The Flower Arrangement competition was announced, catching me off-guard. I must have been doodling the teacher’s face in a sunflower when the techniques were taught — I couldn’t recall any! But, I’ve always had the determination of a cactus. So, I started planning confidently. Err, ten minutes before the school bus arrived on the day of the competition.
‘Vase. Vase. Where are all the vases?’
All I could find was a flattish brass bowl. Without its metal pin flower holder.
‘You can fill it with mud and stick the flowers in’, my grandmother came up with Plan B.
That reminded me that I needed flowers. I rushed to the garden and picked a bunch of orange and another, of white flowers. I asked the gardener (known as ‘maali’ and later, ‘Molly’ by my London-bred cousin) what those flowers were called. He supplied the names just as the bus came.
When I entered the classroom, it was like paradise. Long-stemmed red roses. Beautiful Dahlias. Bright-crimson what-do-you-call-em flowers. Purple some-funny-name bunches of inflorescence. They were lying on desks, filling the air with a delightful mix of fragrances.
The start was announced. I fished out my bowl and placed it on the table. First, we had to sketch a plan on paper. Not much of an artist, I couldn’t sketch beyond the bowl. Which looked like a bedpan. So, I ditched the sketch and decided to work directly on the arrangement.
Meanwhile, the girl next to me had arranged exotic-looking twigs in her vase, with some painted wood shavings nestled in them. Around this arrangement, she was placing red roses. Another one had a trellis of sorts slanting out of her vase. On that, cute button-shaped flowers were being inserted. I was still patting in mud in my bedpan.
Unknown to me, my treacherous flowers had committed suicide. They lay in my bag, limp, lifeless, their souls wandering around my Chemistry book and compass box, I guess. I pulled them out in panic and sprinkled some water. They remained dead despite my best resuscitation attempts. I was running out of time. So, I started tucking their cadavers in the mud. The weak stems wouldn’t go in! They wobbled as if on arthritic knees. The mud looked bored, almost yawned, as if saying, ‘Get over with it, now.’
Using my compass, I made holes in the mud to facilitate insertion. Once planted, the flowers just sighed and flopped on their muddy grave. I just ignored the fuss they were making and kept shoving more of them in, orange, white, some more orange, some more white, till the mud was all covered.
The neighbouring arrangements were also done, tall and stately, some slanting at beautiful angles, some spreading out like peacock’s tail. The judge, who was our principal, arrived and walked down the aisles between our desks, commenting on each arrangement. She reached mine.
‘Lovely Nasturtium’, she complimented the flowers, not able to spot what else she could possibly appreciate. I was glad she mentioned the name of the flowers instead of asking me! Too soon, however.
‘What are the white ones called?’
I thought hard, trying to recall what Molly had told me, ‘KHAINI TARAF’, I announced, brightly.
‘Yes, Candy Tuft’, she said softly, trying hard to keep a straight face.