My grandmother had a flower-table.
It was on the front-end of the house, on the top floor. You could see her at work at it when you drove up to the porch.
A slim, tall old lady with her hair done up and a belted pastel dress (always belted, always pastel, always a dress) and sometimes a cardigan.
Even at 80 she was slim and tall and wore a belted dress just below her knees and her legs stretched out out out long long long.
She had a walking stick. I've forgotten how fast or how slow she walked. I was too young to be alarmed by such things.
Anyway, the flower-table: It was a long sturdy trestle table with a light, summery plastic cover on it. At one end, an assortment of vases. No, not 'a couple' of vases. About a hundred vases. Every shape, size, texture and colour. At the foot of the table, several large buckets. These the gardener would fill every morning before she awoke, with fresh flowers from the gardens around the house. (I should explain: it is a huge house with extensive grounds and FLOWERS!!).
There'd be tiny bunches for little vases. These would be filled and lovingly placed on my grandfather's desk, in front of his picture. Other photo frames would be similarly graced with bright pink phlox or deep, thoughtful pansies or hazy violets. Every frame was beaten silver. Perfectly polished, impeccably simple rectangles holding the faces and smiles of people she loved. So many. And in the light that streaked through the drawn blinds in the afternoons, every slash of their silver edges was set further afire by a red rose, a saffron gulmohar, a huge explosion of raani-pink.
In some of the silver bowls there'd be ferns. These would sit as table arrangements at the lunch table. Something exquisite about the baby green of a frond, caressing an old burnished silver. Something that brings in all the damp green freshness of the fern-garden by the pond and melts a swathe of completely refined silver elegance into it. Takes away the impression of mud, leaves its lacey softness. These are things she taught me, wordlessly. I still feel a heart-lurching delight when I see them in my mother's house. No doubt she spent many mornings at that table too.
What I remember most is the colour and the smell.
Her colours were always light and airy and hazy. Like all the colours of the flower table had aged and mellowed and been diffused over time and had found their way onto her. So while on the table there'd be a deep emerald green, on her dress or belt there was mint or pista. Her fingertips, always fondling the petals on the little phlox flowers, would give way to baby pink palms. For every colour of flower or vase or day she had a corresponding mist in her skin, her eyes, her dresses, her soul.
And the smells. Her eu-de-cologne, her old Camay soap and the fresh smell of a new day that only comes when the entire house is surrounded by trees and a small army of gardeners with hosepipes, spraying the hot earth with water from the garden pond. The wet smell of the insides of vases, the wet smell of freshly cut flowers.
Every so often, I had to run downstairs to the garden and relay messages between the gardener and her: 'I asked for the blue ones!' 'Tell her I already told her they haven't flowered yet!!'. They loved each other. Everything he touched turned into blossom. Each blossom, she cherished. The clip-clip of her scissors so gentle. Never any hacking or tearing of leaves. Always time enough to feel a flower's petals. To point out its colour or softness or scent. To look into it's heart and put your nose in it ("Check for bees!!") and inhale!! A mock-deep breath and widened eyes were our sign to each other that truly this one is loveliest of them all. We always checked that yesterday's vases had enough water, enough light. No flowers ever wasted.
Once, there were too many little ones in the larger silver bucket.
She said, "Run down to Janardhan and ask him to do that thing he did for your mother. Go."
Janardhan was squatting by a flowerbed, smoking a bidi. He saw me clambering down the garden steps with a huge bucket full of pink and blue flowers.
Wordlessly, he took the bucket from me, handed me the hosepipe, "Here, you hold this." I was so delighted that I was being allowed to take over the watering, I didn't think to ask what he was going to do with the flowers.
Ten minutes later he nudged me. In both hands, a perfectly formed blue and pink and green wreath in his hands. Made without a shred of wire or rope. A crown of flowers. He put it on my head and said "Raani."
I was a garden fairy-queen that day. I spread my arms and mock-floated, mock-flew, up the steps and back to my grandmother, wearing my crown, and she let me keep it on all day.