In a time when I was an ardent believer in a certain philosophy, I trusted flowers to be my messengers to the Higher Consciousness, and in a need to supplicate them every day to That, I figured buying flowers from Pookkaaramma was an easier task than skimming through overgrown gardens for Bougainvillea, Frangipani, Laburnum, Nagalingam or Poinciana. I’d been the most regular buyer of flowers for ten rupees, mostly roses, and at times all the wonderful packets of ‘gundu malli’ (composite jasmine), red lilies and lotuses that used to soak in the water in a bucket kept behind her.
Mounds of country red roses, garlands of ‘kadambam’, jasmine, crossandra, ‘december’ and chrysanthemum and the occasional bunches of Dahlias, Chinese roses and Tulsi, a small round-edged knife with a green grip and a stack of plastic covers on a grayish cement bag, on a slab of plywood and a wooden carton below, an umbrella launched on a bamboo cane behind her, and an ‘ever-silver’ jug of ‘kaapi’ with a ‘tumbler’ on top of it, – Pookkaaramma’s shop was perched right next to her daughter’s and son-in-law’s vegetable shop, one that I didn’t fancy buying anything from. But her stall was a natural attraction for honey-bees and people like me.
She once coaxed me to buy the bright violet orchids from her, despite me never taking a liking to the plastic-like feel of the ‘exotic’ flowers. She would then make my heart content by doling out some ‘panneer’ rose (tea rose) onto the parcel of regulars. The hands that offered them were filled with energy, warmth and soft flab, as were the rest of her body. Her spectacles were typical of the soda-buddi (bottle-glass) variety, thick and badly rimmed, suited to help her see only the people in front of her, for she needed no eyes to weave those delicate flowers into magical garlands, full of color and smell.
She would rise at 4 in the morning, hitching a ride with other hawker-women to the wholesale market, collecting her stock from mountains of fresh flowers loading and unloading everyday, chosen for their quality, fragrance, color and salability, in synch with the seasons. Regardless of the scorching ‘Kathiri’ heat of May or the continuous showers of ‘Aippasi’, she would manage to get the daily stock on time, amidst a mass of soggy, half-alive, half-decaying flowers and vegetable rubbish on the roads.
Apart from a couple of bouts of illness in a year, Pookkaramma was sturdy as a banyan tree, never complained of anything in the body in her hoarse voice, although the shaky legs showed Osteoporosis and the grey clouds in the eyes were difficult to neglect. The only times in the year that she found difficult to deal with, were the cold months of December and January – which were cold for her because of her early morning bus rides amongst morning dew and mist of the sub-tropics. She would always ease herself from the shivers by sipping some hot coffee and munching on crumbly butter biscuits wrapped in old newspaper that her son brought on time for her.
I knew virtually that she lived in the housing board with her daughter and family. I knew she had finished her duties as a mother. And one fine day, back in India, I came to know from Amma that she’d passed away after a brief fever. No more flowers.