The Plumeria plants came home within a month of our moving to Mumbai. With just a window projection to keep pots on, one wanted something that had height, and the Plumeria was an automatic choice.
The chap at Bhavans’ Nursery informed me that they were called Plumeria champa, and a couple of days after getting them home, the gardening section of the Saturday newspaper informed me they were known as frangipani. But to me they were plain “nooraloo poo” plants. My father had introduced me to plants when I was a kid ,and he knew either the Tamil name for the plant or the Latin name – never anything in-between.
In Mumbai, Plumerias are a semi-exotic species, but the nooraloo poos I knew were just another tree growing wild in the garden. Looking back, I realize they must have been carefully cultivated in the gardens of the mining colony where I grew up, but to me, they had always been just a part of the landscape.
My plants were prone to every conceivable disease known to plantkind. There were the black spores that sprung up, and which cleared up in a week after I started a daily routine of cleaning the leaves with ice-water. Then nearly all the leaves turned yellow and dropped off one by one – a herbal pesticide sprayed on the leaves arrested that one. They needed fertilizers and just the right amount of water, and lots and lots of affection.
Not like the nooraloo tree that had grown outside my bedroom. The branches had been low and sturdy, and I’d spent hours sitting there with a badge pinned to my frock, pretending I was a member of one of Enid Blyton’s secret societies. I can still see the tree as it was then – a slender black trunk, rough dark branches, few leaves and numerous white utterly unremarkable flowers.
Would my Plumeria plants ever flower? As I nursed them through one crisis after another, I I thought not, but was quite content with the foliage and the support the branches gave to other plants. Then, almost a year to the day after they came home, I was rewarded by a whole clutch of buds. For a month, they remained on the plant - growing steadily bigger and resisting the attack of two crows that had made a nest close by and considered everything their enemy.
Almost a month later, they flowered. Just a couple of flowers at a time, the flowers never lasting more than a day or two each. But they were flowers, and they were beautiful. And how come I had never before noticed their heady fragrance?