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WAX & WANE WITH NEERJA: THE PERFUMED TERRACE

Ah, these jasmines, these white jasmines! ……

Yet my heart is sweet with the memory of the first fresh
jasmines that filled my hands when I was a child.

— The First Jasmines Poem by Rabindranath Tagore read full piece here

My maternal grandfather Lala Kailashpati Singhania’s home was a lovely bungalow with a beautiful garden, inspired by the English garden landscapes. The large open lawns were dotted with exotic flower beds; a greenhouse for his rare Orchids nestled amidst tall trees on one side and stone archways laden with Madhu Malti creepers on the other led to a swimming pool and the glasshouse where he entertained guests. He loved his flowers, there were huge Sonchampa trees, Passionflower creepers, Mogra shrubs and specially interbred Roses. In fact he would personally supervise all the horticulture in the Singhania homes across India. And Shankara, my mother, imbibed her love for flowers, especially the Mogra and Desi Gulab from him.

The perfumed terrace in my little terrace garden is my tribute to them both. 

My terrace is awash with a heady mix of the many fragrances of Champa, Ylang Ylang, Lilies, Clematis, Madhu Malti and Lemon tree flowers. But my favourite top note fragrance is from “the heavenly smelling, exotic, exquisite, tenacious, sensuously rich, supremely sensual, intense, slightly heady, narcotic, intoxicating, sometimes clawing, warm with oily leafy-green, fruity undertones, illusive, sweet and warm jasmine flowers.” Passionately described by Tim Noonan in his book Jasmine – Its Story in Aromatherapy.  

I have a picture to represent the fragrance of this flower – my mother sitting cross-legged on the floor, stringing garlands of the five-petalled Mogra for her morning offering to her favourite deities, Radha Krishna.  

I read about the flower’s one hundred chemical compounds’ calming effect on the autonomic nervous system. When motivation flags and lethargy sets in, it helps clear the mind and keep it alert. Our parents must’ve known that stringing and inhaling their perfume was part of their everyday rituals.

It’s no wonder that in our Hindu and Muslim traditions, it is considered the “perfume of love”. 

There is no perfume in the world that’s without this “king of essence” the delicate and feminine jasmine. 

We have seen the Jasmine used in puja rooms and wedding pandals, in garlands and in perfumes, teas, sherbets and candles. In aromatherapy, it is used to relax the body and lower emotional borders for positivity and intimacy.  

Each morning and evening I have taken to walking, the siddhi figure 8 method. The figure 8 method of walking is just 30 mins each time and is deeply healing on many levels. As I walk on my terrace, I see the birds; pigeons, crows, sparrows and the naughty, noisy parrots come to drink water. I break into a good sweat and especially in the setting evening sun, there are wafts of the healing and energising perfume of the flowers lingering in the gentle breeze. Summer ragas Marwah and Sarang play softly on the iPad and help me wind down from buzzing thoughts and conversations of the day. This is God’s own magic potion!  

After my walk I drink a verdant sherbet of khus khus, an aromatic thirst quencher my mother got us to taste on one of our annual visits to Padrauna, our ancestral home in Uttar Pradesh. She explained how it would keep our body temperature down during our harsh summers there. And Lucknow, which comes on the way to Padrauna, is known for the most fabulous and pure attars… my mother would dab a tiny cotton ball with the mogra attar and tuck it into the top crevasse of our ear. Another one of her cooling tricks! Such knowledge is my heritage and I can’t wait to pass it to my grandson Iravaan. 

Neerja Shah

Former Editor of Elle India & TV Producer


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