Cultured petals that spring at the Dr Zakir Hussain Rose Garden never fail to charm humans, be whatever their persuasion.
Bang opposite the garden, and on the Sector 10 side, stand a dazzling stack of the most outsized of flowering trees. Looming over Madhya Marg with crowns pinned to the blue skies and running with necklaces of ruby flowers, the Silk cotton or Semul tree in February-March turns into a sky restaurant for birds, honey bees, ants, other insects and nocturnal fruit bats, who save nectar for free. Naturally, the winged creatures find no succour in the neighbor, bland, hybrid roses. In turn, vehicle commuters coursing up and down Chandigarh’s principal artery with eyes pinned to road levels are oblivious to Semuls aflame.
Some Semuls were planted at the time of Chandigarh’s inception under the legendary MS Randhawa, who wanted to lend color to bland, just-green trees by adding a diversity of flowering trees. But as “pavementisation” flourished, the large, sticky flowers of Semul along with silk floss discharged from pods found no soil to dissolve into and littered roadsides. The Semul did not sport adequate leaf density, unlike the ficus species, and failed the essential service of roadside shade. The Semul got a bit of a bad name over time among urban landscape experts and is currently thought of as better ornamenting parks rather than roadsides.
A section of landscape experts also shunned the Semul’s presence as it found negative mention in the Guru Granth Sahib. Used as an analogy for flashy, towering humans, who were but useless to society, Guru Nanak’s hymns refer to the Simmal (Semul) as one who bears tall, haughty good looks but its fruits and flowers are unproductive for birds. However, that does not hold true as not only do birds relish nectar but Sambar deer eat its sweet, fallen flowers. The truth is, not many of Chandigarh’s planned, designer trees offer a mother’s breast to humble creatures as the Semul does.
Owl plays a moonlight sonata
Through her artwork and poems, Suneet Madan strives to challenge entrenched taboos such as those that entangle gender. The negative association of owls as created through occult practices, such as the tantric rituals, is a target of her art. At last week’s 20th All-Indian Annual Exhibition of WE – A Group of Indian Contemporary Women Artists (Chandigarh), Madan put up a painting of an owlet’s startling gaze in stark black and silvery white colors with a crescent moon and stars lending an aura of grace and beauty to the despised nocturnal hunter.
She feels very strongly about owls, which are slaughtered in gruesome fashion and chicks stolen from nests to further rituals around Lakshmi puja. “I have a long association with owls. The first word I uttered as a baby was not ‘Mama-Papa’ but ‘ulloo’! Later, during my academic years when I burnt the midnight oil, my mother remarked that I had turned into a night owl. It does not stand to logic that while religious beliefs venerate the owl as a ‘vahaaan’ (vehicle) of Goddess Lakshmi, in the same breath the bird is considered inauspicious by the same people. How ever do they manage to reconcile such contradictory beliefs?” Madan told this writer.
One of her friends told Dr. Madan that she had seen an owl in the daytime and she was worried something bad would happen. “I told my friend, let me know at the end of the day if something bad had actually happened. She got back to me saying it had been an excellent day!” quipped Madan.
The aesthetics of painting an owl was quite challenging for her as the bird’s physical appearance is distinctive and esoteric. In her painting her, despite the lingering dark colors portraying the unknown beauty and the tenderness of the night, the silvery white colors appear luminous. “There is nothing evil about the owl, the silvery radiance in my painting symbolizes that,” said Madan.