On my way to work this morning, I picked up this flower. Bangla naam- Jawba phool. Scientific name- Hibiscus rosa sinensis. The two names have very different meanings for me. I taught a class on post-structural feminism recently. It took me a long time and multiple attempts of hitting my head on the wall to understand what is post-structuralism, what is feminism, and what is post-structural feminism in this context. However, it did help me develop an appreciation for the symbolic meanings of language once I vaguely understood the concept well enough to be able to teach it.
Jawba phool reminds me of Ma Kali. Of Shibpur, Howrah. And hajar haath Kali (goddess Kali with thousand hands, you should look up her picture. It gives me goosebumps, she looks so jagrata, so alive). All these are memories from my childhood, visiting hajar haath kali mondir in Shibpur and coming home to my grandparents’ place armed with two big bags of steaming hot boma. Boma means a bomb, and Chondi'r boma is the best alu’r chop that you will ever find. The story goes that Chondi, the inventor of boma, uses a secret spice recipe that no one else in the world has been able to replicate, and this humble family business over 3 generations did so well that he built a three-storey house. I do not know how much of this is true, but I do know that my mom spent years of her childhood bonding over boma with school friends, and I haven’t had it in decades now. So if anyone could get me hot bomas from Shibpur, you are my best friend for the rest of my life!
I don’t know how I jumped from jawba phool to boma, but the other name, Hibiscus rosa sinensis, opens up a whole new world of memories for me. I am in the ninth grade and Mrs. Khurana is our biology teacher. She has just taught us how to eviscerate the flower along its longitudinal axis to expose the reproductive contents using a dissecting needle. The catch is that during the practical exam, you only get one flower and one try to get it right. Sometimes, even surgeons are not as skilled as is expected of a 14 year-old. This would be followed by my vague attempt to neatly draw and label the parts of the flower, something I hated doing. I am so bad at drawing and sketching, I could not even draw a pumpkin, forget drawing the private parts of a dissected flower. I spent a good few months of my childhood surreptitiously plucking red flowers from the landlord’s garden and practicing my surgery skills on them. I might not know how to cook biryani or write R codes, but I can surely show you the reproductive parts of this red flower.
And of course now, the flower reminds me of the three-year old grandson of our neighbor who religiously sings me “mayer paye jawba hoye” in his mellifluous voice every time we meet. It is a devotional song dedicated to Ma Kali which means something like- I will be the flower of your feet.