For Kolkata-born Jhelum Biswas Bose, flowers were intrinsic to her life, be it the 108 pink lotuses offered at Durga puja pandals or her mother’s floral arrangements in the living room. In her book, Phoolproof: Indian flowers, their myths, traditions and usage (Penguin Random House; Rs 299); the 39-year-old beauty editor, and founder of the flower-based beauty brand Jhelum Loves, brings together history, recipes, and stories around flowers that we have grown up with. Some of the dishes include Parat Parantha with Marigold and Chicken Ghee Roast with Desi Gulab.
Excerpts from an interview:
Your inclination towards the rose is evident in the book. There is also the story of Nur Jahan and Jehangir, and roses.
Nur Jahan was a very fiery lady. There is a story of how she slapped Jehangir in the court and people thought it was the end of her. But Jehangir lined garden pathways with rose petals and when the sun was at an angle, they gave off their fragrance. She walked from one end of the pathway and he from the other, and they met at the centre. This was a very romantic story and a representation of equality in their marriage.
Weddings have always been about flowers. Your book also mentions it.
Dressing up with flowers has been a tradition in many cultures, take garlands for example. They also form a vital link in Kalidasa’s description of Shakuntala. A trend is the phoolon wali mehndi, which was popularised by Bollywood when Queen released, though floral jewellery has always been there. At weddings, nuptial beds too are decked with rajnigandha, mogra and gulab. The bride too wears floral jewellery for their aphrodisiac appeal. Wedding jewellery lately have floral patterns on them.
Has Bollywood played any role in your research?
My muse for this book is from Bollywood and a person one most identifies with is Sharmila Tagore in Kashmir Ki Kali (1964). Even Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965), Silsila (1981), and Kabhi Kabhie (1976) were shot in Kashmir with floral backgrounds. The entire Yash Chopra offering had flowers so beautifully strewn around.
What formed the crux of your research?
I went back to rereading fairy tales because flowers play such an important role, Thumbelina for instance. There is a wonderful book called The Reason for Flowers by Stephen Buchmann, which looks at different kinds of flowers. Dr Malti Khaitan’s book Flowers That Heal tells us about the flowers in India. I also spoke to nutritionists and surprisingly not much nutritional research has been done on flowers, which is why we don’t know how to consume flowers, other than our regular gobhi and broccoli. There are a lot of recipes with kachnar buds, moringa and pumpkin flowers. An ayurvedic doctor in Delhi introduced me to the text Arka Prakasha, written by Lankapathi Ravana. It’s a commentary between Ravana and his consort Mandodari, where he mentions the many kinds of arkas (medicinal waters) and how to make them, and speaks about the various ways one can improve one’s sensuality and sexuality.
How do you relate to flowers?
Flowers speak to you. Like any force of nature, they have an energy. That’s why the flower water used in pujas are sprinkled to bless and ward off evil.