The flowers here in Coonoor bloom year round, watered by monsoons in May and June and kept misted by mountain nights at 6,400 feet. Just this morning on our walk, I brush my hand over the tea leaves to find a thick layer of dew sitting in the folds of the leaves.
Vegetation varies as much here in the outskirts of Coonoor as the houses themselves. Huge white mansions are going up all over this area, and often alongside tiny rainbow villages that would fit in the back yard of some estates; but the wealth is welcome, as it brings work to the locals who build and plant and caretake these second homes of the aristocracy. Here is the country home of an Indian dignitary we have watched under construction for three years now—and all those perfectly trimmed tea fields belong to his estate.
The manicured gardens inside the iron gates bearing grand names like Northwind are watered daily and dangle their lush nasturtiums and roses over the bars. Red poinsettias and passion flowers laced with honeysuckle are trained around the fences that keep intruders (and wild bison) out of the perfectly paved new driveways, and gardeners clip grass with hand scissors so the wealthy can escape to their compounds and enjoy their spectacular views over the brilliant green tea fields and fragrant eucalyptus forests.
Around the corner, apricot-hued lantana mixed with purple morning glories spring from dusty red dirt and form tall dense hedges along broken concrete walkways, in between shacks, and under crisscrossed electrical wires. They belong to no house, no metal gates can hem them in, and they receive nothing but God’s sun and rain to nourish their bright foliage.
Hot pink tobacco flowers gather on the edges of the village dump and rage beauty alongside plastic litter that will never turn into soil, and wild white morning glories spring from the gutters that snake alongside the steps that lead us downhill to the painted village homes of Bharat Nagar.
The miracle of these blossoms is that they are no less beautiful than those cultivated in containers and lining the driveways that hide the entryways of the whitewashed estates, and yet like the people, some have privileged roots and a staff to maintain them, and others flourish without thinking how and without questioning their status. Life is what it is here, and although the dichotomy between monetary wealth and having just enough to live on is very evident, the happiest people I have met here are the ones who emerge from little pastel painted houses to wash their laundry in buckets or collect their water from a communal pipe or cook their rice over a pot in an alleyway or brush their teeth over the gutter. I wonder if the saturation of color here makes a difference in the mind and in the heart. The ladies smile as they fill their colored plastic pails, and the children grin as they say “good morning!”
Pink and green houses glow in the sunlight, and even the worn out flip flops strewn at the doorways look as though cast off of happy feet.
Brendan reminds me of that ancient quote about blooming where you are planted, which seems to hold true here, although I often wonder how people and plants (and pets) would flourish differently if they were planted someplace else on the planet. Remember last year I almost came home with a kitten, thinking I could offer it a better life? Who am I to say? No matter; we are here, and this is the day we are given. So I will just ask you this: how will you flourish today?
And on down the road aways, dogs, like flowers, Join our walk with wagging tails, sometimes leading the way now that they know us and know the smells of our morning entourage. There are always the grumpy ones, but that is true with humans too, so we pass by those who growl and round the bend where two sweet pups recline in their morning sunspots. On this third day of seeing them here, I realize just like us, animals have their morning rituals, and they too can choose to greet the day with happiness and kindness.
People line their jugs up to be filled, and children spit toothpaste into the ditch as we squeeze through pathways trying to find the parakeet lady we met last year.
At one filling spout, we stop and I ask, “Does anyone know the lady with the birds? The parakeets?” One woman smiles, and says yes. It is she herself. Her eyes are full of glitter as we recognize each other from last year. She leads us to the birds, tweeting their morning songs, their cage wrapped up in burlap bags to keep out the mountain air, still cool from last night’s full moon. I ask if she still has her puppy and little kitty, and she nods yes and says they are still inside asleep.
So I guess I am just in love with the painted houses, with the flower petals of every shade, with the pooches and the parakeets with their exotic lime and turquoise feathers kept in a tiny cage on the side of a mountain. I am in love with the people.
Here is my favorite photo so far I have taken. I think it captures the spirit of this place with its burst of magenta energy against the soft blue wash of paint on a simple wall. The beauty is impossible sometimes, and photos and words do not do justice to the experience of seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, and touching this place.
To all of you back home reading this post, Shanti Shanti Shanti Om on this gorgeous morning!