Since you've been gone for long, let me tell you. Do you know what time of the year it is now? It is that time after the sweetness of November, when December descends along with the chill and the winds. And in the air, hangs a special smell. A smell that went through a transition over the years. The smell of discovery. Something I've been in love with ever since.
It's now that Alstonia Scholaris, our good old pala maram, starts to bloom. And woman, isn't that smell heavenly?! Every day, I travel many a kilometers on a road that's spotted with huge pala marams that stand towering on the roadside. Every night, as I sit in the almost empty KSTRC and head back home, the smell of the bloom enthrals me, as if it were a celestial dancer. Or more suitably, one of the many Yakshis from the pala maram, who wants to lure you with the unmistakable fragrance. With the chill of December and the long winds, you could never say no to her even if you knew it could be last thing you would ever be smelling. In the mornings, the tarred highway would be pleasantly white at places; the deathbed of the bloom, the reminiscent of a one-night stand!
I said discovery because I always thought that Plumeria was actually what we call as Pala. And was I scared as a boy of going by the muddy pathway near my ancestral house because there was a Plumeria tree slanting on to the road! It wasn't until my third year in college, when we moved in to the Men's Hostel 2, the fort of SFI loyals, that I discovered the real pala.
Straight in front of the hostel was a huge Alstonia tree. And there were other such trees dotting the landscape around the college. During one winter, Estha was mesmerized by the strange fragrance that seemed to fill the insanely chilly nights near the college. Ever inquisitive that Estha was, he asked the workers in mess the source of this divinely smell, only to discover that this would be considered far from divine; that his beliefs were proved wrong. While everyone chose to stay away from the tree at night, Estha lied down on the small tarred road just beneath the ill fated tree and blew away blue smoke into the night, thinking his many thoughts, waiting for the beautiful Yakshis to descend upon him, take him to their abode, make sweet love to him, drain away his body fluids, and leave him a lump of flesh beneath the tree for the dawn to discover.
And then there were five deaths in the college, one after another, within a short span of a few months. It didn't help that the last one was a suicide, right inside the hostel that the tree over shadowed. That the body was discovered after three days, found hanging from the fan.
Sometimes, I wonder what the tree did to gain such notoriety. That such a heavenly fragrance can be considered to bring upon doom. But I was always in love with the tree and its call of love. Maybe, I love all things evil. But then, my dear Rahel, who are we to judge? We are just quite grown up children and pretty childish adults.