Monday, February 06, 2006

Midnight love

Nishagandhi shouldn't be planted in the garden, she knew. Myths and legends overflowed- each more dramatic than the other. Consequences more grotesque than one previously heard. But they all had to do with snakes.

But one thing that overrode all these was the hot and intoxicating smell of the drooping and sly flower that refused to bloom but once in six months, to meet her midnight lover.

Grandpa's place was a plethora of mysticism. Even in the clearest of days, there was a shadow of something that was waiting to happen. Cats took more significance in the that place than anywhere. Hoots of owls were more dismal and dispiriting... the only thing that had marked the place different from a horror movie setting was her bossy and demanding grandmother who was the very essence of life.

When she took the fleshy plant that was rudely uprooted by the gardener, it was her grandma who brushed aside the thousand myths that clung to it and told her to plant it in the copse of the snakes. 'Sarpa Kaavu'. Abode of the snakes.

Sheltered by low overhanging boughs, it was her ideal retreat. True she'd been chased away many a times by the gardener who mumbled words she sure were bad and cursed the younger generation and their idiocy. But she always returned to lie on the sun spotted ground and read her books.

The cool, eternally wet and dark brown mud was easy to dig and formed the new home of the plant. She hoped it would bloom soon.

But it had a will of its own. Six months passed and its greedy roots dug deeper and deeper, its leaves glistened with wickedness..

Windows that were never shut all through the year from which she could see spots of orange lights of her far away neighbors house. Windows where she often stood watching the mobile Petromax lamps that would often glint by the river...Windows that let in sprays of rain that drenched the wooden cupboard and made it swell...

The summer breeze carried a lot of smells. But as the night wears on, single strains of smells- distinguishable and potent. The smell of gun powder of a shot that a poacher fired long far away... The smell of fish roasted over an open fire by the boatmen at night...

The smell of the Nishagandhi flower that bloomed but once a year at midnight, she realized with a start. Insistent and beckoning... Putting down the book she was reading, a glance at the clock that ticked with unfailing tiredness. This was the time. She knew it. The plant had of late withdrawn... its leaves that once stretched their fingers had coiled around each other. Almost like snakes coupling...

Picking up her torch that to date hadn't been used she clicked it on. A faint flickering wishy-washy light. Rattling the steel body against her palm, she found a steady stream of light.

Climbing down wooden staircases that creaked, confident no one would wake up in a place that sounds filled the stillness of the night and rocked the sleeping lullaby. Her grandmother could never sleep in the city and they had rushed back to the discomforts that they were used to.

Stepping past toads that looked up and scuttled away, throwing a warning that there was an intruder in their land of the night.

Fear had never been a part of her education. There were enough classes and lessons learnt on recklessness and stupidity, but not on fear.

Sure steps that were placed by slippered feet after a quick scan for lethargic reptiles that failed to crawl away and had to be prodded to wakefulness by the tip of her slippers.

There wasn't any darkest of nights in summer. Maybe the clouds threw some light borrowed from the sleepless sun.

Inside the whorl of leaves that appeared reluctant to part, forming almost a panicle, she found the white flower that appeared translucent in the night light. The overpowering smell towards druggedness, heavy and of what would have been characteristic of an antiprana...

The slick black bodies of the snake gods that were locked in eternal embrace. Scattered showers of saffron and turmeric from mixed prayers to the Nagas... Floods and drought, springs, wells and rivers, rain, and fertility - to the Nagas who ruled them all.

She turned when she heard the fast swish that cut grooves on the wet mud around, to the direction of the river that curled around in a bend close by... A scaly body that glistened with water that was more viscous than usual in the caressing night light...

Ignoring her exigent presence, in strokes that were careless and beautiful it moved to the Nishagandhi plant that seemed to bend low with the overpowering weight of the flower... lower and lower.. lower until the flower dropped effortlessly to the ground.

Fact and fiction blended in her eyes into shades of indiscernible colors. Nishagandhi, mistress of only the night, enticer of snakes, carried away by the first one to claim her...

That's where they found her the next day, crushed white flower in hand and a blue bite of claim....


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is so dramatically written. Beautiful! Now, I understand that phrase u mentioned, 'To be claimed by the first lover!' WOW!!!

10:14 PM  
Anonymous Shyam said...

Brilliant! So wonderfully written! Very intense. Loved this work "also" of yours ...

11:20 PM  
Blogger Lazy strokes said...

After reading this, I found it quite difficult to turn my gaze away from the picture...

Faint memories of trying to grow one myself as a kid, and that of another person(known at present)...entwined in a curious tangle... was while before I could get rid of it.


3:18 AM  
Blogger Poornima said...

Sharat: :D

Shyam: Thank you sweetheart!

Lazy strokes: Nice imagery you bring to mind.

3:30 AM  
Anonymous Prashant Kumar said...

Awesome!!! or should i say Deadly!!! reminds me so much of my own home... the way you sketch out the minute details, the petromax lamps, the rain splashing on the cupboard and making it swell, flickering torch, creaking staircase, the smells with the breeze, the whole scene unfolds in front of my eyes... i wonder Poornima, do you actually write books and stories??

10:03 AM  
Blogger Arun said...

But I still love the flower! Beautiful

10:11 PM  
Blogger Shim said...

"i wonder Poornima, do you actually write books and stories??"

Dont you think it is high time!!! what r u waiting for KA???

12:54 AM  
Blogger ashish said...

The flower is really nice. Is it hibiscus ?

5:10 AM  
Blogger Lost in trance... said...

'antiprana'...wer dyu get the words gal? google showed 3 results !!!
that in itself is a surprise to me!!

n yeah, the lack of fear in education leads to a romantic(?) death...interesting...

1:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Plethora of mysticism' is a wrong usage I think.....Literary licence is fine, but we shouldnt carry it too far, right? :)

Good work otherwise.

7:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This IS good. How did you know? And I loved the ending.


4:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi poornima,
there you are once again - wonderful. fear had never been a part of her education. antiprana

did you read - mistress by anita nair.

from one among the crowd.

11:14 AM  
Blogger Poornima said...

Prashant: Don't I write stories? On my blog? A book is more definite a thing to do- I still am not sure I can.

Arun: So do I!

Shim chech: Waiting for the right words, the right plot, the right many things chech!

Ashish: Nope! Its the 'Nishagandhi' flower!

Lost in trance: Must be from something I read somewhere! Only 3 results? Shame!

5:29 AM  
Blogger Poornima said...

Anon: We can carry it any far. That's the beauty of it all. Try exploring beyond boundaries- there's fun in it.

Kraz: I know. Have known for years and years! :p

One in the crowd: I'm not very fond of Anita Nair! Tried 'adies coupe'and 'The Perfect Man'. Didn't impress me at all. So doubtful if I'll try her again!

5:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the theme.. not much to write about..
but she has a verve in her writing..the too and fro .. the clutch in the heart ...the heavy streak of independence .. makes the woman interesting .. to read..
but you beat her to the theme..
carry on poornima..your writings are always looked out for..

from one among the crowd..

11:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


your reply to my comment ...."We can carry it any far. That's the beauty of it all. Try exploring beyond boundaries" is a bunch of crap that doesnt mean anything and you know it. You may want to impress people with your vocabulary but at least dont use words in wrong contexts.

Further, there are enough people saying nonsense like " explore the boundaries, spread your wings, be yourself,...." just to sound cool. Everyone knows such talk comes from media sources where you have picked it up. So stop dishing out such second-hand stuff and concentrate on the writing instead.


10:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Poornima,

Don't get upset. I admire your writing. You are very talented indeed. I would really like to thank you for letting us read your writing. You have a talent which is indeed a Gift from God.

A well wisher

5:57 AM  
Blogger Poornima said...

OAC: I recently read a book called 'Arranged Marriage' by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni- try reading it if you can find it. Its beautiful, the language, the themes and imagery.

Anon: I write what I feel and stick by it. I've talked about it to people who know better- and while they haven't applauded, they haven't spat on it either. Don't you have a name behind all the abuse?

Well wisher: I was irked yes, by the comment. Its my space and am not forcing anything down anyone's throat. Take it or leave it kinds- but well, it takes all sorts to make this world!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

great piece of writing.only 1 complaint-ma'am, if u keep posting good stuff like this, i or someone else smarter will collect it and sell novels out of it :-)

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Blogger Poornima said...

Hima: Lol! Ok smart person! Go on...

6:37 AM  
Blogger Arun said...

Hmmm... very powerful imagery and precise writing. Initially, the Nishagandhi seemed to aquire a personality of its own.

Sarpakaavu is traditionally an ideal setting for intrigue and vengeance. Seems your story has a hint of both. And yes you are gifted with an acute sense of observation. The sights and smells and sounds of a Kerala countryside was a pleasure to read.

BTW, our experience with Nishagandhi has been quite amusing. It started blooming all of a sudden and a flower used to bloom every 2 weeks! This happened for sometime till we (then, kids) stopped staying up to watch them in full bloom.

Its an eerily alluring flower with an intoxicating fragarance. Nice snap btw.

- Arun

10:38 AM  
Blogger Poornima said...

Arun: There's always a sense of mystery n intrigue hovering around the flower. And the smell... Mmmm...

11:57 PM  
Blogger Yaya said...


We had 38 flowers bloom last August in one plant. Took pictures and enjoyed the sight. Hoped the same this year but a few months ago on a sunny day, the crawling hero visited home and gave all a fright. Mom had to hesitantly cut down the bushes in her garden leading to chopping off this one too...

Love your language and acumen for fine details....


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Blogger Poornima said...

Wes: Ouch! What a painful story!!!! :(

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nice story...

see some shots at

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