02 January 2023

Fragrances that will not be bottled

The fragrance of coffee flowers beckoned. I answered the call and found myself floating across time. I flew over trees, through memories and forgotten and forgettable Tuesdays, made my way through grasslands and shrub jungles, crossed valleys and skirted hillsides, alighted on top of a mountain and then descended, ever so slowly to an ice-cold stream. It was mid-morning by then, still quite cool.

How did it happen? Well, I’ve never seen coffee flowers, not for real that is. I may have, but cannot remember being told ‘coffee flowers.’ Cannot remember asking either. Someone posted a few pictures.  If I had seen pictures of coffee flowers before, I cannot remember now. This time, for some reason, I caught a fragrance.  

Fragrance. What’s the fragrance of coffee flowers? I didn’t know, obviously. ‘Must smell like coffee,’ I told myself. I was wrong, according to a blog (www.korunaturals.com). Koru Naturals, apparently, has been bringing the beauty of New Zealand to the USA since 2002.

Now Koru Naturals produces and sells fragrances. According to the blog, coffee flowers have a wonderfully deep fragrance. The problem was, if they said ‘coffee flowers,’ no one would buy the product. They would say, ‘No, thanks, I don’t want to smell like my morning cup of java!’ So they called it ‘Flowers and Fire’ instead of ‘Coffee Flowers and Fire.’  

I still don’t know what ‘Flowers and Fire’ smells like or anything of the fragrance given by coffee flowers in Sri Lanka. There was a fragrance though. It was of love, impending departure and memories so precious they are carried to death and beyond.  There was a name. Menaka. There was another name. Mammaley. And yet another. Saradiel. Whatever lives they had led, whatever moments of sorrow and joy they had experienced together and separately, their exceptional friendship was never imagined as vividly as by Ruwan Bandujeewa. 

 Clutching a posy of coffee flowers
at the foot of the mighty Uthuwankande
Mammale my friend,
there's sobbing I can hear --
it is Menaka

By the Hingula waters
to sit you down,
with a silver hairpin
I once from a bungalow stole
decorate those locks
already bedecked with coffee-flowers,
and then step back and admire —
another day will not dawn, Menaka,
not for me

Clutching a posy of coffee flowers
at the foot of the mighty Uthuwankande
there's sobbing I can hear --
it is Menaka.

[At Bogambara, on the 7th day of May in the year 1864]

I cannot do justice in English to Bandujeewa’s poetic fluency. Sorry. His ‘meelanga meevitha (The next wine)' is intoxicating beyond belief.

‘Hingula’ is a village that anyone traveling between Colombo and Kandy must pass. Hingula, the stream, has to be crossed. I don’t know where along that waterway Menaka had sat or indeed if she very had. There’s a lot in the gone-waters and much in the going. Memories and fragrances stay for a while and then make way for fresh encounters, new memories and perfumes. Still, Ruwan Bandujeewa, stilled those waters. He captured a fragrance. He didn’t bottle it, but turned it into words that will be breathed for a long time to come.

Not all Saradiels get captured. Not all are hanged. Not all Menakas are left alone with or without a bouquet of flowers. Not all fragrances speak of love and loss, togetherness and solitude. Not everyday is one called by an unknown fragrance, transported to a time of terrible beauty, made to sit by a stream you’ve passed hundreds of times but never really noticed, given an opportunity to sip a moment that was precious and has been made precious for whoever hears the call and answers it.  

I am sipping a cup of coffee as I write. I smell brigandry and magnanimity, love and pathos. A heart-flavour I’ve never tasted before floats through a window and clutches at my throat. I must stop now. 


Other articles in this series:

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart The allegory of the slow road