The Jasmine Tree

Grandma lived in a skanky little room overlooking a garden. There was a jasmine tree in the courtyard whose branches made its way through the window sill, filling the room with an effervescent fragrance. The room was full of memories. Some of them decorated the walls with odd photographs while others decked the table and the bookshelves.

The photographs were quite odd as they were all parts of a body but without a face. It’s was always a boy without a face. Sometimes, it was a hand climbing over the walls or tracing the hinges of a book, at others there was a pensive man looking at a window with a pen in his hands. If one gazed long enough at the photographs they can recognize the window. It was the same jasmine flowers window.

Grandma or Mrs. Rosalind, as she was called in this part of the world guarded the room like a fortress. She never let anybody in. Often we joked that it’s a Bermuda triangle where you can get in but can’t get out alive. But there was an exception to this rule. Once in a while, someone did get in and out of this Bermuda triangle. It was little Tammy living across the street.

Tammy was my classmate and my erstwhile nemesis from school. Tammy and I went to the same school, Julian Day School. He was an average student who excelled in story-telling whereas I, the class-topper gaped at his skill stupidly. Apart from his stupendous talent, there’s one more thing that made him the subject of my envy. It was his uninhibited access to my grandmother’s room. While I and my brothers were deprived of our grandma’s treasures, Tammy enjoyed it to the fullest and even flaunted it in school in his famous story-telling sessions. Every Saturday tammy and grandma would have their secret rendezvous in that skanky room.

One day, I took the help of a ladder and peered over the window sill to get a glimpse of the secret meeting. Grandma was conversing with Tammy in a hushed voice with a photograph in hand. As I leaned forward to hear their words, I slipped and fell off the ladder. My mother rushed in and as usual, I got a heavy scolding.

However, this little misadventure didn’t deter me from the pursuit of grandma’s secret as I grew more curious and one day, at school I overheard Tammy telling a familiar story.

“She picked up the radiogram picture and marveled at her discovery. A dark cross on a white background is all that it showed. Yet it was all that she could ask for. It was a masterstroke in understanding the very basis of the world”, read Tammy.

It was a story of a pioneer scientist not getting her due credits. While he read the story and told it in his strange voice, it reminded of grandma. The girl in the story was just like grandma – a headstrong character who spoke few words but always believed in her convictions. Even the descriptions and styling had an uncanny resemblance.

That night I asked grandma about this girl named Rose, some sort of science geek who bore a strong resemblance to her. Grandma smiled and said, “Yes, I know her”.

“Who is it? Do I know her?”
“Maybe, Maybe not”, she mumbled.
“She sounds like you, Grandma.”
“Well, I am her and She is me”, she murmured
“Is this your story?”

Grandma didn’t reply. She left the scene without much of a word.

Many years passed by, the little kids have grown up now and the old souls left their final impressions in them. Children turned out to be old souls now. 5 decades down the line, little Tammy and Rita have grown up to be fine a couple.

Our rivalry has given away to a lifelong story-telling. While Tammy became an acclaimed author, I conquered my grandmother’s wish. I have become a scientist now and together we are telling new stories – stories of discoveries and inventions. Just like our Grandma.
Indeed Rose and Rosalind were one and the same. 2 faces of the same coin, 2 sides of the same story. The same soul living in different bodies.

As it turns out we were all under a spell. The spell of a scientist was cast on us. Our grandmother was that scientist, the story-teller. Grandma’s real name was never Rosalind. She adopted that name from her favorite scientist Rosalind Franklin, her role model. In many ways, little Rose was quite like Rosalind – born 20 years apart. So, Rose became Rosalind and Rosalind became Rose.

Grandma studied hard and did well in her studies but family constraints didn’t let her reach the pinnacle. So, instead of being a high performing scientist like Rosalind Franklin, she became an accomplished story-teller. She floored the audience with her baffling skills and made any story believable. Thus started the journey of the scientific story-teller – telling the stories of discoveries and inventions.

Grandma wrote stories about path-breaking scientific discoveries and tested them on Tammy. This is what went to the secret meeting. The Rose in Tammy’s story was pioneer scientist Rosalind Franklin, credited with the discovery of DNA. Grandma wrote Franklin’s story for young kids like us but included a little spark and fantasy in it. Thus, Rosalind Franklin became Rose in Grandma’s story and looked just like her. Now as I read it, I believe Grandma relived her dream in her stories. It was here where she became a scientist.

Being a scientist who is married to an author has opened up new avenues for me. Today I know the importance of story-telling in science. That’s the reason why a scientist’s grandson has become a writer today, while a writer’s grand-daughter became a scientist. Our grandparents planned this all. Tammy’s grandfather and my grandmother were lovers who had lover’s tiff with this world. Those photographs on grandma’s wall were of Tammy’s grandfather. They couldn’t be together and fulfill their dream of marrying science with literature. So they passed this on to their grandchildren.

Tammy and I, represented literature and science. Too different categories but one and the same. Today, those secret rendezvous makes perfect sense to me. It was a ploy to prepare us for this life. Grandma nurtured my curiosity by making me venture out while she builds the essence of scientific story-telling in Tammy.

Today when I read those stories I wonder who is a scientist and who is a story-teller. How can you differentiate between the two? Science is not just about experiments and laboratories, it’s an art. A story-telling itself. A vocation. In our laboratories, we are enacting and rehearsing those stories before we present it to the world, in the form of published work. Meanwhile, an author is thinking and imploring the reason behind those research and making it approachable to others. In one way, he too is a scientist discovering and inventing new ideas.

Who was telling the story? And whose story was it anyway? The words fluttered and flew in the wind. And it’s these winds that connected the two. The winds of change that made a scientist out of a curious girl and an author out of an introspecting boy. A change that opened the doors of literature to a boy and the world of science to a girl.
The roles have been reversed. They very society which didn’t let Rose become a Rosalind and for which James became Jim, the same society have created Rita and Tammy.

Tammy sometimes reminiscence his first meeting with Grandma.

“I remember visiting your house without my mother. We came to invite you to a family function but nobody was home except Rosalind”.

Tammy always called grandma by her first name. It was grandma’s idea. They were best of friends – 2 writers on an inquisitive pursuit. This is another strange feature of the writer’s world, they belong to the world and the world belongs to them. They don’t need to build a friendship as they are the last refuge of all. This is the where a scientist fails but a writer triumphs. Perhaps, this is the reason why marrying the two is necessary and might be the reason behind their successful coupling. Nevertheless, let’s continue with the story.

Well, an 8-year-old Tammy came to our house when nobody was at home except Granny. While Rosalind tended to her neighbors, Tammy grew restless and ventured out.

“I had almost destroyed Rosalind’s garden. Plucked all the flowers and tramped over the plants. However, the jasmine tree was saved”, said Tammy.
“Drawn by its fragrance, I sat beneath the tree scribbling something.”
“While they searched all over the house I scribbled on the mud and drew some arbitrary shapes. Crooked layered triangles, pierced circles –all where there in the scribbling.”
“So, what happened next? What did Granny say?” I asked.
“She said nothing, She just came over and looked at my drawings. While my mother started scolding Rosalind took me to her room and let me sit beside the window”, replied Tammy.
“There, she went on to show me the pictures of young Jim, my grandpa, and then we looked at the pictures of the globe and the prism. Apparently, I had drawn a prism and a globe beneath that jasmine tree.”
“So, that was the key to Granny’s secret. Jasmine tree and scribbling of scientific wonder. No wonder why I didn’t get through it”, I laughed
“Gradually, the visits became regular and she started telling more and more stories. Often letting me read her stories and advised me to rehearse it. That’s where my training began. From the jasmine tree to the apple tree – the stories flooded and I learned about Newton’s gravity, Copernicus’s theory, Galileo, Darwin and many more”

Now, when I ponder over this interaction of 8-year-old Tammy and 70-year-old Rosalind, I know where the way is. The path lies within us. It lies hidden in our curiosities, our restlessness. We all have a jasmine tree inside us.
The only thing that hampers its blossoming is the closed window.
The window is missing. It needs to be opened.

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