Life Over Books

Jasmine Flowers for Mom

Mom loved her Jasmine flowers. Almost every single day, she would spend the afternoon hours stringing together these tiny buds into a sequence. This would then be adorned around her little bun in the evening, and it would seem mom carried with her its fragrance- a sort of divine one.

A string of Jasmine flowers

Much as I loved their fragrance and sight, I have never been comfortable adorning them on my braid. As a young girl, it almost always seemed to be an irritant. As mom would braid them tight into my hair, I would pull them off and discard them at the earliest opportunity. One fine day, she just gave up. To her, my act seemed to be an insult to the delicate flowers that so selflessly spread its fragrance.

Jasmine flowers were an integral part of our household

Years back, living in Bangalore, these flowers would be bought from Valli– a local vendor, who would come by our home to not only sell flowers, but to also chit-chat on matters of life. An arm’s length of strung flowers bought from her would be offered to God every morning. Valli would also drop in a handful of loose buds into mom’s basket- which were painstakingly strung together by mom for her own use. Fridays were special, when the Jasmine flowers would be mixed with the orange colored kanagamaram (the firecracker flower). Our home would be a myriad of fragrances, one that would instill a pious feeling.

This ritual and practice continued for years…

…until she lost my dad. Surely as a country we have come a long way, eradicating some evil practices with regards to ostracizing widows. Yet, there persists still, even in progressive communities, customs that are irrational in every way. It is quite common to find women who have lost their husbands, to encounter restrictions of several kinds such as not being invited to auspicious functions, or adorn the once loved flowers. Mom continued to buy flowers from Valli, but things had changed. The basket no longer saw loose buds. The arm’s length of strung Jasmine was still religiously offered to God every morning, yet the evening fragrance that would fill the air was absent.

Much as I pushed mom to ignore these absurdities and live life on her own terms, I soon realized that she herself wanted to abide by these rules. Having grown up in a community amidst these restrictions, she seemed to have accepted them all whole heartedly, and believed that her life was to be that way. The illogical thought process associated with widows was so deeply ingrained into her whole psyche and system that it seemed impossible for me to get her to think, otherwise.

Sometimes, some matters are best left to time

No wonder they say time is the best healer. Five years since Dad passed away, the memories of his last few months slowly faded away. We had all come to terms with it, including mom. The years had helped heal her broken soul, as she began to venture out to meet people of her own age, discussing life- its woes and joys. Everything seemed to be on track, except that the absence of the Jasmine flowers kept gnawing at the back of my mind.

During my last visit home, I noticed a spark yet again in her eyes, something that had been missing for a while. Valli still visited her every evening with her arm’s length of strung Jasmine flowers. But this time, when I peeped into the basket, I noticed the loose flowers over there. So glad was I to see yet again, the afternoon hours spent stringing them together and, the evening yet again emitted the best fragrance I had ever come to know.

*Featured Image Source: Pixabay
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28 Comments

  • Ashwini CN

    You are spot on! As much as we want our parents to live their lives on their own terms, at some point they are comfortable with the rules and they’d gladly live by it. So for a lot of things, I stopped pushing mom to leave absurd traditions and let her do what she was comfortable doing.

    Also, the flowers brought back memories of my childhood when my grandma would string jasmine, kanakambaram abd a few more flowers that grew in our garden. Thanks for reminding me of the good old days 🙂

  • innatejames

    I think it’s the smell of flowers that make us so quickly associate loved ones to them. My grandfather was a professional gardener. He supplied the local florists in my town. His favorites were dahlias. He’d keep the bulbs in the basement over the winter and in spring he’d ask my brothers to help him bring them up (I was still in diapers then). Smelling, seeing, talking about dahlias brings my grandfather near me. Your story captures that perfectly.

  • vartikasdiary1

    I am happy your mom started wearing them again. Few things like fragrances, songs, flowers, incidents etc. bring back the memories of our loved ones and make us feel their presence around us. Jasmine flowers were my Dad’s favorite too and I fondly remember him on its mention every time. Lovely post Ramya.

  • Obsessivemom

    This was beautiful. Some practices are so deeply ingrained in us that it takes years before we can get them out of our minds. It was good thing you let your mom work that out for herself.

  • Natasha

    Loved how evocatively you weaved your story around the heady jasmine flowers, Ramya. They are my favourite too and I don’t miss an opportunity of gathering them and putting them by my bedside in a small plate with some water sprinkled over them.

    It’s uncanny how we associate certain things in life to our memories from the past. The Gardenia bloom on my terrace reminds me of my yesteryears in the university campus I grew up in.

    Loved reading this tale of yours and I’m so glad your Ma went back to wearing the flowers.

  • writershilpa

    Awww…I loved this post, Ramya!
    Reminded me of MIL, who too used to love wearing gajras, but stopped doing so after FIL passed away.How she loved wearing matching bangles, too, but hesitated to do so for fear that people might pass hurtful comments. Over the years, though, she changed her mind and began living her life on her own terms. A fact for which I totally admire her. I so hope society changed its ways along with time and stopped following these silly age old practices.

  • Rajlakshmi

    Absolutely loved the way you have weaved together your memories… Beautiful like the jasmine flower. It’s fragrance takes me back to childhood but we mostly used it as an offering to God. The ending made me smile. Happy to see your mom going back to routine.

  • Rachna

    This post stirred some amazing emotions within me. I love jasmine flowers too. Though my mum wouldn’t braid them in her hair every day, she would do so for auspicious occasions. In my nana’s house, we would pluck the buds and float them in water for their heady fragrance. I still love to do that. Mogra is an integral part of my life and along with raat ki rani my most favourite flowers. About your mum, I saw my mil go through the same after my fil passed away. She wanted to immerse herself in misery and pain. She stopped wearing coloured saris and gave me a bunch of her beautiful silk ones. But like you mentioned, with passing years she has slowly got some of her spirit back. She wears coloured saris again and sometimes even puts flowers in her hair. Lovely post.

    • Ramya Abhinand

      Oh thats lovely Rachna.. these flowers just bring back so many lovely memories, right? My mom has had times very similar to your MIL. Sometimes, they need to put an effort themselves, to get their spirit back in life.

    • Ramya Abhinand

      Thats true Corinne. Individuals take their own time and also have their own way. As long as the grief is met with…

  • BellyBytes

    What a beautiful story Ramya. Some traditions are hard to break. I have many aunts who are widows yet our family treats them like regular married women, inviting them to functions, putting haldi kumkum and even asking them to bless the newly married couples/newborns. Quite recently my mother-in-law got widowed yet her 90 year old husband told her to continue with the mangalsutra, saris, lipstick and all. She still wears her wedding ring and is very much a part of our family. I personally think that customs are up to people to carry on with. Whatever they are comfortable with is fine. One of my aunts who was basically a loner, preferred being the isolated widow and yet enjoyed her life with her own daughters. Widowhood had given her the freedom from her husband’s family and she could stay away from all their functions without the guilt.

  • Balaka

    i always loved visiting the homes of my South Indian friends for this fragrance. I always felt that their homes smelt so divine while my Bengali home only smelt of fish and mustard oil. While I was in Hyderabad, I used to adore these flowers and the beautiful rangolis. This post is directly from your heart and every word echoes your beautiful sentiment. I loved every bit of this post.

  • Lata Sunil

    Its so beautifully said here. I loved reading this. Its the way our parents are brought up. They still follow the customs they learnt in their younger days. Sometimes I feel, we will also become like this when we get old.

  • Shalzz

    Such a poignant piece, Ramya. I could imagine your mom wearing jasmine flowers everyday, convincing you to wear them on your hair as well. I hated it too, as a child. 🙂
    As you said, however progressive we say our society is, there are many customs and norms like these that we still follow. My uncle passed away a couple of years ago leaving behind two young girls and wife. Now people are asking us not to invite them for my sister’s wedding. Ridiculous, don’t you think?

  • Kala Ravi

    Ramya this was such a moving narrative! I can totally relate to the whole situation. It is so unfair yet such an integral part of most households to stay attached to orthodox customs and traditions. I am glad time has thawed that mental barrier and the fragrance of the evening jasmine is bringing smiles back.

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