German visionary behind our vanishing beauties

SHASHIKIRAN MULLUR writes from Bangalore: The heat has gone up and the dust has risen. Everywhere dry leaves have covered the ground, but Bangalore was beautiful this Sunday morning from upward of eye-level.

The most striking sight is of the yellow flowers: Tabebuia Argentea which flowers are tiny trumpets, and the Indian Laburnum which hang in a bunch like grapes.

The first is The Tree of Gold; and the other is the Tree of the Golden Showers—or the Vishu, whose flowers, my Malayalee friends tell me, are beloved of Krishna.

I checked now: The Indian Labernum is indeed indigenous, so you may believe Krishna knew them in his ancient time, whereas the Tubebea Argentea is from tropical Americas.

Then there are the trees with pouting purple flowers and others with lavender across their crown and in a carpet on the street at their feet.

The radiant Lady’s Tongue have blossomed too, way overhead, but they’re fallen on the ground as well. And tiny Pongam flowers which are buds even in bloom, which lay sprinkled on the ground all of last week, they are now broad mats of dry fiber—they soften your step when you walk on them.

Bees and butterflies are in a swarm over the Singapore Cherry, flicking and kissing their tiny flowers, their white petals the texture of art paper, and their quivering filaments thinner than human hair—but how they’re straight up and erect!

Many of these trees—or the parents of these trees—arrived here by a foreign hand, a German one, the hand of a man born in Dresden, and long buried in the Christian graveyard in Langford Town in Bangalore, in whose psyche he is deeper-buried and long forgotten—even if the road before Lal Bagh is named Krumbiegel Road.

Gustav Krumbiegel was dear to the Maharaja of Mysore who took him from the Gaekwar of Baroda, to improve Lal Bagh and to bring green and the colors of flowers to Bangalore and Mysore. The Gaekwar had wrested Krumbiegel from London, where Krumbiegel was creating and tending flower beds in Kiev Gardens and Hyde Park.

Krumbiegel spent time also in Hamburg, but before the War, so the fine gardens you see today in that city must’ve been planted by recent horticulturists.

Of course, many of the trees Krumbiegel planted on the avenues of Bangalore have been felled and auctioned and sold as timber. Where the trees stood, and where they’d have flourished for many decades more, over their dead roots the roads have been widened, and by the broadened streets glass and concrete have taken on the role that belongs to trees.

Not that the love of trees and flowers has fled the heart of the Bangalorean. The better apartment blocks have fine young trees in their compounds; the Royal Gardenia hotel has lawns and plants running up and down its walls in a fashion that has perhaps struck wonder in the Creator.

In developments such as the upmarket Nitesh Logos, upcoming on Aga Abbas Ali Road, the landscaping is designed by a Singaporean.

So the insides of residential compounds and corporate campuses are—and will—still be ringed in greens and flowers. The worry is for public spaces: Who will replicate the Maharaja’s initiative to get the best talent in the world for a tasteful planting of trees anew along our roads and in our parks?

Who will take the place of the Maharaja in this moment? And do what developers and software companies have done on private land?

Our politics seems set to stay weak for indeterminate time, so an initiative from the private sector is urgent: first to persuade the government to approve such an undertaking, then for the private corporate enthusiast to actually carry out the grooming—without boards larger than lawns shouting the sponsor’s brand-name, but rather with quiet love for this city which is theirs, and also ours.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News (top); Deccan Herald