Genus: Mussaenda

Mussaenda is not a celebrated flower. The type of it I know has light pink petals and has no pleasant fragrance. When I was about 6 or 7, it grew in my grandparents’ small garden. I loved them. While my uncles, aunts, my grandparents and their same-aged friends loved more flashy and fragrant roses, chrysanthemums and orchids, I developed a bond with the subtly coloured, less fragrant Mussaenda. If I remember correctly, no one in the family even cared watering them but I did. With my constant care, love and attention, the plant grew bigger than normal and had more flowers than normal.

Sometime in a summer evening, mother came about to visit me. But before I could spend any time with her in person and show her around the small garden and the mussaenda flowers, everyone in the family, at least all the women, dressed up and got ready to go somewhere. I tagged along. We walked through the gravel roads for about ten minutes and ended up near a small house with a big backyard. Men and women stood scattered. It appeared to be someone’s funeral. I was and still am scared of funerals, perhaps that was the reason why nobody told me where they were going. I saw most of the crowd moaning, even those who accompanied me had sad faces. We all stood there for a while with me holding onto the end of my mother’s saree.

We walked into the house in a queue. Inside, I saw an old and small woman tucked into a coffin and a group of people crying around her. She held a small metal cross in her hands. After circling around her once, we all came out to the backyard again. The women with me walked around to the people they knew in the yard. I stood there confused.

Then I noticed a familiar smell, something that went well with the ambience of the funeral. The smell of Mussaenda. I looked around and found a small mussaenda plant in a corner of the yard. I walked through the moaning crowd towards it. I stood beside the flowers until my mother called out to me to leave for home.

Mussaenda to me, since that day, carries the smell of death. I never watered the one in our garden. It must have died eventually.