We were assembled at my place, around four or five of us on a Sunday. My boss was also there, as were my friends from the local government. Talking of this and that we landed on the topic of flowers. It was the month of July and the Mughal gardens of Srinagar were blooming to their glory. They were a riot of colours. In the midst of the conversation on flowers somebody happened to say that surprisingly though Kashmir had temperate-like climate yet it did not have the exotic flowers like tulips and daffodils.
I butted in and said tulips were very much there, though of indifferent genus. I had seen them in the flower beds of the Anantnag Circuit House. I had found them somewhat of emaciated and stunted, not like the tulips of Netherlands I had seen in photographs – large and well-fed, so to say.
Obviously the Netherlands flowers, exported as they were even then, were rich in nutrients and the very look of them suggested that they were very well taken care of. Even the tulips that were grown in my compound were like the ones of Anantnag Circuit House. They looked like the country cousins of the ones grown in Netherlands and yet I never discouraged the gardener from spending his precious efforts from tending them. He used to say that the quality of the seeds is what matters.
As for daffodils I had till then not seen any, i.e. I did not know how they looked like. Perhaps it was a very common spring flower in the West or was not photogenic enough. Or perhaps it was not considered exotic enough. Tulips were considered romantic and a young man would go out of the way to procure a tulip bunch to gift to his sweetheart. There was no such romantic attribute attached with daffodils. Their fame originated from William Wordsworth’s poem “I wandered lonely as a cloud”, perhaps the most famous poetic composition in English language.
When daffodils were mentioned my boss said he had them in his small garden and said he would inform me when they started blooming. Some months later one morning I got a call from him saying that the daffodils were in bloom and that I should go over to his place to see them. Curious as I was, I trotted down to his place in the evening. As He showed me the flowers the words “oh, hell” escaped from my mouth. It was so disappointing to see them as I too had them in my yard; only neither the gardener knew their name and nor did I.
I remember they were pale yellow and droopy, nothing like what I saw years later in Europe – nice and healthy, and bright golden yellow. On the fields near Kukenhoff, near Brussels, they were growing wild and, yes, they were “dancing in the breeze”, as Wordsworth saw them. Mesmerising as they were, one felt like getting a handful of them but in Europe flowers blooming in the wild are not plucked; they are allowed to bloom and wither.
Curiously, none ever mentioned narcissus as it was seen in profusion in Kashmir growing wild. Known by a more exotic name in Urdu, that is Nargis, it has its own admirers. They are off-white in colour with yellow petals in the centre. They are deliciously fragrant to make any woman of sense happy. Their genus is the same as daffodils; some even say that while daffodils are male narcissusi are females
All that was more than 50 years ago. Now Srinagar boasts of a massive tulip garden below the Zabarvan Hills along the Dal Lake that offers colourful flowers in a 30 hectares garden. Curiously, the garden came up during the height of militancy, giving a good turn to Kashmiri tourism - one very rare positive from the violence of militancy. The garden has 1.5 million plants and 48 species of flowers. Every year something new is added and flowers like daffodils, narcissusi, hyacinths, etc. are planted to provide an ornamental appearance to the garden. This is one asset that is going to pay for itself and Kashmir Tourism couldn’t be happier about it.