Childhood friend Paresh Pandya stirred up a mélange of memories by uploading this photograph on his Facebook update. This champa tree (Plumeria ) is almost as old as I am, which is old. The house partially hidden behind it is where I spent my childhood in the early 1970s. The house in whose yard the tree stands, bearing number 16, is where Paresh lives today and has lived there for over 45 years.
When we were growing up—my brother Manoj, friends Paresh and Jayendra—this champa tree was perhaps the only reassuring sight in the dusty and hazy hotness that was Ahmedabad. It was, of course, much smaller then like us but big enough to withstand us climbing its trunk.
I remember a barbed wire fence separated Paresh’s house and ours, Number 17. When I say ours, it is misleading because we did not own it. We merely rented it. When the landlord, Prabhudasbhai came to collect the rent every month a measure of anxiety pervaded to be replaced gradually by the heady fragrance of the champa flowers. The contrast between humans and nature used to strike me even as a boy—Prabhudasbhai charged us a rent to stay in his house but Nature did not. In fact, Nature even threw in free fragrances, the predominant one for us being from this champa tree.
We were careful enough not to pluck flowers that were still attached to the tree. We picked those that had fallen to the ground, having served the singular purpose of luring sphinx moths for pollination. I found out about the sphinx moths this morning and how the champa flowers, which have no nectar, act as a fragrance trap for pollination. But I digress. I remember gently kicking the trunk occasionally so that a couple of flowers would drop to the ground. I used to stick one behind my ear flap to savor its fragrance.
It is so heartening to see that the champa tree, not only robustly alive still, but even flourishing as evident in lush green leaves and white and yellow flowers. The champa trunk and branches excrete sticky white milk-like substance when cut. Even the stem of the leaves, when broken, exude that. I can feel that on my fingers even now as can I the champa flower’s fragrance. The champa fragrance is widely used in scents and perfumes. When I was growing up that fragrance was supposed to have a hint of the lascivious as in a woman who could seduce unsuspecting teenagers by merely wearing it.
Trees have always been my weakness. This champa tree is no exception. Here is to Paresh, Jayendra and Manoj and memories strewn over my mindscape like the pebbles on the unpaved street and front yard we grew up on.