September 14, 2016

The Story of a Lotus Bud

I found it at my flower-wallah on Sunday night. This flower-wallah was the one whom I had been buying my flowers from ever since I had moved to Delhi. In all these months, I had previously never seen lotuses there; I was instead accustomed to choosing from a library of roses, carnations, gladioli, marigolds, mogra, chrysanthemums, and rajnigandha, becoming blase about their beauty in the process. The lotuses were a pleasant surprise to encounter. A few days ago, I had seen them featured in pink bloom on someone's Instagram feed. A month ago, my family had sent me pictures after pictures of pink, white, and ivory-hued lotuses while holidaying in Sri-Lanka, where the blooms lay luxuriously massed upon the tables as temple offerings or sold in street-side shops. I remembered the first time I had seen devotees offer lotuses at temples in Bangkok; they resembled pale gray green candles from the distance until I peered closer and realised that they were in fact lotus buds. I tried to recall where I had last seen a lotus; I could not remember. I thought of the Buddhist mantra I frequently chanted these days, the lotus a powerful symbol and component of its spiritual structure.

I did not have to think twice about buying the lotus buds. I don't know why I bought just one though. The first lotus that I saw was greying, its outer almond-shaped petals the color of an ageing flamingo. Please give me a new, fresher one, I imperiously declared. The flower-seller picked one out from the many buds nestling together in their current home, a greying green bucket and began to swaddle it in a newspaper sheet for me. The lotus exuded no fragrance though. For fragrance, I bought my mogras, whose scent I forever associated with summer, smelling of rain when there was none. How long will it take to bloom, I asked, after he finished wrapping the lotus bud for me. Not much time, he replied. Not much time: that was hardly any time at all! I was prepared to wait. 

I posted a portrait of it on Instagram the next day, murmuring about the multiple beautiful truths that resided within its delicately striated pink bud. I talked about the delicious anticipation of waiting to see it bloom. I was in oblivion until Subhashini gently reminded me that lotuses usually do not bloom outside of water. But of course! How could I have forgotten? Was mine a magical lotus that would bloom in air? She instead asked me to carefully open the petals to discover what lay inside. I felt as if I was being asked to go on a treasure-hunt. Our conversation took place during the night. I waited until the next morning to perform this pleasurable task. But alas! I thought I was being careful but I was not. As I coaxed the bud to open, the petals swiftly and disintegrated, detaching themselves from the stalk like the pages of a dying antique book fleeing from its spine. I was left with the denuded heart and the petals scattered around me. The lotus was no more. I touched its heart. I wished I had been more gentle, more thoughtful, I said. But there will be a next time: a new lotus, a new heart to love, new petals to read. Until then, I will content myself with a memory of eternal longing, the longing of waiting for it to bloom.

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