The elusiveness of spring

A look at the curious order of nature and its cycles of ebb and flow

Image of orange blossom buds by the author’s daughter in her new home

The kumkum-red stained tips of the dancer’s hands close together, joined palms near her head in her Bharatanatyam mudra, she shuts her eyes, draped in her scintillating pink and orange, brocaded sari. She conveys with her graceful movements: “my heart is closed, my eyes are closed, my ears are closed until”…the dancer’s bare arms spread wide and she draws an arc on the horizon…” the sun rises again – and spring comes”. Then all the world is animated once again, and our hearts come alive, just like the dancer, who personifies a flower bud that blooms open in the rays of the spring sun.

We have been treated in this city of Lahore with a beautiful coincidence of the coming of spring, the celebration of the 90th birthday of Mrs Indu Mitha, the iconic Bharatanatyam dancer of Lahore and her daughter Tehreema’s dance performance tribute to her mother.

The dance has brought its message home to me as I worry about the buds and blossoms near me. My worry is about whether the wisteria will give just a few or many buds, when the beautiful kacchnar or bauhinia tree will burst into bloom, and how to grasp the elusive fragrance of the orange blossom still in bud.

The two-thousand-year-old Bharatanatyam dance story tells me that it is the order of nature itself that triggers all of this magic and the dancer answers my questions. I am not the entity that must worry, rather it is nature that governs me and enfolds me in her arms so that my eyes, ears, and heart open to admire the new beginnings of every spring when the sun rises in the equinox.

So now, I relax to wait and watch in wonder as spring is upon us. And it is three particular buds that hold such scintillating promise of beauty in the weeks that follow.

The wisteria climbing plant originates in China and has been much revered in Japan. In an operatic form of Japan, the Kabuki theatre, its blooms are used to denote tenderness and sensuality. We often see it in Japanese brush painting as a purple cascade of drooping composite flowers, like hanging bunches of translucent grapes. Its graduated buds are like small cones with a faint brush of purple fuzz, while the early spring leaves emerge delicately, like lime green lace against the dull gray of its woody branches. After the cold of winter, when the wisteria climber becomes a bare mass of vertical, wooden twisted branches, the buds emerge as swellings, holding the promise of either a tiny delicate green leafy frond or a dreamy, swoop of shaded purple blossom.

The Indian kacchnar tree with its kidney-shaped, bi-lobed leaves, upholds almond-shaped buds tapered to colour-tinged points just like the Bharatanatyam dancer’s fingertips. Admired as metaphors for youthful beauty in Urdu poetry, the painter Abdul Rehman Chugtai’s young maidens often hold kacchnar buds. The exquisite, fuschia petals that are already peeking out from the bud tips have a colour name in Urdu that has almost disappeared from our language: the colour ooddha that is a particular shade of magenta purple. In just a little time away, the kacchnar tree at some thirty feet height will be filled with delightful, ooddha blossoms, that look like orchids, and buzz with bees that gather their nectar.

And the orange buds in my neighborhood are a wonder too. Their fresh green citrus leaves unfurl around bunches of buds from cream to a creamy green, globular like clusters of pearls. The orange blossom with its sharply tipped petals and its yellow clusters of stamens is the heady fragrance of spring in Lahore par excellence. So intense is its aroma, that the human nose must inhale a whiff, then step back, to smell again, as our olfactory organs saturate with the scent in seconds. It was in Persia that orange blossoms were immortalized as symbols of purity and fertility. This was later extended to the West by Queen Victoria wearing orange blossoms in her wedding coronet and bouquet.

The tender, youthful purity of the buds of spring entices our human selves in an intense and compelling fashion. We want to retain their beauty, freshness, and fragrance in bottles of perfume, in brush paintings and names of colours. Yet they are by their very nature, ephemeral – a passing beauty that the Japanese celebrate in their cherry blossom viewing ritual of spring.

Within the layers of experiences that spring triggers in the human senses and heart, the elusiveness of spring is undeniable – yet as the Bharatanatyam dance tells us, we can ourselves become one with these qualities we so cherish. We can embody tenderness, purity, and renewal through our art, but also through our very being, character, and conduct. Perhaps that is the compelling message of the spring buds, to reunite with the order of nature and embrace its cycles of ebb and flow.

The writer is a Lahore-based ecologist

A look at the curious order of nature and its cycles of ebb and flow