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On a Jupiter Year

November 8, 2018

The rain to the wind said,

'You push and I'll pelt.'

They so smote the garden bed

That the flowers actually knelt,

And lay lodged - though not dead.

 

I know how the flowers felt.

- Robert Frost, Lodged

 

 

The South Indian state of Kerala is known for its lush greenery, pristine beaches, and the magnificent Western Ghats mountain range. On its misty flanks: tea, coffee, spice plantations, and once in a Jupiter year, a purple burst of Neelakurinji, the rarest flower in the world.

 

The kurinji blossom here, only here, only once every twelve years. ‘These are flowers so rare they fade from living memory.’ Neelakurinji, which just means blue flower, carpets the hills when it blooms in spectrums of blue that slowly turn to violet between August and November.

 

A legend among the Muthuvan tribe, who live in the forests of Kerala, tells of the ‘flower of the Blue Mountains’ binding a god to a hunter girl in love. Another tribe of Paliyan nomads calculates a person’s age by the number of Neelakurinji flowerings that they have witnessed.

 

‘Seeing the Neelakurinji is extremely special, because you think, maybe I won’t be around for the next time.’

- R. Mohan

 

No one knows, not even nature itself, if there will be a next time; every shrub can reproduce once, only once, after it blooms, then it dies. The species’ survival thus rests on the hope that the seeds it produced will last.

 

In Kerala, people live by that hope, and in the meantime, they live. Simply, but well; they work on plantations or in luxury hotels As August 2018 drew nearer, they waited for the super bloom and for tens of thousands of tourists, and the economic boom they promised.

 

Neither came. Instead, rainfall. The monsoon peaked on the 20th of July. On the 8th of August, one week before the bloom, the floods began, then the landslides. The water and mud displaced more than a million people, killed hundreds, and damaged more than 50,000 houses and almost all the major roads and bridges.

 

Not since 1924 had Kerala seen anything like this. The people, the crops, the tourism industry, the Neelakurinji blossoms stood no chance. By the time the rain stopped, everything was gone. The losses were immense.

 

But the sun had come out; the flowers would need ten days of it to bloom. So the people counted: Day One, and meanwhile, began working.

 

Thousands of volunteers launched search and rescue operations, set up relief camps. They shared their food and blankets and clothes, drinking water and plots of land, and when that was not enough, sold their gold and livestock to buy more. People shared skills too; some raised awareness, others raised roofs from the ground. Fishermen offered their boats and children, the contents of their piggy banks.

 

Ten days later, the past had not been erased and the present was still difficult. But high in the Western Ghats, the flanks were covered with blue flowers.

 

The rain to the wind said,

'You push and I'll pelt.'

 

But this story is not about them. Nor is it about floods and loss and the fickle impermanence of being.

 

It is about blue flowers on a mountain, and that such flowers existed. That they bloomed for shepherds and plantation workers who too, ‘knelt, lay lodged,’ but not dead. And who will always have that sight because they know how those flowers felt.

 

There are still seven days remaining of the bloom this Jupiter year. I will not see it this time but will be ready for it the next. In the meantime, there is good to do and beauty to see, life to live. And the hope that tomorrow there will be sun, and in twelve years, the kurinji.

 

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