In Bengaluru, how the ritual of watching a pink trumpet tree bloom in 2020 brings a semblance of comfort

The British had originally introduced the pink trumpet trees, or the Tabebuia avellanedae, in Bengaluru as part of a stylised colonial botanical aesthetic, which valued flashy, ornamental exotic species like this one, over the native ones.

Priyanka Sacheti December 20, 2020 12:37:10 IST
In Bengaluru, how the ritual of watching a pink trumpet tree bloom in 2020 brings a semblance of comfort

The pink trumpet flowers of the Tabebuia avellanedae plant. Wikimedia commons.

The first time I saw the Tabebuia avellanedae in bloom was on a cool, sunny January morning in Bengaluru almost four years ago. I had newly moved to the city, having spent the last two years in New Delhi, where I had been mostly unwell, reeling from a series of health and personal crises. Even though it had been a while since I had left the city, I felt exhausted and beaten, my mind still fragile and recouping. That morning, though, as I stood in the presence of those blooming tabebuia trees growing in a small city park, I felt rejuvenated in a way I had not in a very long time. Looking at hundreds of those pink trumpet-shaped flowers silhouetted against the clear blue January sky felt like a balm for both eyes and the soul. As a single bloom gently detached itself and began falling through the air, I cupped it in my palms, as one would do with the first drop of rain after a prolonged drought.

A South American import, the T. avellanedae is colloquially known as the 'pink trumpet' or 'pink lapacho' trees; its two close cousins, the Tabebuia rosea and Tabebuia argentea also burst into bloom around early spring in Bengaluru, but my favourite happens to be this particular Tabebuia species with its flamboyant winter finery. The British had originally introduced the trees in the city as they had done in their other colonies across the world as part of a stylised colonial botanical aesthetic, which valued flashy, ornamental exotic species like this one, over the native ones. I wondered if one of the reasons behind the British gravitating towards planting these trees was because it reminded them of the cherry trees back home. After all, when one catches a glimpse of the blooming pink trumpet trees from a distance, it is easy to pretend that they are cherry blossoms. The British, perhaps, planted these trees in the parts of Bangalore they lived in to remind them of their spring back home, or maybe to create the illusion that they were actually at home.

However, while the colonisers eventually had to leave India, the tabebuia trees stayed on. One of Bengaluru's most celebrated horticulturists, SG Neginhal subsequently planted them as avenue trees in the 1980s, ensuring that clouds of pink embellished the streets during winters for years to come.

The funny thing is that my husband, who grew up in Bengaluru, says he never noticed these trees until I pointed them out to him. “But how could you have possibly not noticed them blooming?” I asked, astonished. However, truth be told, I too had been mostly oblivious to trees until I moved to Delhi a few years ago, and started observing nature more closely than ever, especially the flora around me. After arriving in Bengaluru, I encountered such an overwhelming diversity of trees that I started taking notes and making an effort to identify them, something I had not done earlier. I filled my phone with images of trees I spotted, compulsively recording the flora around me.

Clearly, of all the Bengaluru tree species that I have met, the pink trumpet flower tree is my absolute favourite, and the anticipation for it to bloom every year has turned into a special kind of ritual. The Tabebuia avellanedae is fairly nondescript during the intervening months, but the moment the days shorten and the shadows lengthen in the later weeks of November, it starts losing its leaves one by one. As it renounces its leaves — all of them startlingly green — the flower buds begin to appear before asserting themselves in all their pinkness.

Also read: Bengaluru’s romance with her trees, from the era of kings to present times

In Japan, the blooming of the cherry blossom during spring is an event worthy enough to dedicate an entire festival and verb to. 'Hanami' refers to the Japanese custom of mindfully observing and appreciating the flowers and their transient beauty, the flowers usually being sakura or cherry blossom. Similarly, whenever I find myself in the presence of these pink trumpet flowers, I seem to perform the act of hanami – yet, it is not just their blooming which leaves me in awe. When the trees lose their leaves before embracing their bright pink flowers, it reminds me that renunciation does not always denote loss — it means new beginnings as well. After all, in its homeland South America, the inner bark of the pink trumpet tree is regarded highly for its healing qualities, and it was in fact considered the sacred tree and medicine of the Mayans.

As the pink trumpet trees are only used for ornamental reasons in India, it is perhaps unsurprising that being in its very presence is healing. For the British, the tabebuia tree may have meant a sweet visual reminder of their distant, invisible homeland; for me, it is in fact one of the reasons behind why Bengaluru feels like home today.

However, changing global climate has meant that the trees' blooming periods are now undergoing change as well. As this year has been a personally challenging one, besides the pandemic disrupting our sense of 'normal', I have been waiting for these trees to bloom with an urgency like never before. Perhaps this year has taught me the value of cherishing simple joys more than ever, and witnessing the blossoming of these trees is one such joy. So, for the last month, I have found myself eagerly searching for these clouds of pink in the thick green cover of Bengaluru.

In Bengaluru how the ritual of watching a pink trumpet tree bloom in 2020 brings a semblance of comfort

A collage of images of the pink trumpet tree, photographed by the author through her years in Bengaluru

Social media memories, meanwhile, remind me of a large tree in spectacular bloom I had photographed two years ago in the city's Cubbon Park, which is incidentally my favourite place in Bengaluru for viewing trees. However, I had to remind myself that the photograph is from some time ago, and that today, much like the rest of the world, the tree too had undergone its own journey in the last 24 months, and it will bloom only when it is ready to do so.

*

A few days ago, I visited Cubbon Park on an overcast afternoon, with the skies threatening to burst into a shower. For a moment, it seemed like everything had remained unchanged, and the world was a stranger to the strangeness and melancholy of the year that had gone by, before I noticed the masks, both being worn and discarded on the wayside. I walked below the pink trumpet trees, observing that while some inhabited a curious limbo between leafing and blooming, the others were entirely bare, with their branches looking like filigreeing veins. The trees that were flowering, though, resembled woolly pink clouds huddled under the black ones above. In a moment of wonderful coincidence, I suddenly spotted a woman wearing a ghoonghat in the exact same shade of pink as the flowers. She was sitting close to a blooming pink trumpet tree. I too decided to go and sit below one such tree myself, feeling the flowers drizzle down on me. In that moment, the world stood still and seemed unaltered in the presence of the flowers that had returned after a year's wait, restoring something from the old, familiar world.

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