanging on its branch would bloom. Like its host, this orchid wakes up to bloom once a year. Until its time comes, all that one can see are its fleshy stems dropping down from the braches where it has been sitting on for years. It flowers in the summer – a dendrobium with cool shade of white and bluish-purple with very subtle fragrance. It hangs on the arch of the apricot facing the west. Though I quite like the morning light and the freshness of the early morning blossoms to take photographs of flowers, this orchid tells me otherwise. Freshness is beautiful but there is more to beauty than just that. It also has to do with being able to appreciate and value something. The best time to photograph it is the afternoon when the setting sun smiles on it.
As the paddy fields turn golden ready for harvest, the apricot (and the orchid) is all set to welcome autumn Nakentha or una kenba tha quite literally refers to that time in the seasonal cycle for the leaves to shed. The dry chilly winds of winter is fast approaching. The days are getting shorter. The green leaves are turning yellow. The apricot and plum trees welcome autumn by shedding their leaves. The tree is left bare with only its scraggy branches. Perhaps it has gone to sleep but then perhaps sleep is not quite the metaphor for it. Perhaps it is rejuvenating. Without the leaves flowers and fruits, I like to think that the tree turns inwards to build its strength and to refuel itself to burst out in glorious colour when the season changes once again. Matamgi tantha in tune with the rhythm of changing time.
To embrace change and find beauty in impermanence does not mean to forget or undervaluing it. Some things in life we remember, some others we forget but there are those some that remain ever present as a part of us. In my last visit home, the two plum trees were no longer standing. It seemed strange to see the brick walls that had remained veiled by the two plum trees. It seemed too empty to look towards the rising sun without their pronged branches. It was not just the trees but those endless moments spent around them that seemed to have been put to an end. The annual injection against cholera that I used to hate and scream came right around the time that the plums grew into that tempting size. There was also the feeling that now that you have undergone that painful unpleasant needle, you have got an immunity pin and can help yourself with your hearts content (of course unseen from the strict mother guarding over everything with an eagle eye). It seems a lifetime away skipping around those branches and noticing that the birds picked the very best, ripe and sweetest choice of fruits. It is a wonder that in all these memories, there were no snakes lurking around – a wonder considering the frequency with which they seem to show up!
To find the plum trees gone felt like I had to let go of a small part of me. It was like finding a physical part of a memory being taken away. Fortunately, the apricot still stands gently arching its branches in greeting to anyone entering the gate.