One of my most wonderful experiences during our visit to Bangladesh was an early evening when we were walking among the grand green areas surrounding the Bangladesh Parliamentary building. It was surprisingly lush and liberal here, a real breather against the general pollutive mist of Dhaka. Many of the trees in this area were clearly very old, and the richly forested landscape was particularly mystical at that dusky time of day. When I think back to that day now, I can smell green tea, perhaps owing to the enchantment of the atmosphere and the bliss it brought, or the stunning muted greenness literally, or just because I instinctively associate such landscapes with Bengal tea gardens.
The breeze was soft and cool, like a whippy 99 ice-cream. Such a breeze is a sheer gift in Dhaka, where in the daytime the heat is smoldering. While I was walking – which actually felt something like floating – beside the gorgeous trees, something in the air suddenly but subtly sweetened my senses, like when the first little raindrop kisses you in quietude and you wonder if it was really there at all.
But as I walked on the presence of this scent materialized more – or, I should say, honeyfied, because its quality was fluid and sticky, like a trail of love. I suspected the source of the scent had to do with the hundreds of tiny creamy fallen flowers on the grass by where I was walking, and which continued to delicately fall from above like faerie confetti, with each sleepy exhalation of the slumbersome hour. My chacha who I was with soon noticed the scent too and told me that it did indeed come from the flowers of the trees nearby. He picked up a handful from the grass and told me they are called, in Bangla, ‘bokul ful’ (bakul flower), and I smelled them. In a moment I was taken with curiosity and delight. The aroma was unusual and distinctive but no less divine or wholesome than that of other white flowers.
Let me say the appearance of bokul flower in itself inspires interest. Although at first sight it might seem a pretty but utterly unremarkable little flower, on closer observation it seems both voluptuous and aged for a flower of its little size. Its browned cream colour can be likened to that of an angel wing feather having happily found a home in the lustful honey of Earth. This honeyed quality gives a thick, plush appearance, like the petals have been infused in an attar oil. At the same time they look dried and classic in their antique hue and undeniable delicateness. Bokul flower’s appearance then, is an honest reflection of its essence, which reminded me of a richly oiling, earthy, tangy green olive, touched with a matured brown honey. Bokul flower’s scent and appearance is actually reminiscent of shiuli in that it has a similar autumn-leaf vibe that makes me think of white confetti scattered among a bed of aged-to-ornamentation gold leaves.
The botanical name for the plant of bokul flower is Mimusops elengi, and in English it’s known to be the tree of ‘bullet wood’. It’s interesting to consider then that the superior value of its timber makes this plant not only one of Edenic fragrance, but also of practical resourcefulness – which even includes the fruit being used in medicine.