And kindled the flame of the Tulip buds,
When bees grew loud and the days grew long,
And the peach groves thrilled to the Oriole's song....
Queen Gulnaar was the most beautiful woman of her times. As the Queen of King Feroz of Persia (present day Iran), she had everything she needed in this world. Her husband was very fond of her and all material wealth was at her beck and call. Yet she was not happy and one desire haunted her each time she saw her own image in the mirror. She longed for a rival! "Give me a rival, King Feroz", she begged her husband and King. She felt an emptiness in her life as there was no one matching her beauty. Just to satisfy her desire of having a rival, the King commanded his ministers to bring in unmatched beauties in the world. They brought seven most beautiful brides for the KIng. The King married them all, led them to her room and told her that he has brought her the rivals she desired.
Seven Queens shone around her ivory bed,
Like seven soft gems on a silken thread,
Like seven fair lamps on a royal tower,
Like seven petals of the Beauty's flower...
Queen Gulnaar was not satisfied. Though they were seven beautiful brides, they were no match for her beauty. They were only fit for being her handmaids. "Bring me a rival, King Feroz", she again demanded.
A few years later the Queen was looking at her own image in the mirror. Her two-year old little daughter runs to her, snatches the mirror and views her own image in it. At last Queen Gulnaar is satisfied.
Queen Gulnaar laughed like a tremulous rose;
"Here is my rival, O King Feroz"
The story of Queen Gulnaar and King Feroz is the theme of a delightful poem titled "Queen's Rival" by Sarojini Naidu, known as the "Nightingale of India". Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949) was born as Sarojini Chattopadhyay and lived in Hyderabad in her early years. She married a doctor, Govindarajulu Naidu, and later came to be known as Sarojini Naidu. Her brother Harindranath Chattopadhyay was a well-known actor and writer. His role as an actor in the Hindi movie "Bawarchi" was one of his memorable performances. Sarojini Naidu took part in the freedom struggle and was president of Indian National Congress in 1925 and presided over the AICC session in Kanpur. She became the first woman Governor of an Indian state, of United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, before formation of Uttar Pradesh. Her daughter Padmaja Naidu also worked in politics and later became Governor of West Bengal.
Sarojini Naidu spent her early life in Hyderabad with her father Aghoranath Chattopadhyay, who was the Principal of the Nizam Medical College. Thus she became well versed with culture of the surroundings. She was later educated in King's College, London and Cambridge University. This led her to writing poems in English. She learnt Persian language and wrote a play "Maher Muneer" in Persian. "Queen's Rival", story of a Persian King and Queen, was probably a natural product of her learning Persian. Her poetry in English language is of rich quality and expressions are a reflection of her keen observation of the surroundings and human emotions.
The first time I heard of Tulip flower was while studying the poem "Queen's Rival" in High School, nearly five decades ago. I asked the teacher in the class: "What is Tulip and why kindling them?". He answered that it was a flower. "What is Oriole?" was the next question. It is a bird, he said. Further questions did not elicit any response as he had seen neither the flower nor the bird. The next encounter with Tulips was while viewing the song "Dekha ek khwab to ye Gul khile huye" in the film "Silsila" filmed on Amitabh Bachan and Rekha. During our visit to Srinagar in Kashmir last month, we had an opportunity to visit "Kashmir Tulip Festival", in the Indira Gandhi Memorial Garden.
Oriole is a bright colored singing bird found in such surroundings. Tulip flowers originated in Persia and traveled to other parts of the world in the 10th century. The word "Tulip" has Persian origin. It grows in mountainous areas of temperate climate. Long and cool spring period is required for growing Tulip flowers. Vast areas of Tulip flowers in as many as 16 colors are grown in regions with such climatic conditions.
Tulip flower moved to Europe in the 16th century and as the climate in Holland suited its growing, many acres around Amsterdam are used to grow the flower now. "Holland Tulip Festival" held during the months of April-May (April end and early May) draws huge tourist crowds from all over the world. Cycle road trips along the over 100 Kilometer Tulip route is considered as one of the most beautiful road trips by National Geographic. Kashmir Tulip festival also is held around the same dates. The beauty of Tulip gardens can be enjoyed for a period of a fortnight only. Untimely rains rob the pleasure as it damages the flowers. Tourists have to plan their visit to coincide with the Tulip Festival.
The real lesson of "Queen's Rival" was indeed learnt when we were standing in the Tulip Gardens of Srinagar, with the Himalayan range in the background. Each word of the poem had its special meaning. It was truly spring winds that had weakened the mountain floods; there were heavy floods in Srinagar just a week ago. Flame-like looking Tulip buds had flowered as if their tops were kindled! The flowers (there were other flowers too around the Tulips) had attracted innumerable bees and the sound they made was indeed loud. With the onset of spring, days were growing longer and thus shortening the time span cold nights occupied. It was time for flowering in the peach and apple gardens making the beautiful Orioles to sing in their sweet voice...... Every word the poet said in the poem was before our eyes. She had indeed experienced each of these and made a mental note to enable reproducing them later in her poem!
Reading and relishing quality poetry is not mere understanding of words. It is much more than that; it is mentally and emotionally transforming oneself into a different world. Thoughts of the famous 9th century Kashmiri poet-philosopher Anandavardhana and his celebrated work "Dwhanyaloka" naturally flooded the mind. His "Dhwani Theory" states that when a poet writes, he creates a resonance with a particular wavelength. Only when the reader is tuned to that wavelength, he can understand and appreciate the poet's works. A local poet's Dhwani (Sound) Theory was understood through an English poem about a Persian Queen by an Indian writer, while standing mesmerized in a Tulip garden with the backdrop of the Himalayan range!