Is it all right to steal flowers in the name of the Good Lord?

T.S. SATYAN writes: A few days ago when my wife and I returned home after a day trip to Bangalore, we were aghast at finding that all the flowers in our pretty little garden, including the fifteen large Hawaiian hibiscus of varied colours we had counted before our departure, had disappeared.

For years we had patiently borne the theft of a few flowers every morning but were not prepared to accept such wholesale thieving. It was then that we started implementing our longstanding need-––to increase the height of the metal grill on our compound.

Stealing flowers, particularly among the pious, is very common and everyone seems to have taken it for granted as a phenomenon neither your presence nor absence can avert. Men and women of all ages seem to get a childish thrill in collecting flowers on the sly from the gardens of others. Their greed increases especially after the first monsoon showers when trees also begin to bloom in gorgeous splendour.

Even those who are otherwise highly ‘respectable’ and would never think of picking up even a small coin lying on the road, do not hesitate to change their mind when it comes to pinching flowers from other peoples’ gardens. Unfortunately, this weakness seems to be prevalent even in those who have their own gardens, though their numbers are dwindling.

The other man’s garden is more attractive than one’s own and, as for pinching flowers, it is all done in the name of the Lord and so no sin is attached to it.

During my early morning walks I am witness to the sight of people of all ages casually plucking all the flowers within their reach across the compound and filling their plastic bags. The old seem to think that stolen flowers (like the stolen kiss!) are always sweeter and more pleasing to the deities. Youngsters who indulge in this pastime often get kudos from their elders.

In Karnataka, even in early April, the May flower tree is impatient to burst into bloom in glorious red. I have seen that vandals do not spare even these glorious Gulmohar trees. Last summer, when it was still dark, I was witness to a group of villagers who were chopping and carting away some Gulmohar branches. When questioned, they had the audacity to tell me that the tender leaves, flowers and buds were the favourite of their cattle and sheep!

Flower pinchers make an interesting lot. I get up early in the morning and, without switching on the light, move the blinds on the window just a bit and take a peep. A Dowager-looking fat woman appears on the scene across the road. Despite her weight she manages to pinch flowers within her easy reach. To assist her in the unholy endevour, she sometimes brings along her young servant maid whose agility she cannot match at her age.

Yet another person, holding a long bamboo pole with a small sickle-like contraption attached to it manages to remove the flowers at the top of plants or trees. On the eve of big festivals when he needs more flowers he can be seen cutting branches of a tree only to gather a small quantity of flowers.

The Manasagangotri university campus in Mysore is a paradise for morning walkers. The area boasts of champak and other flowering trees. Once I saw the combined operation by husband, wife and son who seemed determined to denude the trees of all the flowers. These pious predators tackled the bloom from various points. While blooms at the low level were easy to grab and were taken care of by the wife, the husband handled the middle level. The son easily climbed up to the top of the tree. It was an amusing spectacle to watch to see the lady stretching the pallu of her sari to receive the flowers dropped by her son from the treetop. A little later I saw an equally amusing sight–– four women in their nightgowns, with their husbands in tow, making a nice pile of stolen flowers.

On some days, I see a lean, bedraggled person who prefers to operate only at dusk preferring to pinch the buds of hibiscus that are supposed to be the favourite of Lord Siva. He once told me that he wraps them in a thin wet cloth to let the buds bloom in time for the morning puja!

I have noticed that some people have stopped planting the flowering species close to their compound in preference to crotons etc. Surprise one of the flower thieves then, say a very respectable-looking old man, freshly bathed and in a fresh dhoti, and he will stammer out an explanation prefacing it with a Sanskrit verse extolling the virtues of flowers for worship, even if they are stolen ones, uttering “for the gods, you know, for worshiping my family deity….” In an atonement of his act, he mumbles, “you will be blessed, too….” You will find yourself mumbling, “ It’s all right, all right.”

Incidentally, who can ever continue to extol Mysore or Bangalore as garden cities? According to one observer, Bangaloreans are inordinately vain, however, about their Lalbagh or Cubbon Park because everyone else in India praises them. Come to think of it, seriously, it is not much of a garden city anymore and urbanization and the aggressive building activity has swallowed many open spaces.

Flying over Bangalore in a helicopter, I have noticed that even Lalbagh is surprisingly bare and unwooded. While flying over Chennai or New Delhi, my eyes have feasted on more greenery. New Delhi, has more well-laid-out and meticulously maintained parks and flowerbeds running alongside footpaths, Bangalorean’s or Mysorean’s envy.

And, in Delhi, no one steals flowers, not even from its open gardens like the Buddha Jayanti Park, the Nehru Park or the Children’s Park near India Gate. Flowers are allowed to bloom and brighten the curbs and the city’s roundabouts. Thieves in Delhi are after much better prizes than flowers anyway!

Once a harried police official in Bangalore known to me bemoaned that retired bureaucrats and officials who maintain home gardens, throw their weight about, pestering his department to bring the culprits to book. Technically, however, the purloining of flowers cannot even be registered as a complaint. It would seem, therefore, to be a matter for the individual conscience.