Her Mom wanted to name her Zinnia, after the flowers she loved so much. Her family was aghast. Her friends thought she was crazy. It was okay to be fond of Zinnias so very much, but to name your daughter Zinnia! But she was adamant, even when her Dad had shouted at her. But when her own mother, Zinnia’s maternal grandmother, chided her on her poor choice, she only hid herself behind the last pillar of the verandah and shed silent tears.
Zinnia was not around to see any of this, not yet. But she heard it from her Dadi, her paternal grandmother, who found her mother thus as she walked up the garden path, having entered the property via the small garden gate behind the house. Dadi was a softhearted woman who could not bear to see anyone cry, least of all her most favorite daughter-in-law. She told off her son and said Zinnia, it would be. So what if it wasn’t a proper Hindu name (which was the main objection of all), flowers did not have religion, did they now? No one had an answer to that. Besides everyone was rather taken aback by this new face of an otherwise mild-mannered woman. So Zinnia she became. Mom smiled once again grateful for the help and support she received from unexpected quarters.
Growing up, Zinnia spent many hours playing among the multicolored flowers, all of them zinnias, in the garden while her mother tended to her favorite plants, the same way she cared for her daughter, with love and utmost care. Zinnia grew to love the flowers, just like her mother. When she was old enough to grasp that she was named after them, she felt special, and loved them all the more. Zinnia hardly saw her father, who was home briefly every two weeks or so. He never spoke to her much and never called her Zinnia. When he was home her mother was always too busy and a trifle sad Zinnia felt. Then there were the noises too. She did not like the noises that filled her with nameless dread and kept her awake at night. So each time her father came home, Zinnia waited impatiently for him to leave.
One morning Zinnia woke up to find her mother gone. She could hear her father moving around inside the house. Zinnia stood uncertain among the Zinnia plants in the garden, feeling terribly chilly for some reason. She noticed that the pot with the pink Zinnia, her favorite one had fallen on it’s side, spilling dirt. The pot with the yellow zinnia had moved too. As she bent to set them right, her father’s voice stopped her. He wanted her to go in and have her breakfast, now.
In the evening, Dadi came home and Zinnia felt less suffocated in the huge house which did not have her Mom in it. A little later she caught the angry words, “She went away, the b****! How do I know where?” from her father’s study. She uneasily remembered the noises from the night. When Dadi came out of the room, she looked sad. She hugged Zinnia trying to smile, and said everything would be alright. Zinnia wanted to ask Dadi, where Mom was and when she would return, but she couldn’t bring herself to. That would mean admitting Mom had left her.
Two days later the police came and took her Dad away. Zinnia watched from behind the curtains of her room as more policemen came and dug up their lovely garden. They found Mom beneath the Zinnia pots. She was muddy all over. They took her away too, like Dad, but in a different vehicle and unlike Dad, Mom was all wrapped up. She didn’t cry though she heard Dadi sobbing.
The same day her Nani marched into the house with her Uncle, packed her clothes, toys and books, and took her away. Dadi objected feebly, but no one paid any attention to her objection. It was as if Dadi had suddenly become invisible.No one asked Zinnia what she wanted. The last she heard as she was dragged away was Dadi’s wail, “Zinniaaaa, my child!”
It was so long ago. But even after all these years it still rang in her ears.
“Mommy, look. A pink flower.”
Zinnia woke from her reverie. Her daughter was pointing to a corner of the overgrown and neglected garden. Zinnia was back here after a long time. Her Dad had died in jail, killed in a scuffle she heard. She did not care either way. She had mixed feelings about returning here. But Dadi had written, asking to see her.
“Yes, that’s a Zinnia.” she found herself automatically replying to her daughter. She had never been able to look at zinnias without remembering the lifeless and muddy body of her mother or hearing her Dadi’s heartbreaking wail. And this was exactly where they had found her Mom’s lifeless and muddy body.
“Pretty like your Mommy. Eh?” asked Rajesh, her husband, walking up the path to join them.
Zinnia smiled. But she had already decided to pull the plant out and throw it somewhere far away. She would plant chrysanthemums, asters, gerberas, roses, hibiscus, jasmines, camellias, but not zinnias. She turned to pull the plant out when she saw her daughter caressing the petals. Her breath caught in Zinnia’s throat. It was the same love in those eyes she remembered from years back. Why hadn’t she noticed till today how much like Mom her daughter looked?
“I love zinnias, Mommy!” her daughter lisped. “Can we have a whole garden of zinnias?”
Zinnia stood undecided for a few seconds. May be it was time to put her ghosts to rest. May be she should start loving zinnias again. Perhaps Mom was speaking to her through that lone plant that survived. May be she wanted her zinnia plants restored. Is this what you want Mom? Your garden back and functioning, full of pretty zinnias, blooms that you so loved? Apparently, the answer was to be found in her own daughter’s face.
“Yes darling,” she said picking her up, and turning to smile at Rajesh. Together they walked back to the house to Dadi who was waiting impatiently for them.