By: Ganesh Saili

‘Ganesh! You must see our hysteria – it’s blooming!’ She said pointing to the purple flowers dangling from a creeper that had wrapped itself around the eaves below the roof of her home.

I don’t know what it is about our hillside, but in a conspiracy of silence, not a soul corrected her. She continues to rejoice in calling them ‘her hysteria.’

Damru with Ganesh Saili

Even my friend Chunnu who once moved into the suburb in Hollow Oak has learnt to call the creeper by its proper name, which is wisteria. Not that he knows much about flowers beyond the common marigold and dahlias.

Arriving in the age of hybrids and terminator seeds, try as much as I may, I cannot find a single desi-gainda or marigold. They used to be the hallmark of Mussoorie in the old days. Sadly, the newcomers have edged out the cosmos, chrysanthemums and zinnias too. They have gone, never to return.

We were once known for our flower-shows.  On March 19, 1884, Mrs Robert Moss King, the wife of a civil judge from Meerut said: ‘The air is laden with the scent of flowers, for today is the flower show and I am one of the judges. I feel glad to be leaving the station so soon afterwards as we are told that the envy, hatred and malice caused by the judges award is very great. ‘

A soldier in a tent remarks: ‘By Jingo, if there is much boiling over a leaf, what will it be when the flowers come!’

Her eye was caught by ‘a basket filled with the most graceful artistic combination of scarlet, yellow, white and blue.’ However, the male judges had already chosen something else, which to her was  ‘in shape like a cauliflower, containing a great quantity of flowers all so tight and neat that they might have been clipped.’

Of course, our royals too joined in the fun. It’s a list that includes Wycliffes’ Princess Usha’s beautiful buttercups and Princess Sita of Kapurthala’s blue agapanthus. Others were Mrs Hathisingh’s ice daisies sent in from Oaklands, or for that matter, who would dare compete with the dahlias from Happy Valley’s Birla House; or Wayside Cottages’ Annie Powell’s sweetpeas;  Amrit Sagar Malhotra’s stunning roses and Auntie Maisie’s picture perfect begonias.

Alexander Hulme’s Logie Estate was our first botanical garden before it moved to Company Bagh, later renamed the Municipal Gardens. Fortunately, Harish and Vimal Sharma, continue to nurture the plants under a flourishing public-private partnership.

When I was last there, I found Vimal crawling around on hands and knees, a paintbrush in hand among the begonias. Was something wrong? I wondered. But he allays my fears by answering my unvoiced question: ‘This is how we cross-pollinate them in a greenhouse – each single one is done one at a time.’

Which brings to mind another garden-lover’s tale.

Single-blessedness had somewhat soured Philip Ryper to the world. As a telephone operator, he grew exotic Hybrid Tea Roses in Woodlands cottage where he lived as a tenant.  ‘Meet Anvil Sparks,’ he’d say pointing to a plant growing in an old recycled paint drum.

His sand-papery relationship with his landlady, a retired teacher from Oak Grove school, was the stuff of legends. Stories abound of her youth when as headmistress she carved herself a place in school lore by letting the schoolgirls listen in to the radio broadcast in 1960 to hear Princess Margaret say ‘I do’ as she wed the Earl of Snowdon.

‘Hate her guts! When she prunes her roses she shoves the clippings into cardboard boxes to dry out, fearing that I might use the cuttings.’

‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ I murmur to myself, venturing: ‘Poor thing, she’s got arthritis!’

‘Ha!’ he chuckles, pointing to a hammer. ‘That’ll fix it!’

I jump over the wall to see her while I am in the neighbourhood, only to discover that the dislike was mutual.

‘He’s a horrible fellow with his dyed pink, red and purple hair… Even tried kissing me once under the mistletoe on Christmas!’

Small wonder that our flower shows died out. With friends like these, imagine the havoc if they came together under one roof!

Ganesh Saili born and home-grown in the hills belongs to those select few whose words are illustrated by their own pictures. Author of two dozen books; some translated into twenty languages, his work has found recognition world-wide.