I lean my tired weight against the seat of a crowded bus and watch. Lap crossed, a plastic bag full of Jasmine buds, a roll of thread, one bud to the left, another to the right, the thread wrapped around them once, then a quick knot. Another bud to the right, one to the left, the thread wrapped round again, a quick knot. Every few flowers a couple of green leaves are added, then a couple of tiny orange flowers. I don’t know what they are called here in Bangalore, in Goa they are called Aboli. They are the state flower of Goa. There are two kinds of Aboli, the sadi or simple ones, these are a lighter shade of orange, and they bloom. The Ratan Aboli is a darker shade of orange, and they remain buds. While the Sadi Aboli is common because they grow easily and proliferate fast, the Ratan Aboli is difficult to grow and those who have a few plants don’t easily share a cutting.
Back in Goa women no longer ware flowers as widely as they do here in South India. In Bangalore, it’s not uncommon to see women sitting at a little foldable table with long yards of flowers curled in a heap. Jasmines are most commonly worn, besides these there are the chrysanthemums in yellow, pink and purple, and another light pink flower that grows as a large bud. These women before me had no time to waste, an hour ride in the bus gave them time to put together a real long garland and probably spare them more time with the family. For the sale of flowers begins early, as women head to work, they would buy themselves a bit of the garland.
There are 4 types of Jasmines that I have seen, they’ve all white though, and all give off this excellent fragrance. One is the many petaled flower, I’ve seen these only in Goa and even there I don’t think they are made into garlands and sold. The second are the buds, the thin, long, narrow buds; these are commonly worn in Goa. This Jasmine plant is a creeper and so a wooden 4 poster is created so it is free to run.
The Jasmines commonly worn in B’lore are a mix of these two. A tiny plump white bud that when it blooms is a multi petal flower. Another type of Jasmines that I have seen growing in gardens but not really sold is a real tiny bud of Jasmine. It would be a real arduous task to make these into garlands, but women do wear them and when they bloom they are a thick white garland. They give off a really strong fragrance, and the only way one could get to wear one is if ones mother in law or mother, after her busy day, went out into the garden and collected these tiny buds, weak eyes and dexterous fingers would then spent hours making them into a garland. Wouldn’t that make these Jasmines the most perfumed gift of love?
I remember a friend from Kerala telling me about the export of these beautiful scented flowers. It seems his family had a couple of acres of Jasmine and the whole family would have to wake up at 3 O’Clock every morning to pluck flowers before they bloom. They would wear tiny headlights and rush out into the garden. By 5 O’Clock the flowers would have to be rushed to the airport, where they were sold, packed, passed through security and on a flight to the Gulf. I’m not sure what they were used for there, whether they were worn as garlands like in India or used to make perfumes and Ithar.
Come the first rains and most people in Goa would begin the process of plucking off the leaves of their Jasmine plants, making them bold and as the plant burst into leaves along came the buds. We believed that this way the plant gave more flowers. We had a Jasmine plant at home and what glee it gave me to could the buds as the sprung forth.
Until recently, wearing flowers were an integral part of a women’s head gear. Few would leave their home without a flower in their head, much of that is still seen in Karnataka, even Bangalore. Flowers were such an important part of a woman’s dressing in Goa that they even made flowers of gold. If you attend a Hindu wedding in Goa, you will still see women wearing these gold garlands around their coiffed hair.
However unlike in the South, flower selling is no longer a profession that can bring you a steady income in Goa. If you go to the market, the women who sell flowers are elder, and need to earn their own keep; they grow a few plants and every other day make a few garlands and bring them to the market. Why did women in Goa move away from wearing flowers?