One looks for the filter to beep blue, an image that will remind you of how the earth, the pale blue dot, must have looked from the moon. The second batches of colours are those of joy. Winter flowers.
You know you live in the world’s most polluted place when you have a mask for all seasons.
There was the summer-monsoon covid mask. Owing to the heat and mugginess during the pandemic, the mask changed from a plain black or blue medical mask to creative, chic and breathable handloom masks. Some masks were made of silk or embroidered; others astonishingly were made of diaphanous chiffon.
Then there are masks households already possess, used around Diwali – masks with valves in them, to filter out respirable particulate matter. And there are also the masks that one uses while exercising, cycling or running.
At this time of the year, as the air becomes woolly with a heavy, settling cold and unsettling amounts of pollution – two kinds of colours are on top of my mind. One is a colour I look at with some trepidation – the colour of the indicator on an indoor air filter. Red is hazardous, purple is bad, blue is okay. One looks for the filter to beep blue, an image that will remind you of how the earth, the pale blue dot, must have looked from the moon. The second batches of colours are those of joy. Winter flowers.
Summer has flowering trees – Semal, Amaltas, Jarul, Palash. Winter is an inheritance of flowering plants. No lawn is complete without the pleated, ponderous heads of Dahlia nodding in the winter sunshine. Red, maroon, yellow, and white – dahlias are distinguished by their size and velvety colours. The flowers become so big that the heads need support. And then there are the hardy Chrysanthemums. They come in pastel colours and they smell like bubblegum. Phlox, gerbera and zinnia flowers will line gardens with zest. They burst open with the excited passion that those with short lives often have.
But as the sky becomes greyer, murkier – almost like a blanket, I wonder how we can stave off the twin threats of COVID 19 and air pollution.
Winter is a favoured time of the year for many. You can go on long walks. You don’t need cooling. You have more energy. Food tastes better. Family gatherings are warmer. But this is also the time of the year when the beautifully crisp winter sunshine gets clouded with air pollution. This year, the covid threat adds to the stress.
I have one response to this feeling of gloom, of experiencing threats that are out of my reach – getting my hands dirty.
This is the time to turn to the garden. Nothing new is likely to grow if you plant it now. But you can get the soil ready for spring, when bulbs will become plants, and vines will blossom. You can collect the dried heads of winter flowers, put them in bottles with labels, to be planted next year. You can reduce watering of plants and simply enjoy them growing by themselves.
If you don’t have a garden, look out for elegant tulips and roses, and cheerful cosmos and calendulas in neighbouring parks and roundabouts – as the air gets unbearable, these are the pricks of colour that make cities tolerable.
The air is full of winter perfume – the uplifting Parijat or Shiuli, is throwing its blossoms on the ground – the orange stems of the flower sticking up as the white flower falls face-down. You can smell a Shiuli tree from far away. And there’s the Saptaparni, a fragrance that grabs hold of the back of your neck, a smell you will never forget. Though spring is a long time off, I have started preparing my pots for the season. I collect wooden chips, leaves and vegetable matter for compost, I air garden manure and keep it moist, I run a shovel through pots and let some of the soil sit fallow before manuring. I will break off the dried heads of marigolds and petunias, to keep them for next year.
This year, I’m relying on plants a bit more than usual. Most of us are waiting for 2020 to get over. This has been one of the toughest years in generational history. But in our hearts we know that covid will not go away even when the year ends. With winter settling in, most of the year is gone already. Durga Puja has gone too, and Diwali too. Though pandemic problems will not go away as 2020 ends, I feel Spring is sufficiently far off to plan for a covid free life.
And even if the pandemic doesn’t go, at least I will have flowers.
Photos: Neha Sinha
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